Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Earthquake in Milan

I've been in Italy, visiting ancient monuments on a real-life vacation. As I was leaving, an earthquake with 200+ aftershocks fractured much of northern Italy's historical patrimony (matrimony?). The span of my vacation also covered the lifespan of a new eruption in Milan, the MACAO cultural center occupation in a long-abandoned skyscraper. Milan has a venerable tradition of political squatting, including what many call the first European social center, Leoncavallo. This squat is different, though. It's not only anarchists or communists, not even only indignados – this time it's a mass of “cultural workers” who walked into this typical example of speculative over-reaching. And they had support – a roster of leading European intellectuals signed on in support. Dario Fo spoke to the squatters. The institutional internet mainstay E-Flux urged support for the occupation. Even Italian Vogue covered the story, sending out their photographers to snap some very elegant pictures of the activists' job-site. The photo of the general assembly of MACAO above tells you why there has been so much interest. There are simply too many people, too many workers in this very important fashion industry town, who are in on this occupation to ignore it. It is a rising of the fabled precariat of the culture industry, but this time supported by their management. As the occupiers write, “MACAO, the new arts centre in Milan, is a great experiment in building with a bottom up approach a space in which to produce art and culture. A place where artists and citizens can gather together in order to invent a new system of rules for a common and participatory management which, in an autonomous way, will redefine time and priorities of their work and allow them to experiment with new common languages. We are artists, curators, critics, guards, graphic designers, performers, actors, dancers, musicians, writers, journalists, art teachers, students, and everybody who works in the field of art and culture. We’ve been mobilizing for one year, meeting in assemblies to discuss our situation as precarious workers in the fields of artistic production, entertainment, media, entertainment industry, festivals, and t
he so-called economy of the event. A world increasingly hostage of the finance that exploits and absorbs the primary task of culture, which is to be an economy of sharing. We represent a large share of the workforce of this city that has always been an outpost of advanced service sector. We are the multitude of workers of the creative industries that too often have to submit to humiliating conditions to access income, with no protection and no coverage in terms of welfare, not even being considered as proper interlocutors for the current labor reform, all focused on the instrumental debate over Article 18. We were born precarious, we are the pulse of the future economy, and we will not continue to accommodate exploitation mechanisms, and loss redistribution.... MACAO fought alongside and within this network: Lavoratori dell’arte, Cinema Palazzo in Rome, Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome, Sale Docks in Venice, Teatro Coppola in Catania, L’Asilo della Creatività e della Conoscenza in Naples, and Teatro Garibaldi Aperto in Palermo.” The mayor at first seemed as if he was going to play along and give the group some space, only not this building. Yesterday it seems, negotiations broke down, and first the police, and then the army was sent in to evict the squatters. Even so, it seems like only the first act. The corruptions and privations of the Berlusconi era have led to a huge “pent-up demand” for viable cultural facilities and services. (These recent troubles are spelled out in Rob Hammelijnck and Nienke Terpsma, eds., “Italian Conversations: Art in the Age of Berlusconi,” pub. Fucking Good Art, 2011.) When a social center occupation attempt gains the support of leading cultural figures it can very well be the prelude to a deal. LINKS -- MACAO www.lavoratoridellarte.org // E-Flux “Art & Education”: “MACAO belongs to everyone, let’s protect it!” http://www.artandeducation.net/announcement/macao-belongs-to-everyone-let%E2%80%99s-protect-it/ // the Facebook page (a triumph of design, BTW) http://www.facebook.com/macaopagina // article on MACAO on the website of Italian Vogue http://www.vogue.it/en/people-are-talking-about/obsession-of-the-day/2012/05/macao-in-milan