Until March, 9th 2003 a journey through Calvino’s visionary cities at Triennale

by Fabrizio Montesanto, Master Visual design

In front of an audience of students during a conference at Columbia University in March 1983, Italo Calvino responded to his own question: « …What do cities mean to us today? I believe I have written something that is a last piece of love poetry to cities, at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to experience them as such».

Twenty years before Calvino had already expressed his fears about the increasingly difficult condition of the modern city. After all, since the war there have not been that many years when it has been possible for this country to breathe “clean, fresh” air. The author of Invisible Cities, published by Einaudi eleven years before, perceives the discomfort of a decline in values caused by frenetic city life. Taking his inspiration from the ailing heart of a plethora of contemporary realities, Calvino imagines his cities sometimes better than they actually are, sometimes as a faithful reflection or as a caricature of our metropolitan landscapes.

The Triennale in Milan is currently hosting an exhibition which takes the visitor on a tour round places mentioned by Calvino, but interpreted in an often visionary way. The IN/visible cities which eleven designers have made in/VISIBLE aim at making us reflect on what is undoubtedly a most topical theme. City life all too often denies people the opportunity for intimate imagination. A space for expressing freedom, however, is absolutely essential and sometimes so real as to create places from the mind’s eye, suitable spaces in which to exist.
Inside the rooms of the Triennale visitors are drawn into the exhibition and physically taken through a number of cities/works. One of these is Leonia, the rubbish dump city; its inhabitants live with the sole aim of every day discarding what they have consumed. The result is an enormous rubbish dump containing defenceless, silent objects which exude communicative energy.

Other cities are simply to be observed as if on a journey in another world. Cloe is a bustling yet silent city, its people utter no words but nevertheless manage to spin a rich web of relationships consummated purely using sight. Fleeting relationships, just a glance then forgotten. On video a camera locks onto the nervous movements of eyes and eyelids which seem to be blinking uncontrollably without being part of a face. The camera turns back to the inhabitants, anonymous legs in a frenetic sequence of comings and goings. A slight hesitation before continuing on their way towards some undisclosed destination. Cloe seems to live in the immediacy of the present which turns at once into the past. It is a city that is not aware of the future.

A city without gates and walls does not have the necessary requisites for being defined as such… It is merely an intricate system of pipes carrying water, linked to an infinite variety of sanitary fittings suspended in mid-air. Yet amidst all these objects the city of Armilla turns out to be inhabited by a number of fine-looking women, perhaps nymphs, continuously seeing to their toilette. Coming out through the pipes they have found a most congenial habitat in these strange surroundings.

Irene is the acoustic city. It is seen as a place with no real identity. It is first approached from above; the visitor is mysteriously pushed towards it and once there fails to recognise it. The music by Afterhours coming forth from the city is at times tormenting, burning like the torches which mark its borders. Powerful and dense to the ear, it gradually loses its quality the closer you get, before starting to break up and finally become indecipherable. The exhibition then takes the visitor outside to the city of Zenobia, the hanging city. An impregnable place, the result of superimposed constructions which have ended up hiding the city’s original pile buildings.

The IN/Visible cities, new interpretations of the original works penned by Calvino, seem to take on the role of dreams, to a greater or lesser extent the unconscious creation of each individual. They are perhaps reflections of man’s congenital incongruity: he is an animal endowed with intellect and therefore guilty of his own extinction.

Le città In/visibili
From 5th November 2002 to 9th March 2003
Times: 10.30 – 20.30, closed Mondays
Triennale di Milano, Viale Alemagna 6
tel. 02-724341 fax 02-89010693

  • foto triennale calvino 2
  • foto triennale calvino 1