Towards a Home of Language

Conclusion of the 2019 Biourbanism Summer School in Artena

Artena and total cosmos—original painting by Mihaela Negrii

The 4th International Society of Biourbanism (ISB) Summer School, “Designing a Home of Language” (Artena, Italy, July 13–20, 2019), started by acknowledging the problematic situation of communication among humans and humans and their natural and cultural environment. This includes the effects of human relation impoverishment, economic financialization, objectification of labor, natural and built environmental disruption, climatic change, war, and forced mass migration. We, therefore, discussed the possible solution of more communicative settlements: many small cities that respect their own local knowledge, traditions, and cultures as opposed to the life forms of the industrial and global metropolises, which had led to the Great Transformation as described by K. Polanyi.

An international group formed by scholars, architects, artists, and activists coming from Finland, France, Greece, The Netherlands, India, Italy, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Syria, Turkey, the U.K., and the U.S.A. have worked “from inside” Artena, Italy. They settled in for one week with the goal of formulating a logical model, an example, and a typology that can be emulated in other parts of the planet because Artena offers an urban structure that is self-sufficient, capable of civic dialogue, and resistant to homologation.

The summer school consisted of three components: 1) a workshop of discussion and study under the direction of Prof. Sergio Los; 2) the building of a common sauna with the help of local people under the direction of Prof. Marco Casagrande; 3) artistic and cultural activities, including an art exhibition at the local Archeological Museum of Artena, art installations, lectures, book presentations, a public conference, and a day trip.

1. The Workshop

Prof. Sergio Los

It seems that humankind is paying for the benefits of industrialism with self-destruction. A strong imbalance between moral and technological evolution, hyper-consumption of resources, and liberal, nomadic globalization are affecting both our common environment and the very possibility of keeping linguistic communities capable of discussing, taking responsibilities, and acting together. Small, self-sufficient cities, free from the logic and the blackmail of the global market, may represent a step towards the way out of the actual global crisis by developing civic communities or biourban systems as “homes of language”.

The results of the workshop indicate that a biourban system can arise if it:

-promotes an environment where culture governs economy and not vice versa;

-belongs to a wholeness of time that spans from past to future;

-enhances mutual aid and cooperation above competition;

-opposes the domination of techno-sciences and favors art as knowledge and not as aesthetic entertainment;

-builds peace, as opposite to the industrial city, which provides for competitiveness, conflict, and, in the end, war;

-is multifunctional and autonomous in supplying energy, food, and fundamental services;

-can manage and rule itself;

-is based on a local, circular economy through specific, designed tools;

-reconnects people to place, landscape, and bioclimatic specificity;

-enhances environmental, social, cultural, and economic sustainability;

-is based on biological dynamics as opposed to technological dynamics;

-is a shared responsibility among its dwellers;

-is compact in order to encourage social interaction and communication;

-fosters sustainable and respectful accessibility and transportation.

2. The Sauna

Prof. Marco Casagrande

The public sauna of Artena is built in a cave under Piazza della Resistenza. No forced leadership or closed design was given, but an open-form possibility of constructive anarchy for the community to self-engage in a collective mission. The sauna grew along with the momentum of a sense of communicative action though collective work. It is a communicative construction, with no other common language than physical labor and collective mind.

The Artena Common Sauna (also referred to as: Sauna della Resistenza) is a highly site-specific work knitted into the special environment of the Artena rocks and equally relevant environment of the Artenese collective subconscious. The sauna is constantly cleaning body and soul and creating ashes—ex cinere resurgo.

The sauna has been built freely from scratch by first searching for its spot, then finding available construction material, and finally, cooperative workforce among participants and local citizens. It measures 27 square meters, has wooden plank flooring suspended over a layer of stones, and is divided into two environments: one devoted to the kiuas (stove) and the sauna practice, and the other for changing clothes and washing. It faces north with a beautiful view over the valley and an olive tree garden. The sauna has been built by hands and simple tools. It started a social dynamic of cooperation, excitement, and pride among the inhabitants of Artena (“The sauna showed us that if Artenese unite, they can do anything from nothing.”) and a discussion on how to manage a good that is neither private nor public, but common (“Who is going to take care of the sauna?”, “How should we regulate its access and keep its use for free?”, etc.).

