SAVE ASOLO: ACTING WITH A LOCAL COMMUNITY
by Steve Bisson



© SAVE ASOLO, July 2017

For 12 months Urbanautica Institute occupies a building in the historic center of Asolo, one hour from Venice. This medieval pearl, dominating the homonymous hills, has for centuries been a privileged destination for intellectuals and artists. Although considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, even by road signage, and thus favored by tourism, Asolo suffers from a gradual population decline, inadequate housing supply, and loss of community services.

In the plain, in the remaining municipal territory, there is a decisively opposite trend. The easier to colonize countryside is gradually leaving room for new residential expansions (Villa d'Asolo, Casella d'Asolo and Sant'Apollinare), factories and services, while in the heart of Asolo there are fewer than 300 inhabitants. A demographic hemorrhage. During the week, on weekdays, Asolo is a largely uninhabited village. On the weekend, however, is populated by a thirsty flock that climbs the hill to enjoy the panorama, and its famous "hundred horizons" chanted by poet Giosuè Carducci. Bar tables fill up, merchants smile. Public spaces are occupied by the most improbable activities: festivals, gatherings of vintage cars, all sort of fairs, celebrations and commemorations. Cyclists with tight tufts spin around the narrow streets of porphyry.

Once a silent gem that attracted and watched artists and poets in search of peace and inspiration, today is rather invaded by mass tourism attracted by its charm. Cultural activities, despite the varied programming, are struggling to take off. The two theaters are closed for most of the year, the home of the composer Malipiero is almost in ruin. The houses of Eleonora Duse (the "divine" theater actress) as well as that of explorer and writer Freya Stark are in the hands of the private and unavailable. The civic museum is devoid of a real curatorship. The "Rocca", the fortress that dominates the village, at night is castrated by a ridiculous lighting. The Browning porticos that lead to the only square in the old town, converted to a parking, are lined with dining menus.

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So far Asolo's destiny - slow and inexorable decline - is not very different from that of many other small villages across Europe. Its proximity to other important historical cities in the Veneto, and the discreet prosperity that still persists in the heavily industrialized neighboring territories, have preserved it from a total collapse.



There is, however, a gap between the old and the new Asolo, which appears vital, young, multiethnic and continues to grow silently in the plain. Almost all of the population lives here. Here we certainly do not find the architectural charm as at the top of the hill, but we find the typical characters of postwar Venetian settlements development, a bit anonymous and convulsive. However here we are always at Asolo. And here it's easy to breath the resignantion and disaffection for the fate of the "Old Town". Maybe it was a bad choice to decentralize the inhabitants instead of culture. This consideration, however, concerns the past. What about now. The future necessarily goes through the involvement and participation of the new Asolo.



Urbanautica Institute has planned to work in this direction, to reduce this bipolarity and to highlight and reinforce connections.Urbanautica Institute intends to tell the evolution of this territory by favoring the involvement of artists and their interaction with the local.  

In the early 70's, Asolo thanks to Francesco Conz's cultural patronage, was home to some of the most significant pages of the fluxus movement in Italy. Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, Charlotte Moorman, Al Hansen, Jon e Geoffrey Hendricks, Nam June Paik, Takako Saito, Peter Moore, Alison Knowles, Bob Watts, Philip Corner, Emmett Williams, Carolee Schneemann and many others came here. Some of them have left unforgettable traces though the spirit that animated that unrepeatable season seems lost. To launch its new research programme Urbanautica Institute has decided to exhibit the series 'New York 1976-1986' by the American photographer Gary Green. A tribute to the visionary Francesco Conz. 

