Saturday, March 11, 2023
Inside the Helmet: The Laboratorioccupato Morion in Venice
Third report from Italy – the OSC Laboratorioccupato Morion in Venice, the Venice Climate Camp, cruise ship resistance, squatting boarded-up public housing, the Transfeminist march – “as long as we scream together, we are free” – and, of course, Banksy.
It’s dreamy to be in Venice, as a resident at the Emily Harvey Foundation. I’d hope the late great promoter of the Fluxus art movement would approve of my project – a renewal of the program of research on the autonomous occupied social centers of Europe.
The form of this political activism may be said to have originated in Italy in the wake of the Autonomist communist organizing of the 1970s. It is Italy, as we saw in the recent post from Milan, where the largest examples of occupied social centers are to be found.
So it’s unsurprising that there are long-established occupation projects in Venice. They have issues, fights and struggles, and they have culture, music and art.
We visited Laboratorioccupato Morion the first week we were here. The 30+ year old Venetian social center is open Friday evenings for bar and concert events.
LO Morion when it's jumpin'. A pic from Restaurant Guru website
Morion is a big open high-roofed space decorated inside with masses of posters on the walls. It’s on the site of a 14th century hospice for poor women, popularly named for the helmet-shaped sign of a nearby shop in those days. Outside the walls are painted with colorful murals done in the style of Black Panthers artist Emory Douglas. A crew of some half dozen young women were bustling about preparing for the evening’s events when we arrived, a bar at 7pm; musical acts, a DJ, were planned for later that night.
We sat down with Marta, an activist of the Lab and a fluent English speaker. She explained a bit of the history of the place, and the engagements Morion has with both local and international issues and movements.
Morion is in a vacant city warehouse. The first occupiers of the space in 1990 were evicted, but they camped out in a garden in the center of town until they got an agreement to use the present building.
The most recent big movement effort in Venice was the third September ‘22 Climate Camp in the Lido. Marta was an organizer. She works on the Morion’s environmental committee. The Climate Camp welcomed activists from around Europe, and was organized through the network of social centers throughout the region of Veneto, working with the German movement, Ende Gelände.
An assembly at the Venice Climate Camp, 2022
“We are fighting for the city itself,” Marta said. The famously perilous condition of the city of Venice is aggravated by rising sea levels, making climate change a vital issue.
The environmental movement in Italy began in earnest with industrial disasters in the ‘70s and ‘80s – a toxic dioxin cloud, the Chernobyl meltdown. The movement is strongly inflected with eco-feminist ideas; the Venice Climate Camp was “in dialogue with” another meeting on the theme of degrowth.
The city’s second occupied space, the Sale Docks, is focussed on art (more on this place soon). Sale Docks organized a session at the Climate Camp in which Austrian artist and filmmaker Oliver Ressler showed excerpts from his climate video project “Everything’s coming together while everything’s falling apart”.
The fragile city in the lagoon is trampled into a theme park every summer by massive influxes of tourists, most egregiously the thousand-people loads from mega-cruise ships. A popular campaign led by Morion activists saw a puny attack by small boats on the mammoth cruise ships, under the slogan "La Laguna paura non ne ha" [the lagoon is not afraid; I got the t-shirt]. The Climate Camp featured a session of networking with other places that are suffering cruise ship overloads.
Fabulous quixotic attack on a cruise ship in the Venice lagoon
Venice has always been a great place to visit. But, more even than most other touristic cities, Venice has been distended by its reliance on and obeisance to the hospitality sector. The population has actually shrunk.
Marta also works with the ASC – Assemblea Sociale per la Casa, an assembly of people in public housing. Affordable housing for Venetians is a major issue, and Morion is involved in squatting actions to preserve public housing. There are over 1000 empty public housing units in Venice, and little will in government to renovate and allocate them. Social services, both housing and public health are cut. In the authorities’ view, “It’s to be a tourist center, period,” Marta said. The Morion activists work against this kind of logic, maintaining that “the city is alive”.
