Stefano Rabolli Pansera is an Italian architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and curator. Rabolli Pansera studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London where he graduated with Honours in 2005 and where he taught as Unit Master of Intermediate Unit 5 from 2007 to 2011.
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Rabolli Pansera is the founding director of Beyond Entropy Ltd. In 2013, Stefano Rabolli Pansera co-curated the Angola Pavilion with Paula Nascimento at the 55th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. The Angola Pavilion won the Golden Lion for „best national participation“.
You have just been appointed director of a local contemporary art museum in Sardinia. Could you give us a brief introduction?
Three years ago we designed an open-air gallery in Sardinia. The site of the gallery is in the south west of Sardinia, near Calasetta.
During the construction of the gallery, I was invited to do a project for the Museum of Contemporary Art of the village of Calasetta as well.
It is a small museum, in the centre of the village and just 50 meters off the beach.
This part of Sardinia is one of the poorest areas in Italy. And it is very marginal: over there, we are closer to Tunisi than to Rome.
So we should start with the gallery then?
Yes. This is the first project we did.
The village of Calasetta is in the south west of Sardinia and it is a typical coastal village: overcrowded during the summer and completely deserted in winter. There is a high rate of unemployment and most of the people are old. Young generations escape from this village. They don’t just escape from the village, they escape from Sardinia. The future of the island or the village is immediately related to tourism. The problem is that people think that in order to develop Sardinia, they need to build more infrastructures, more houses, more hotels, etc..
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The idea of the gallery is the opposite: we want to change everything by not building anything.
The area of Mangiabarche (Eating boats) is five Kilometers in the south of Calasetta. There are beautiful cliffs and a lighthouse and a group of derelict military barracks is surrounded by Mediterranean vegetation. In Sardinia there is a controversial law called „Legge Salvacosta“ which does not allow to build any new volume within 3km from the coastline. We decided to take the building regulations as the brief of the projects. Therefore we decided to not build , rather we removed the volume from one of the existing buildings.
Thus the radical move of removing the ceiling?
Exactly. Thats why the idea of leaving everything and only removing the roof came about.
The open air gallery is both a radical architectural gesture and a new challenge for the curatorial program.
From the architectural point of view, it is radical because there is no design: everything was given: the heights, the rooms, etc. We even kept the flooring, decorations, the internal tiles etc.. only the roof was removed. This is a sort of conceptual architecture and , at the same time, it is an answer to the local regulations.
From the curatorial point of view, the open air gallery is a critique to the notion of „white cube“, a neutral aseptic space where artwork is exhibited. This is a space where artists work. Their work decays consequently, as it is constantly exposed to the wind, to the sun and to the rain. Therefore the curatorial program becomes a continuos narration, instead of a series of isolated events.
So do I understand correctly, that each artist works on the traces of the previous one?
Yes. In fact the gallery becomes the palimpsest of its own curatorial programme.
In few years, every wall will present the compressed, overlapped series of the works of the artists that have been working there.
You mentioned two years of construction. But you have only removed the roof!
The project took almost two years to be completed, as we were delayed by planning officers, we found unexploded bombs from the second world war in the surrounding areas, there was asbestos in the roof, etc… what should have been a three weeks construction, carried on and on.
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How is the running of the space financed?
The project is promoted and realised by Conservatoria delle coste della Sardegna, the Regional Agency of coastal protection with which has provided the site, the logistics and the financial means to do the works. Furthemore the Conservatoria is the main sponsors of the curatorial activity. Furthermore we found sponsors while collaborating with local institutions, and with local people; we trade with the butcher, with the fisherman of the village, we have special agreements with the supermarket and with the ice-cream shop.
Consequently one would like the gallery to create an impact and hence leaves a matter of the audience. Other institutions are battling with visitor numbers, which I assume, especially if on your part of the island is no touristic activity taking place, it will be hard to have any audience?
You are right. This area becomes very touristic during the summer but our activities happen even during winter-time when the village is deserted.
Yet the Gallery is located about 70 m away from the coast. It is close to a small village, Calasetta, which has a small community of 2500 people…. The problem is not finding an audience there, but producing an audience through the activities of a museum.
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This leads to a set of relevant issues: is contemporary art capable to operate beyond its conventional system? Is contemporary art able to talk to a non-specialised public? Is art capable to produce a new audience? This questions are interesting to me. And this project is raising these issues.
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Ok lets move to the museum then.
The museum was founded in 2001 by Ermanno Leinardi an important intellectual and painter of Calasetta. The building was the former slaughterhouse of the village. It is quite a large space, approximately 1,300 square meters. It is a large, bright space. The permanent collection was donated by Ermanno Leinardi and it contains one hundred paper and canvas artworks of Modernist European artists from the sixties and seventies. The collection is important in Sardinia, but it is very modest in the national and international context. And this is an advantage for me because I have more possibilities to work with new artists.
