Friday, March 3, 2023

Un-Fashion Week in Milan: Calusca City Lights

Gucci for Fall, 2023

First post from our Italian trip recounts a visit to Cox 18's bookstore, a failed excursion to Leoncavallo, some New Yorkers who've been to Milan, and the overwhelming presence of Kim Kardashian. Regrets, the ghost of Bostik, and the many many times before. And a nice short movie!

I’m back on the squatting trail this spring with an intensive period of work in Italy. It’s aimed at a publication on social centers, the large form of occupation, along the lines of a “popular book” I proposed to our SqEK group years ago.

On this trip, we first visited Milan, the city of 7 million which was a hotbed of Autonomist militancy in the 1970s. We arrived at the central train station, a 1931 fascist construction which is gargantuan in scale. This nearly ludicrous steroidal classical structure matches the Brobdingnagian late 19th century galleria Vittorio Emanuele alongside the Duomo cathedral, one of Europe’s first and surely biggest shopping malls – gallerias, or arcades.

That plaza, with the Duomo cathedral alongside bedecked with over-sized writhing Baroque figures, the soaring shopping arcade, and massive crowds, among them a knot of dancing singing Ukrainian protestors, was an experience to be forgotten. An ecstasy of authority and consumption
That's the city. Now to the squats. We made it to the famous Archivio Primo Moroni and Libreria Calusca in the squatted social center Cox 18, and loaded up on books on the Milanese squatting movement to study during a month in Venice. Toto showed us around the place, including the murals NYC artists Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper had made there nearly 20 years ago.

Murals by Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper

Later we trucked out to the venerable Leoncavallo CSOA for the pop kitchen, announced on the website and the often mal-informing Google. It was closed. Comments from "local guides" on Google express disappointment over the deteriorated atmosphere at evening concert events there. Closed, streets deserted, the compound Leoncavallo encloses is huge – very Milan.
I could not return at night for one of the concert events. I don’t have the energy anymore to bomb around EU cities to squat spots, which are usually remote. We’d even intended to return to Archivio Primo Moroni the next day to look at posters, but a visit to the Pinacoteca Brera beforehand destroyed us. Old bones.
The Archivio and Calusca City Lights bookstore is in a fairly normal-looking Milan neighborhood. From the Metro stop you walk past big apartment blocks, rather bleak-looking in the fog on the day we went. Cox 18 is on a pretty street with low houses, and a cool art deco bar on the corner. It's rather tight for a social center, with the library, archive and bookstore (two stories) and a courtyard and a concert space.
It was bigger in the past, Toto told us, but parts have been demolished. Cox 18 has been there for many years. Originally squatted in 1976, it was evicted, and resquatted, evicted and resquatted yet again. The bookstore dates from 1992, when the activist bookseller and publisher Primo Moroni and partners put their store there.
That story is told in an informative text on the website by Jacopo Galimberti.
For a "cold call" visit to an archive, it was very productive. I loaded up with some half dozen books and looked at a few more. I have plenty now to digest at leisure in Venice, together with many leads to follow up online. {Digestion can be slow, as I don’t read Italian, and auto-translate is cumbersome.}

The next day we launched our ineffectual try for Leoncavallo, which of course has no regular hours. I say "of course" because that's how it is with social centers; you can't expect regularity. They aren’t businesses; they’re volunteer operations. Maybe unless you know one of the cooks, you wouldn’t know when that Cucina Pop was really open. We did not have any contacts in Milan. Emanuele Braga, a principal in Macao, and member of the Institute of Radical Imagination which has met before in Madrid, was out of town.
Emanuele recommended Torchiera, a rural site which looks fantastic online -- check out the painted walls! They were having a presentation of a new Wu Ming book "UFO 78" on the day we arrived. But again, the place was too far away for us to make it in time.

The Torchiera bird sweeps away a fascist helmet and dreams of water (the commune gets theirs from a public fountain some distance away)

"Did you eat at Il Brutto Anatroccolo trattoria?" asked comrade Matt in a Facebook comment. (That's the "ugly duckling".) Well, no. Shuttling around on a rather opaque and over-crowded (in February!) transit system limited us. Beautiful century-old electric trams would rumble by, but it was impossible to catch one going where we wanted to go. (Google maps and transit signs in Milan frankly suck, BTW.)
Matt traveled in 2019 with 1960s revolutionary Ben Morea an authentic anarchist celebrity on his book tour.