3. Artistic and Cultural Activities

Arch. Marwa Al-Sabouni

Relevant keynote lectures were given by Melek Aksoy, Marwa Al-Sabouni, Nando Bertolini, Sara Bissen, Kevin Blythe Sampson, Marco Casagrande, Sabrina Fantauzzi, Fotios Katsaros, Ghassan Jansiz, Sergio Los, Paolo Masciocchi, Robin Monotti Graziadei, Natasha Pulitzer, Fabio Rampelli, Matteo Riccelli, Stefano Serafini, and Yeter Tan. Yeter Tan and Zana Kibar from Göç İzleme Derneği presented the documentary “Sur: Ax û Welat” on urbanicide. Kevin Blythe Sampson created a site-specific sculpture entitled “Time Is On My Side”, located alongside the sauna’s external wall. Béju Dudali left his work, “Dudali”, overlooking the valley from Il Mulo Brigante’s terrace. Cesar Melgar explored Sabaudia with his photographic lens. Robin Monotti Graziadei provided a reading of Pasolini and Malaparte. Sara Bissen performed “A Forest of Words” alongside Melek Aksoy, who gave life to “Plato’s Pharmacy”, by presenting her book printed for this occasion. Aksoy’s Çatal Hüyük and Bissen’s leaves remain in Artena as originarian alphabetical constellations from Serafini’s contribution, “Roots in the Sky”.

The exhibition Ultra Civitatis Ruinam—Beyond Urban Destruction. Pian della Civita. Montefortino. Artena. Stories of Urban Destruction, Resurgence, and Ryzhomes was held at ARTEMUSA—Artena Archeological Museum “Roger Lambrechts” from July 13–16, 2019. Presented by Massimiliano Valenti, urbanist, archeologist, and Museum Director, selected works by invited international and local artists were exhibited among the archeological collection with art by: Maxim Atayants, Iros Bianchi, Kevin Blythe Sampson, Béju Dudali, Cesar Melgar, Mihaela Negrii, and Daniela Ricasoli. The idea of discussing the subject matter of urban destruction, memory, and art will continue in cooperation with the museum. “Micro-spaces Untouched By Humans”, which is a work by Tatjana Capuder Vidmar, will be exhibited over the next months.

Arch. Uğur Sağlam created drawings of Artena’s houses. Sağlam’s drawing will be used as a virtual “settlement” of the school’s participants.

Giuliano and Francesco Bucci discussed the art of traditional Italian tailoring with the participants in their 1925-established laboratory.

Nikita Wu handled media and photography alongside the sauna project.

The following books have been launched during the school: M. Aksoy, Plato’s Pharmacy: My Memory Atlas I, The Landscape of the Soul, Istanbul 2019; S. Bissen, This is Not Topsoil, Artena 2019; S. Bissen & S. Serafini, After Dark: The Social Value of Sunlight in Artena Through its Urban Codes, Artena 2019; I. Erdem, Z. Kibar, & Y. Tan. Report on Human Rights Violations Against Women and Their Experiences During the Curfews and Forced Migration, Istanbul 2019, and S. Los, Cities and Landscapes as Symbolic Systems/Città e paesaggi come sistemi simbolici, Artena 2019.

The school took part in a field day to Segni and Sabaudia, contributing to a conference by the Order of the Architects of Rome and the Order of the Architects of Latina in Sabaudia entitled, “The Form of Autonomy Among Words and Silence: from Carbonia to Sabaudia”, where Natasha Pulitzer presented her original discussion on Italian “green autarky” during the 1930s.

The school is a product of the ISB and has been designed, directed and managed by Stefano Serafini and Sara Bissen. The school has been entirely self-funded and takes pride in its independence from any academic, political, and economic institution, being open to any voice capable of discussion.

Participants include Prof. Arch. Tatjana Capuder Vidmar, Arch. Anu Mantsinen, Arch. Gabriele Mundula, Arch. Bas Oudenaarden, Arch. Emmaliisa Reinikainen, Arch.Uğur Sağlam, Arch. Nur Sipahioğlu, Eng. Jan Sufyan, and Arch. Christiaan Zandstra, who were involved in 22 hours of classes, 25 hours of workshop, and 8 hours of visits/excursions. Prof. Arch. Vibhavari Jani joined for two days. The journalist Marlo Safi participated in the school to cover it for The National Review (U.S.A.).

The school was visited by the Vice President of the Italian Parliament, Fabio Rampelli, who is an architect interested in human-centered design, and by the representatives of the Municipality of Artena, Augusto Angelini and Carlo Scaccia. Princess Nike Arrighi Borghese, artist, attended the school’s inauguration.

The school has been covered by The National Review, Elle Italia, La Nuova Tribuna, Roma Daily News, Policy Maker, AG Cult, and Il Secolo d’Italia.

Several participants are currently developing the results of the school in writing and other forms. We expect interesting results to stem from this experience, which more than one participant defined as “life changing”.

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