a Project by Az.Namusn.Art, Text by Alessandra Ferrini
Anarchaeology: an + archaeology
As Maurizio Coccia points out in his text Anarchaeology. Sopra e Contro L’Archeologia (Anarchaeology. Above and Against Archaeology, my translation), anarchaeology is a composite word made by combining the suffix an- with the word archaeology. The suffix derives from ancient Greek and it means at once ‘above’ and ‘against’. As such,the Anarchaeology Series presents itself as a project that strives to overcome and oppose the traditional notion of archaeology. At the same time, however, it is a wordplay, alluding at anarchy and thus proposing an even more extreme form of opposition, one that is rooted in a specific context: resistance and radical politics.
Under the umbrella of the Anarchaeology Series is a growing number of public interventions started in May 2011 by the art collective Az.Namusn.Art. Founded by Riccardo Fadda in 2007, Az.Namusn.Art collective has been developing radical actions in Sardinia, Italy, an island with a complex and little known past and present. Widely considered as a peripheral land within the Italian nation-state, Sardinia sits on a blind spot that makes it vulnerable to sustained exploitation. The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia has been used since the Second World War by militaries and arms manufacturers to test all sorts of warfare matériel, train soldiers and pilots, launch bombing sorties as well as explode, burn and bury old weapons and dangerous chemicals. Indeed, between the 1970s and 2007 Sardinia hosted the most active NATO base in theMediterranean basin. During this time, Italian, NATO, and U.S. bases occupied about one third of the island’s land and sea. On the other hand, Sardinia has also been heavily and brutally exploited with the construction of large industrial complexes – mainly oil refineries and related petrochemical operations – since the 1960s. With the recent financial crisis, however, these industries have mostly left. Both the military and the petrochemical industry have largely polluted the island and its sea, contributing to a cancer and leukaemia pandemic. Lastly, Sardinia has been affected by high rates of unemployment which have led to sustained emigration.
Az.Namusn.Art intervenes in this landscape, through physical, economical and cultural re-appropriations. The collective relies on a fluid group of people that have come together to create projects and everyday actions designed to engage and challenge the local population. Complying with their primary focus – that is developing actions of ‘civil disturbance’ – the Anarchaeology Series strives to transform the crisis of its geopolitical location (occupational, environmental and ethical in nature) in an opportunity to re-claim this site, its heritage and its potential for self- sustainability. Acting from within an extremely difficult everyday life, Az.Namusn.Art establishes a clear line between legality as a conformist or even compliant practice , and illegality as the only way to keep an independent expression, exactly because of its abusive and outsider essence.
The Anarchaeology Series, building on Az.Namusn.Art collective’s dedication to collaborative and inclusive actions, involves different professionals that operate in specific areas, such as archaeologists, academics, local business owners, farmers and artists. It does so by creating a network in which each member can at once share his/her expertise and benefit from the project. The key to the success of the Az.Namusn.Art collective is to be found in the sustained and active work of its members and, in particular, of its founder Riccardo Fadda – the driving force behind the project.
The Anarchaeology Series can be considered both a project of guerrilla archaeology and political activism conceived to ultimately create an alternative and self-sustainable micro-economical system, which can help to overcome the crisis of this controversial location. As such its force relies in its sustained, everyday practice, which is embedded in the life of the local community. Not only does it denounce and make public the condition of life in Sardinia and the politics behind it, but it also strives to create a tangible alternative.
Nurra A.T. (Nurra Antagonist Tourism). Watch the video
The Anarchaeology Series consists of different artworks/interventions, some of which are still in development. The first part of the project comprises two videos – Anarchaeology and Nurra A.T.(Nurra Antagonist Tourism) -realized during the local initiative Monumenti Aperti 2011 (Open Monuments). Both videos can be considered as the first enactment of anarchic archaeological practice, namely, guerrilla archaeology. The backdrop to these artworks is the coastal town of Porto Torres, in Sardinia. Once hosting a flourishing petrochemical industry, Porto Torres is now the victim of a deep socio-economical crisis as well as of an environmental disaster. Covering an area roughly three times as large as that inhabited, the industrial district sits empty and decaying as a result of the recent industrial collapse. Skyrocketing unemployment figures, lack of prospects for young people and an exponential growth in cancer deaths linked to toxic waste, have led to a diffuse sense of distrust and opposition towards both local and national institutions, which have been unable to control the failure of this vanished capitalist utopia. The colossal industrial area of Porto Torres is now in a state of ruination, both a ghost town and a no-man land, that awaits regeneration. As many local people know, this process can take decades and it is flooded with controversy and corruption.
For Anarchaeology, Az.Namusn.Art collective has worked with two local unemployed archaeologists. Managing to trespass into an abandoned ironworks, they have conducted an archaeological excavation, unearthing different tools and detritus that document the history of the factory. These discarded items were treated with the same care given to historical artefacts. Accurately cleaned and catalogued they were subsequently placed in the local archaeological museum, within the collection of grave goods belonging to Turris Libisonis, an ancient city from the II century.
