Monday, March 21, 2011

A little Milan history~ La Quartiere di Porta Ticinese...

As well as running and taking part in the workshop, Celine wanted us to get involved in an exhibition that is being organized by Scotini, the head of Painting & Visual Arts at NABA. It is very related to her work looking at cultivating creative dialogues within the local community. The exhibition will be opening in the next month and revolves around the Milan district 'Porta Ticinese'. As a curator and art critic, Scotini is interested in revealing the roots of the area and its very important and active role within the art histories. This is exhibition is linked and import to NABA as an institution, as the school is situated in the Porta Ticinese neighbourhood and moved their from the north of Milan 7 years ago. 

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Porta Ticinese has always been a very important neighbourhood, it is home of the Navigli canals and has an extremely rich and vibrant history, rooting a lot of very important artistic and political movements as well as historical achievements in Milan. In collaboration with Celine's workshop and looking for 'Support Structures' in the local community, Scotini organised a talk with a long term resident from the area to come and speak to us of her memories...This was also a great way for us to find out geographical 'clues' as to where these interesting artstic spaces had once existed and where they could be found. She was a very interesting woman and revealed the roots and story of 'La Quartiere di Porta Ticinese'...

Old map of Porta Ticinese

Porta Ticinese has always been conceived as the 'inner village' of Milan. It is an extremely diverse  neighbourhood and the only one of it's kind in Milan. It is a very important area because it houses the Navigli canal systems, which have been a major part in the growth and expansion of Milan as well as being a diverse historical artefact of the city.
The canal system was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, himself, in 1482. Leonardo Da Vinci at that time was a newly arrived Milan citizen and was commissioned to design the canal system by Ludovico il MoroThe Navigli was the largest river harbour in Europe, bringing in exports from all over the world, and used to be known as the "Cheesy Area" because of the strong smell of cheese that lingered in the streets. The Navigli is also very important because it was the passage way through Milano where all the materials for the Duomo Cathedral where sent by, this being one of the biggest architectural projects in Milan, taking over 300 years to complete.

An old photo of El Duomo

In the early 1900's Porta Ticinese turned into a commercial neigbourhood, where lots of factories and craft based centres were built within the area. In World War II, because of this economic expansion it was targeted and bombed badly, destroying a lot of the factories and establishments. After the war, Porta Ticinese was re-build and there was a very strong female presence, with 'woman only' factories existing and a re-birth of the commercial industry. Porta Ticinese was a very poor neigbourhood, with houses maintaining a whole family in one room, and the living conditions were extremely basic. It was always was an affordable place where families would live in the city, creating a strong community feel. 

The key behind Porta Tiscinese's ongoing existence as the internal village of Milan has been its architectual landscape. Because it is build around the canals of the Navigli, this stopped the opportunity of large urban expansion. When all the commercial establishments eventually moved out of Porta Ticinese and into the city centre, the factories where left and abandoned. This left a perfect space for artists and squatters to move in and to bring a new life and presence into the area. In the 1960's there was a great invasion of young people that came and occupied all of the old factories and buildings, using them for artistic studios, living spaces and other self-run schools and organizations. 
Because the area was very affordable, and in a way unwanted, the intellectuals of the time, and artistic networks came with the whole avande garde movement and there began their own mini revolution.  In the 1960/70's Porta di Ticinese housed a specific mode of living, it was a place for autonomous living and a way to be part of a community. For both political and artistic radicals and intellectuals, it was a quartiere for activity and exchange of knowledge. It was in this time period, that Porta Ticinese founded an extremely important site; the first political book shop in Italy, and it was set up by the very important political body; Primi Moroni. 

Primo Moroni

Primo Moroni was a writer and poet situated and living in Porta Ticinese in this time period. Not only did he open the first political bookshop in Italy, he also founded an extremely fundamental site and tool for the Milanese people. The book shop was named 'Cox 18' and is still present on la Via Conchetta, which is directly down the road from NABA. 
Moroni opened this venture as a way to collect and share the poltical material that was being created and published in the 70's from all over the world. He was a very important political charcter in Milan, and his bookshop attracted people globally to come and look at his vast collection, as Moroni had found access to poltiical writings and publications that could not be found anywhere else in the world. He fed this material to the local community and through this dialogue cultivated an extremely rich and radical culture within Porta Ticinese. 

Cox 18, Via Conchetta 

All the political material, manifestos, zines and publications are still archived and can be found at the 'Cox 18'. His collection is still very much of historical importance and his legacy lives on, sharing the knowledge and which are tell the story of a very important time period within the political histiry of the world. 
Another famous writer and poet of this time was Alda Merini. She has been suggested as the greatest contemporary poet to live in Italy. She was the protagonist of the cultural scene in Italy, living in Milan her whole life. She lived in poverty, through her own choice and suffered from mental illness, a thing she called the "shadows of the mind". Merini was an extremely influential character to Italian Poetry, and to Porta Ticinese as that was the quarter she lived and created in. 

The mural for Mereni

Alda Merini passed way at the end of 2009 and her funeral was funded by the state, which to me just shows how much respect she had from the Italian people. A memorial mural was made shortly after her death in the Porta Ticinese area near her home. 

Porta Ticinese at present

Porta Ticinese has now developed into an extremely busy city nightlife centre, and the essence of the 'internal village' has very much disappeared. After the fascist presence in Italy, in the early 90's the squats and autonomous way of living was irradicated, making this cultural collective flee to different cities, and only a few residents fighted against the government and some eventually got the rights for their illegally habited homes, where they now live. 
What is left of this extremely interesting history are the little clues; the murals, a lot of graffiti and street presence, the Cox 18 building and the people that stayed in the area. When you walk down the streets of Porta Ticinese there is defiantely a hidden mystery to them. You can feel the artistic roots and that it was once an active place, there is a very interesting essence in the air...
Now the area is occupied by nightclubs, bars, vintage shops, markets and lots and lots of students, but within a very different age and approach. Rent prices have rocketed, the presence of politics has dissapeared, and yet it is still a very sociable space...
I am very much looking forward to seeing how Scotini tries to form these two ages together through the exhibition, and to re-connect the space with its past. I feel it is important that these support structures are kept alive and open for the community, that the areas roots are not forgotten, and that it can always be a cultural centre for the young generations to come...

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