The public housing committee of the Morion
There are some 25,000 students in Venice, both from the public university and the art academy. The university owns much property in the city, and they are working with the city to create hotels.
We trotted out to the Dorsoduro barrio of Venice for the March 8th Transfeminist march, the Morion-organized event for International Womens Day. We saw the assembling of groups, including Queer We Go, who marched that day in cities throughout Northeastern Italy.
In the spirited words of the Padua center Pedro CSO: "We are women, whores, indecent, ugly, fat, lesbian, trans, farts, dirty, blasphemous, disabled, bisexual, activists, mothers, anti-capitalists, abortionists, anti-fascists, transfeminists, but most of all, as long as we scream together, we are free."
Walking around our barrio of San Polo – one must walk around in Venice – we paused in front of a shop of beautiful bags made from recycled plastic signage. It turned out to be the shop of #Malefatte the #MadeInPrison program. On the door jamb was a possible Banksy stencil of a jaunty Venice carnival rat.
It turns out the UK artist was here to crash the Venice Biennale in 2019, engaging with his work precisely the issues the Laboratorioocupato Morion and its fellow OSCs are concerned with – cruise ships and climate change, and the failure to rescue migrants and refugees at sea. One is a mural of a migrant child holding a distress flare painted in a canal; the second was a kind of performance of art vending. Banksy set up shop in a plaza where painters put their easels. The multi-panel “Venice in Oil” reveals a cruise ship plowing through a medley of gondolas. The police shut him down.
Banksy performance, "Venice in Oil"
The mural of the migrant child was “claimed” by Banksy in an Instagram post. It is poignant again after the February 26 shipwreck in Calabria. Just as we arrived in Italy, 72 (at least) failed to do so.
The angry, mournful words in a statement from the Pedro Centro Sociale Occupato in Padua cast the blame on the Italian political leadership, which has made hay like Trump over the issue of migration: "The massacre of Sunday 26th February was determined by a delay of the rescue operations cynically wanted, politically wanted. People could very well have been saved if rescue operations had been activated in a timely manner. The boat had already been reported by Frontex but the authorities did not move, despite the weather conditions and the 200 people on board.... We immediately demand the freedom to sail for every ship dedicated to rescuing people in the Mediterranean."
The image is also a reminder that this new “middle passage”, with its thousands of deliberated deaths, will not be forgotten by generations to come.
The Emily Harvey Foundation
Laboratorioccupato Morion | Venice - Facebook
Instagram – @cso_morion
VENICE CLIMATE CAMP | 3nd edition - 7th-11th Sept. 2022
Rise Up 4 Climate Justice and Fridays for Future Venice/Mestre are pleased to invite you to Venice Climate Camp! Five days of camping for climate justice
Rachele Ledda, "Women’s presence in contemporary Italy’s environmental movements, with a case study on the Mamme No Inceneritore committee", Genre et Histoire, Autumn 2018
A resource website on the theme of Degrowth notes that "’la decrescita' in Italian refer to a river going back to its normal flow after a disastrous flood" -- which we might think of as capitalism itself.
“Everything’s coming together while everything’s falling apart”, A 6-channel video installation by Oliver Ressler, 2016-2020
Simone Fierucci, “Presente e futuro delle navi da crociera nel Mediterraneo. Il report del dibattito al Venice Climate Camp” Domenica 25 Settembre 2022 17:23
"La Laguna paura non ne ha" [the lagoon is not afraid]: i manifestanti lasciano il canale della Giudecca
A brief video of a 2019 demonstration, an ‘attack’ on cruise ships by small boat
Assemblea Sociale per la Casa – A 2014 discussion of the ASC’s work on behalf of occupiers of social housing
Global Project report on transfeminist marches in the Northeast of Italy: “8 Marzo: la marea tranfemminista è il grido collettivo di chi vuol cambiare il mondo”, 9 March 2023