DO NOT DISTURB: The complexities of Pubic Space in Italy – Series of three Italian Placemats – Biella, Itlay
by Matthew Mazzotta

In cooperation with several restaurants, bars, and cafes in the small city of Biella, Italy, DO NOT DISTURB is a series of three unique and provocative disposable placemats that provide an image and text (in Italian) about the complexities of pubic space in Italy. Each day these placemats were placed on restaurant tables providing an immediate and visually critical response as to why Italian cities look the way they do, while provoking conversation as customers sit and wait for their food.


-Colosseum Placemat-
(Text on placemat translated into english)
“When looking at infrastructure trends and the presence of art in cities we see that locations with more heritage tend to be more academic and more likely to invest in preserving their heritage and less interested in supporting new works of art, while locations with less infrastructure and less heritage often have more of an interest in art in their public spaces and invest both private and public money in contemporary arts to foster this.”


-Pisa Placemat-
(Text on placemat translated into english)
“Why do our Italian cities and towns look the way they do? Is it the laws and permits that make it extremely difficult to bring new creative energy into our public spaces, or is it because our culture historically believes that we do not have ownership of public spaces in our communities. Conditions such as these leave us with decaying monumental architecture that attracts tourists, quick acts of vandalism, graffiti, and commercial advertisements, while at the same time preventing new challenging and experimental works of art from becoming part of the cityscape.”

-Pantheon Placemat-
(Text on placemat translated into english)
“Dear people of Italy, the masters have left us in a decaying hell. We are too scared to make a move, to change anything. It is a trap. We are so cautious we have prevented our own progress and become stale, while other places around the world naturally allow every generation to contribute to its own life. We are like the child who suffers his whole life in the shadow of a father who has done too many great things and is widely admired and respected for it, we are not free, we are always in reference to him. We are struggling for fresh air to breathe amongst all this history. Oh the pain we are in! like babies wrapped so tightly in our blankets we can’t move, just cry for more of mother’s milk.”

Matthew Mazzotta is a conceptual artist and lecturer at MIT – Program in Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT). He creates permanent and temporary public interventions that range from opening up new social spaces inside the built environment, to addressing more pressing environmental issues, but always with a focus on community and public participation.

Matthew’s work evolves from an interest in exploring the relationship between people and their environments, as well as between each other. His practice is conceptual and manifests as participatory public interventions that aim at bringing criticality and a sense of openness to the places we live. The work triggers social situations that open space for dialogues around issues of ‘becoming’, understanding that there is much more to us than our surroundings give us credit to ‘be’. The objects, situations, and spaces he creates as community projects and participatory interventions, ask us to relate to ourselves, and each other in unfamiliar ways, in hopes of finding new perspectives on how we see ourselves in this world.

By creating unique and unfamiliar visions of our world, Matthew’s work focuses on drawing people in by curiosity, so they may begin to find themselves participating in something unrehearsed. It is about challenging our notions of space, cutting apart what has become invisible to us, and providing a context for not merely “acting”, but “reacting” — and “interacting.” This process revolves around introducing an idea to a location, for it to be appropriated and expanded upon by the people there, which ultimately becomes a reflection of that community.

These socially-engaged, participatory public interventions allow for a re-entry of the physical and metaphorical landscapes of our lives by provoking conversations around exploring the “local”, questions of ecology, public involvement, community building, artists’ sensibilities, science, bringing criticality to a space, and dissecting the systems that make up our ‘everyday’. The work is about building a platform that allows people from a range of disciplines and backgrounds to exchange ideas and energies, so that they can work together towards a final goal or transformation. Often times these projects include working with local laborers, academics, engineers, builders, community members, activists, artists, poets, and anyone else that is willing to be involved in something experiential and participatory.

By piercing through the roles we play in public, we break up the narratives of specific public spaces. Matthew’s work is about reversing the top down ‘one way’ exchange of ideas and allowing people to ‘contribute’ in a more tangible way to their own environment. Allowing people time and a context to explore the knowledge, beauty, sentiments, and hidden elements that surround them, enables a community to see aspects of itself that it usually would not be able to see.

Matthew Mazzotta

All material was provided by the artist.
This work was submitted by Matthew Mazzotta on 31 October 2014.
- Also view Matthew Mazzotta’s other submission ‘Open House’ -
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