Effimero: Or the Postmodern Italian Condition

Effimero: Or the Postmodern Italian Condition

Léa-Catherine Szacka
Venice, Italy
Project Year
Stories By
Léa-Catherine Szacka

Valérie Paquette

Effimero: Or the Postmodern Italian Condition

Léa-Catherine Szacka as Architects

Effimero: or the Postmodern Italian Condition is a research project by architect and historian Léa-Catherine Szacka (with U67 for exhibition design and art direction, Valérie Paquette for graphic design and photography and Julien Sage-Thomas for multimedia design) on display at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, as a part of the “Monditalia” exhibition.

Between the late 1970s and the end of the 1980s, Italy experienced a proliferation of events using ephemeral structures as a response to the socio-political turmoil of the previous decade known as the anni di piombo (Years of Lead). The utopian spaces of theatre, the performing arts and other forms of entertainment became catalysts for the collective imagination that, coupled with the rediscovery of an interest in the Baroque, ushered in new ideas of spectacle. Historical city centres became playgrounds for all, e"acing boundaries between high and low culture. The involvement of the public mixed cultural categories through do-it-yourself and collage, typical of postmodernity, and contributed to a reversal of values from a heavily ideological climate to one of hedonism and depolitisation.

Effimero: or the Italian Postmodern Condition explores this era of Italy’s recent past. It is both an ar-chive of original drawings, photos and press cuttings of the structures that sustained these specta-cles, and a sensitive and interpretative installation recalling an important moment in the Italian cul-tural scene. The display is framed by the first manifestations of the Estate Romana, organised by Re-nato Nicolini at the Basilica di Massenzio in 1977, and the unconventional and controversial floating stage built for Pink Floyd’s concert in Venice in 1989. It then narrates and contextualises a series of ephemeral experiences: Gae Aulenti’s scenography for the Laboratorio di Progettazione Teatrale di Prato; Franco Purini’s 1979 constructions for Parco Centrale in Rome; and Aldo Rossi’s temporary entrance for the Arsenale at the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale. Following Jack Lang’s 1981 visit to the Estate Romana, Italy’s ‘ephemeral season’ influenced and prompted similar experiences across Europe and the world.

Installation Design

U67 as Designers

The installation has been designed to suggest ideas of theatricality and lightness associated with collective if not hedonistic ephemeral spatial experiences that, by reinvesting historical ruins, industrial and proto-industrial buildings, or entire city centres, marked Italy’s postmodern condition. It is a monumental device, that aims to connect the research project to the scale of the Arsenale. The lower part of the installation forms a physical archive. It consists of a series of five rows, of three drawers each, displaying a collection of research material on the various case studies (original drawings and photographs mixed with pages from the leftist newspaper l’Unità and a series of quotes extracted from interviews or documentary films). Each row of drawers explains synoptically one of the case studies: thus architectural and social experience are explained using historical documents.

The volume of the archive (1,2 x 3,5 x 1,1 m) has a section made of five stairs with drawers opening in both directions. It allows people to interact with the installation, and avoids creating a backside. The displaying mode also suggests the ephemeral nature of the work under study i.e. only documents endured. Going upward with the eyes, visitors discover a network of 1,3 kilometers of nylon thread hung on a white steel structure made of 25 mm of section. This elaborate temporary structure, with very clear geometry, creates a network of 1850 nodes, each marked by a steel cylinder bolt.

As a theatrical reminder of ephemeral projects such as the cinema screenings at Basilica di Massenzio, a multitude of 1000 seated man in scale 1:87 inhabit the structure. Men, women, and children, all with different backgrounds, seating together on the bolts. The white structure also frames and encloses the Arsenale’s column that is highlighted by the change of scale produced by the proximity to the 1:87 men.

Visitors get across the installation through a thin passage between the archive and a shorter section of it, giving a sense of continuity into the adjacent wall. The section serves as a collector for flyers containing factual information and a time line, allowing visitors to grasp quickly and synthetically the essence of this ‘ephemeral season’ and its relation to the socio-political context of the ‘year of leads’. In addition a digital archive located at effimero.info displays a larger amount of material and special contributions that have been collected in the concept phase of the exhibition and that will continue to be gathered from the opening until the closure of la Biennale di Venezia in November.

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