by Amy Tanzillo
Pietro Gaglianò is a scholar, an art critic, a curator, and a visionary in the contemporary art scene in Florence and beyond. In his ongoing project entitled THE WALL, Gaglianò asks his contributors, who include artists, critics, actors, architects, scholars, and more, “What does ‘wall’ mean to you?” The curator has been accumulating and cataloguing the various responses to this question since late 2010, when Gaglianò hosted the first edition of THE WALL, a small-scale exhibit amongst friends and colleagues, in a private flat in Florence. Presently, THE WALL has grown to include more than 170 contributions, archived online at www.thewallarchives.net. The project only continues to expand in scope as Gaglianò exhibits in Rome and plans to take THE WALL to Eastern Europe and Spain in the coming year.
For Gaglianò, a curator interested in exploring and linking mediums, ideas, cultures, and disciplines, a project like THE WALL is a project of passion. The highly varied responses to his question about “walls” are a means to analyze and deconstruct societal barriers. The archives of the project can be compared to a filing cabinet; constantly incorporating more input, mobile, and replicable so they are accessible to all. Originally formed as a collection of artwork and scholarly writing, THE WALL has grown from more traditional exhibits to include workshops that directly engage the community in which they are conducted.
This interview was conducted in April 2012, when THE WALL was exhibiting in Santa Croce sull’Arno.
Amy Tanzillo: I was reading about the first edition of your project, THE WALL, and I was wondering how long before the first exhibition in 2010 had you been developing your ideas about “walls?”
Pietro Gaglianò: The very first edition in Florence in September 2010, a year and a half ago, at first it was just an intimate and personal way to meet a lot of persons that composed my own private geography of emotion and of intellectual input. I find myself very worried about and involved in human rights and various geopolitical emergencies. So I felt the need to check how my friends, in which way, how much, my friends were also involved in these topics. So I began to ask them, “what is a wall, in your mind?” And I started to collect different contributions; at the first edition there were just forty, by close friends and collaborators… After this occasion, I thought to myself that it was a very interesting way to find a new dimension to make the people meet the artwork, to involve artists but not only artists.
AT: The contributions you receive for the project are responding to the idea of “the wall” – so do you consider the concept of walls to be just as important as the ideas & reactions that the idea of “wall” inspire?
PG: The contributions I received are very varied, such to inspire to me to catalogue in four big chapters: geopolitical, linguistic,social-historical, and private stories. Those contributions respond to a wide number of ideas and points of view, also in opposition (for example: I gathered supporters of both causes Palestinian and Israeli). The aim is not to define a generic or classical idea of “wall,” but to force the people to reflect about that. I’ve always been interested in processes, not in outputs.
AT: What do you think “the wall” signifies in Santa Croce sull’Arno?
PG: That’s a very interesting question, because Santa Croce sull’Arno is a little town, but very busy because of their leather factories; there are fifty-five different foreign communities from Africa, South America, all over the world – but the town is very little, something like thirty thousand inhabitants. Those inhabitants make up a mosaic, very varied. There, I am working with students in first grade, children six or seven years old, asking them to represent their idea of “wall,” and what is their idea of “bridge”; what does it mean to them to be different, and what does it mean to be brothers, to be similar. I think that there, there is a big wall to be crushed down, especially the gap between the new citizens and the old citizens. This is the wall in which I am most interested.
AT: Is that something really different from what you’ve seen in previous editions of the project?
PG: Yes, very different, because there I am very involved in the real, in the very deep and authentic part of the citizenship, of the people who live there. In Bologna, in Lecce, in Luxembourg, I had the opportunity to choose, to create a relationship, to create and exchange, with a select audience of scholars, artists, cultural workers. In Santa Croce sull’Arno, I have no choice. I find children from all the parts of the society, poor, rich, Italians, Africans – and it’s really amazing. In the final part in October, I will create a new date in which I will meet also the parents of the children, where all the adults will tell a story belonging to their original culture. So it will be a very important jump over the gap, over the wall.
AT: Overall, have you encountered anything that you weren’t expecting, in terms of either the works submitted or in the reactions of the public to the project?
PG: Each work is a surprise. Each work comes from a long conversation, a long confrontation between me and the invited author, but every time it’s a surprise. I have no expectations about the contributions. In terms of the reaction of the public, the audience, I found what I hoped to find: a very curious public, and a public that finds itself able to put itself in a new dimension. Sometimes people arrive in the archives and say “that is not an exhibition” – well, okay, “you’re right,” I say. It’s not an exhibition, it’s an archive, and you have to use it as an archive. I find a lot of people spending several hours in the archive consulting, reading all the materials, looking at the videos, and other contributions. I always found highly interested participation, except in the case of the original visitors who say “this was fashionable in the 80s,” but it happens.
AT: This last question is more about your view on contemporary art in general: THE WALL incorporates workshops, debates, as well as more “traditional” visual art, video, graffiti, and other mediums – as well as the archive itself. Do you believe that contemporary art has any boundaries? Can anything be considered art, especially in the context of this project?
PG: This is not a question, this is an abstract for a very long essay! Briefly, I think that art should not have boundaries, it should be really interdisciplinary. But the intentions, the root in the mind of the author, his belief in being an artist, that is the difference between art and creativity. Another topic is what art should be, and what it should be in terms of responsibility towards society and the public. THE WALL is an essay, a little step in the struggle against the will of the art system to appear as an enclosed garden. All the contributions of the archives must be understandable by the wide audience, and the workshops are always thought as site specific projects, looking for a dialogue with the context. This is a kind of ethical code that I try to apply every time I have the opportunity.