© SAVE ASOLO go "viral"


© Gary Green from the series 'New York 1976 - 1986'


© SAVE ASOLO, June 2017


© SAVE ASOLO installation view 'New York 1976 - 1986' by Gary Green

The documentary photographer Diego Mayon's series 'Identity' speaks of the sense of belonging to a place, of a changing identity of Asolo, of a territorial credibility. It does not matter whether it is food, polymers, hiking shoes or furnitures, Asolo returns with unprecedented frequency on the road signs. Asolo is no longer just an inspiration for artists and intellectuals. As a beautiful story told in a book is transformed by the reader and starts to live of its own life, so the myth of the beautiful Asolo, cultural cradle, is metabolized and digested from the territory and returned in the road map and advertising signs. By using black and white, and a typological approach that recalls conceptually Bernd and Hilla Becher, the work carried out by Mayon during his brief visit to Asolo invites us to reflect on the determinant role that the local industry can play to save Asolo and paradoxically their own story.


© Diego Mayon from the series 'Identity'


© Diego Mayon from the series 'Identity'


© Diego Mayon from the series 'Identity'


© SAVE ASOLO, July 2017 (meeting with community)


© SAVE ASOLO, July 2017 (menu of the day)


© SAVE ASOLO, July 2017 (friends)


© SAVE ASOLO, July 2017 (postcards)

'Quello che non c'è più (What's gone)' by Andrea Pirisi focuses on a very precise and obvious subject: the vacuum left behind by the closure and transfer of many activities from the old town of Asolo. This is a phenomenon that is not only economic but structural and can be attributed to the decentralization of housing policies of the past 20 years. This is process is leading to the consolidation of the little towns, and it's affecting the very essence, vocation and image of the historical center, which is becoming more and more and entertainment spot. These voids depicted by Andrea Pirisi are therefore to be seen as questions rather than judgments. An opportunity for reflection on a dramatic process of gentrification.


© Andrea Pirisi from the series 'Quello che non c'è più'


© Andrea Pirisi from the series 'Quello che non c'è più' 


© Andrea Pirisi from the series 'Quello che non c'è più' 


© SAVE ASOLO, September 2017 (Andrea Pirisi installation view 'Quello che non c'è più')


© SAVE ASOLO, September 2017 (Andrea Pirisi installation view 'Quello che non c'è più') 
 


© SAVE ASOLO, September 2017 (Andrea Pirisi presenting his project 'Quello che non c'è più')

Carolina Gheri on her trips to Asolo chose to meet the people, the inhabitants. To hear their stories. It's said that there are few young people still living in old town of Asolo. Many have moved away, especially families with kids. Still some have choosen to live among the old medieval walls attracted by the charm of Asolo. As well put by Carolina Gheri:

«We are used to think at maximum productivity for anything, even for ourselves. The maximum result in the shortest possible time. Whoever chooses to live in Asolo accepts another speed. A countercurrent choice, but that brings the individual to the center of his/her needs and thoughts. This atmosphere has created fertile ground for a small community of creative young people who find their size in this place. Their reality, however, collides with the past of Asolo, where Alberto Sordi and Carla Fracci, who still occupy the common imagination of the oldest inhabitants and tourists. The municipality rides the glorious past, in the wake of its preservation and not of renewal, promoting the ideal of 'the jewel village': firm, immutable, but beautiful. Asolo is a small creative pole ready to blossom and is not a simple utopia of a few. It is a palpable reality that is based on the voices of the past and of the future, going to form the present.» 


The series of portraits 'Ultimi Indigeni' (Last Indigenous) by Carolina Gheri pick up the kindness of some inhabitants and somehow projects the serenity of an ancient community life. Their looks, often elusive, mingle with other photographic, personal, sudden and vernacular testimonials torn from reality while walking along the streets of Asolo. Small signs and empathic traces that point to a place without describing it.


© Carolina Gheri from the series 'Ultimi Indigeni'


© Carolina Gheri from the series 'Ultimi Indigeni'


© Carolina Gheri from the series 'Ultimi Indigeni'


© Carolina Gheri from the series 'Ultimi Indigeni'

Next meeting of SAVE ASOLO will take place on October 28th. Info here.

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SAVE ASOLO