Effimero: or the Postmodern Italian Condition

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Even if The Printed and the Built mainly focuses on the relation between the built environment and print culture in 19th and early 20th-century Europe, some anachronistic incursions into the recent past might also occur. Lea-Catherine Szacka’s postdoctoral research project, entitled Lost Materiality: Ephemeral architecture as urban fiction and also based at OCCAS, appears as an extended arm of The Printed and the Built. It takes as its object ephemeral architecture, often associated with celebrations, festivals and other events which relie, even more than any other types of constructions, on documentation: no longer there, they exist through oral and written descriptions, printed matters, engravings, photography and other forms of representation aiming at grasping the nature and role in society of these constructions. As such their materiality per se is lost. They are handed down as remediations in a variety of genres, which raise crucial questions precisely in regards to their originally ephemeral materiality, and their material effects as lost events.

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A crucial source of information for this project are daily newspapers, reporting, day by day, the construction and short life-span of ephemeral structures. For the first step of the project, the installation Effimero: or the Postmodern Italian Condition (presented as part of Monditalia at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale June 7 to November 23, 2014) the online archive of the Italian Communist Party funded left-wing newspaper l’Unità (1924-2014) has proved invaluable. All five case studies included in the installation were studied through the text and images (and the combination of both also in relation with other news included in the newspapers). Examples of pages of l’Unità (reprinted on special paper graciously provided by Il Gazettino di Mestre, a local publication which warehouse is situated just outside Venice) were part of the material displayed in the five levels of ‘archival’ drawers of the installation.

If the printed culture has greatly evolved since the 19th century, the project demonstrates that questions about the information transmitted, in relation to the built environment; of debate and public sphere; and of the combination of text and image, remain important and challenging in using the printed press as sources for studying the recent past.

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