In fact my mission is to transform both the Museum and Mangiabarche Gallery into an artistic epicentre for the Mediterranean region.
The overall strategy is based on:
First, the gallery and the museum work as independent, yet complementary entities.
Second, the programme is based on cultural production.
Third, the domain is the Mediterranean. In fact the Gallery and the Museum aim to become a small epicentre for the entire geopolitical territory.
Lets quickly intersect with how are you seeing the connection of the museum and the gallery?
The gallery and the museum have different artists and programmes. They are separated but they need to move together. The gallery is the room for „special projects“ of the museum. And the Museum is the chamber of resonance and archive of the activities of the Gallery.
I am not interested in the museum as a container to exhibit work. It should not be about exhibiting artworks as commodities, it shouldn’t be a turistic attraction based on „consuming“ the artworks. I want the space to operate for cultural production.
How are you defining cultural production?
Cultural production means that artists must produce artworks on site and that they are working with local craftsmen , using local materials and techniques. I am not making an argument for site-specific works or for any rhetoric identity. On the contrary, I want to show that a new contemporary language can be produced even in the Mediterranean and even in its most marginal villages.
By doing so, I actually achieved two goals.
On one site I am developing new aesthetic, and on the other hand, I am stimulating the local economy and I show how the museum is a catalyst for the development of teh entire territory. At the moment there are three artists in residency and one curator.
Ok lets come back to the Mediterranean. You mentioned you were analyzing the entire coast. How many museums are there then?
We mapped 1037 museums on the Mediterranean coast. This defines the extraordinary scale and ambition of the project, which is a geopolitical experiment. How these tiny spots can operate together on a territorial level, through a curatorial project? How can we use art to produce a new vision of the Mediterranean?
We are in touch with museums in Italy, Greece, Istanbul, Cairo and Algeria.
Have you got any answers already?
Yes. The interesting part is, that the overall project works simultaneously at different scales.
It defines different types of relationships, with different contexts. So we are constantly working in the Mediterranean territory, and in the Sardinian territory and finally with the local territory (with a constant dialogue between the open air gallery and the museum).
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Jumping back to the museum. What did you change there, in order to support such a large operation?
Even here as well as in the gallery, we wanted to change everything by building nothing.
The first move was to rearrange the collection of the museum. We first moved the permanent collection to the first floor and squeezed it as much as possible to leave the ground floor for residencies and studio spaced for artists. And we created an archive devoted to the activities that are taking place at the open air gallery.
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So this is already a link of the two?
Yes. But we are creating a link between the Museum, Mangiabarche gallery and the entire village. We are triggering a new development: through the museum and the gallery, we are creating new cafes, meeting points, we are suggesting people to refurbish their houses, etc..
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How are you creating these entities? By just giving the space?
It is more than this, the artistic production extends around the entire island. The museum is a catalyst. The distance between Museum and Gallery is already a territorial operation. On top of that the artists are free to turn the entire village in an artistic canvas. For example one artist has painted the wall of a local house where he was staying, another one is doing an altar piece for the Church, another one is doing a collective painting of the old sailors of Calasetta. The artworks are not only in the museum, they are in the streets, in the the private houses, inside the public buildings. And in return the local community might be own an original artwork. We are working both with young, unknown , yet very talented artists and with established galleries, which help me producing the most expensive works.
So is it a hybrid situation?
First, I work with the commercial gallery for non commercial art production ( we can not exclude the market – otherwise we just produce a utopian and naive idea).
Second, I am working with local authorities to find financial support , even if they are no the current situation.
Third, I am stimulating the economy, as everything that is produced is produced on site.
What role does cultural production in form of direct education play? Are these fields of interest?
We have just started to think about educational programs.
Beyond Entropy is operating globally. We are working with Africa, Europe, Central Asia and Gulf region. Each territory is a potential partner. We are inviting Universities to send groups of students to work in the museum. We have already had a group of thirty students from Oxford, who transformed the entire Museum in a laboratory. During the workshop the Museum was the only place lit for twenty four hours in the entire village and the local renamed it as „The Discotheque”.
How is everything financed?
This is the biggest challenge for us right now. Right now Beyond Entropy has sponsored the first artists in residency. But the aim is to create a chain reaction, that will attract more and more private sponsors .
The project uses the marginality as an opportunity to produce new ideas and new aesthetic.
We don’t have an audience to entertain, we do not have the art system to please, we just have an open air gallery as a starting point and the Mediterranean as destination..
We are free to be radical and go for it.
Thank you very much.
all images © Stefano Rabolli Pansera