In the aftermath of this exhibition, on Sunday the 29th organised the first instance of Nurra A.T.(Nurra Antagonist Tourism) which was documented in the video by the same name. This project aimed at bringing to the public attention the most mysterious and impenetrable heritage site and thus at re-appropriating the local, occulted archaeological site that has been swallowed by the petrochemical industrial complex of Porto Torres. Trespassing into the industrial site – a private property belonging to Eni S.p.A., an Italian multinational oil and gas company – a group of 25 people were unlawfully introduced into the location of Nuraghe Nieddu (the Black Nuraghe, built about 3000 years ago), one of the best preserved of the territory, but inaccessible to the public. Here, in total disregard of the police force, a tour, guided by an expert archaeologist, took place followed by a picnic with the participation of artists, students and families. Nurra A.T.(Nurra Antagonist Tourism) thus came together as a peaceful but firm re-vindication of the local cultural heritage.
If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow Was Today. Watch the video
The second part of the Anarchaeology Series, If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow Was Today, started in 2012 and it is still in progress. With this project, the Az.Namusn.Art collective aims at shedding light on the mysterious vicissitudes surrounding the much criticized decision of the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to move the 35th the Sardinian island of La Maddalena, to L’Aquila (Abruzzo). La Maddalena was finally returned to local authorities after decades of U.S. and Italian military occupation. The G8 was seen by the local population as an opportunity to re-launch the island as a touristic destination (tourism being the main source of income in Sardinia). A closer look suggests Berlusconi’s move to be a cover-up manoeuvre, in order to hide the fact that the money destined to the regeneration of La Maddalena have disappeared into the pockets of corrupted politicians and local authorities. Once again, the Sardinian population has been deprived of a much sought after investment; left to recover from yet another empty promise.
If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow Was Today takes at its subject an unfinished statue from the fascist era, which was found on the island of Santo Stefano, in the Archipelago of La Maddalena. This statue, portraying the fascist hierarch Costanzo Ciano, was commissioned by Benito Mussolini to the sculptor Arturo Dazzi after Ciano’s death in 1939. The monument was to be formed by an altar (which was built around the city of Livorno, in Tuscany) and the statue, which was to sit on top. It was supposed to be the second largest in Italy – the biggest being the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) in Rome, which is 70 metres in height. Dazzi started to work on the statue two years later but, because of Mussolini’s fall from power around that time, he was unable to see it through, leaving it unfinished in a cave, on the island of Santo Stefano. Az.Namusn.Art’s project, which calls for the virtual removal of the monument, strives to draw a connection between two historical blind spots: fascism and the current corrupted politics surrounding the G8. This is a very dense project, which is articulated in three phases.
Phase one is resolved in the video Ciano Pool (Ciano Piscina),which advocates for the sinking of the statue in the same area used to dump toxic waste originating form the works undertaken at La Maddalena for the repurposing of the ex-arsenal for the G8 Summit. In the past, this site was also used by the Italian Navy to discard polluting substances employed in the former arsenal. Mimicking the practices in act in the ex-URSS countries, where monuments of the Soviet era are displayed in themed parks as tourist attractions, the Az.Namusn.Art collective aims at forcibly decontextualise Ciano’s statue by turning its propagandistic character into a publicity stunt able to capitalise on the horrors perpetrated by the political system, while revealing its inherent and apparent barbarity.
Phase two, Ciano Poll (Ciano Sondaggio) consists of an online survey aimed at gathering public opinion regarding the removal of Ciano’s statue from the island of Santo Stefano. Between the options offered, is that of the destruction of the statue.
The last phase, still ongoing, began with a trip to La Maddalena, during which the statue was duplicated using the technique employed for the duplication of the Shroud of Turin, which was developed by Prof. Luigi Garlaschelli of the University of Pavia. This action was performed as a funeral procession. The resulting blue imprint – that at once refers to the name of Ciano and to Yves Klein’s anthropometries – will gradually fade, until disappearing altogether and erasing the memory of this fascist hero. This image, is programmed to be affixed in the city centre of L’Aquila. If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow Was Today reverses the very meaning of archaeological practice: rather than unearthing and preserving, it calls for burial, destruction and erasure.
The last project belonging to the Anarchaeology Series is currently in progress. This work aims at establishing a local, self-sustainable micro-economy which unifies all aspects of the Anarchaeology Series and which emerges from a commitment to everyday forms of resistance and political action. As such, it takes further Az.Namusn.Art collective’s continued investment and active engagement in glocal politics. The project involves the creation of a network of local businesses and professionals – from farmers to local business owners and archaeologists – that will be able to offer an alternative touristic service. This will comprise guided tours to occulted archaeological sites and the provision of local tertiary services, provided by those who have been penalized the most by the brutal politics exercised on this complex geopolitical reality.
All images were provided by the artist.
This work was submitted by Riccardo Fadda and Alessandra Ferrini on 19 March 2014.