Radical Milan was in hiding from me, though. Besides the Archivio, I didn’t see any signs of radical life on the streets at all – no stickers, no posters, no graffiti, nada. No radical books in the bookstores. Was it only the districts we were in, the touristic center, with its architectural gargantuanism? It was Fashion Week, and enormous billboards of insolent looking models were hanging everywhere, even on the churches. A 20-story high Kim Kardashian!

We were only three days in Milan. And it’s clear a deep soaking is needed to find the personal and material traces of the powerful social movements in that city.
So I’ll “hit the books” – both materially and virtually. I’ve just now started looking through the books Toto sold me. Almost the first one I picked up was Adriano BK Bostik Casale, “L’Edificio Occupato: le centoventigiornate” (Autoproduzione/Agente Provocatore, 2016). Bostik turns out to be an important Napolitano activist and artist.

I corresponded with him briefly in 2016. The artist known as Fly was with our group SqEK in Rotterdam, before traveling on to Naples for a conference recalling the CSO Tienament (named for the Chinese square where students were massacred, and Neapolitan dialect for “remember” or "keep in mind"). That meeting was three days to “remember the history of the antagonistic movement” in Naples. (Jim Fleming of Autonomedia publishing and theorist Franco "Bifo" Berardi also attended.)

NYC artist Fly in Naples, 2016

I thought “I’ve got to meet this guy Bostik”, DJ and animateur, before I realized that wasn’t going to happen. He only recently died. You can watch a short movie he made online, "La Comune di Berlino" (2006; 32 min.; ENG subs).
It’s beautiful, very atmospheric. It’s about a Berlin of the recent past, seen as a commune, of "existential refugees" fleeing the "sane society" of the capitalist west. "The Wall was the commune's walls." But it ended, and “I was driven away. Now I have returned to rediscover what remains” -- 1989 + 15.

The principal in the short is a taxi driver, windshield hung with Italian symbols. He drives around the city talking voiceover, cruising in the night life of Berlin, especially Italians in Berlin. He delivers a singer to her show. Talks to all kinds of deviants, "I met them at their headquarters, Kotbusser Tor, the square which was the summary of all deviances". Visits with junkies, whom he romanticizes as Rimbauds.
Images of carnivalistas, festive bodies. Thumping trance music. He visits Wagenburg, the travelers who live in house-wagons (since evicted; the subject of a show I saw in Hamburg), and a very punky club. He explores this "laboratory of life". He talks to Italian people, and overlays fragments of their talk. Q's implied: "How long have you lived in Berlin?" and "Why did you stay?" -- “For women!” A photographer in the taxi snaps them out the window. A woman with her baby gets in the taxi.
"Squatter moms" managed the squatted zones and spaces for children [called "kitas" auf Deutsch]. In these, he tells us, one experiences "essential emotions", "incommunicable". Finally, "What I was looking for had taken on another form." Where now is the Berlin Commune? The taxi driver parks, gets into a bicycle taxi and is pedalled off.
"Tu wat", he says. "Do something".
The allusion is to the Tuwat-Kongress of 1981, a key moment in the history of the German social movements.


SqEK, or Squatting Europe Kollective, or Squatting Everywhere Kollective, has a kind of website, and has published several books. My own book Occupation Culture tells of my time with them

Cox 18

Leoncavallo Spazio Pubblico Autogestito
Il Leoncavallo SPA (Spazio Pubblico Autogestito) è un centro sociale occupato. Nato nel 1975 a Milano, svolge attività politica e culturale.

The Agency of an Activist Archive. The Primo Moroni Archive
Jacopo Galimberti, 2016

Cascina Torchiera

The archive at Torchiera

"Nella controcultura anni Sessanta: intervista a Ben Morea" di minima&moralia pubblicato mercoledì, 7 Aprile 2021
Fascinating; auto-xlts clearly. He delves into "into the question of 'becoming bandits'" after the failed revolution of the 1960s and before.

Adriano BK Bostik Casale, “L’Edificio Occupato: le centoventigiornate”
Autoproduzione/Agente Provocatore, 2016

"La Comune di Berlino" (2006; 32 min.; ENG subs). on YouTube

Tuwat-Kongress – Wikipedia

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