Intermediate Time

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Manuel Cicchetti’s photographic collection (or rather photographic selection, imagining the careful choice of every single detail, in the infinite possibility of where and when), is a study, an in-depth journey inside a suspended Italy, a territory so varied from a landscape and social point of view, which is standardized in the black and white shots of places that are not places, spatial elements of yesterday, today and probably tomorrow.

Cicchetti’s research is basically based on two elements and a few words. The two elements are place and time. Words, as underlined by the author, are a guide for him: archetype, cohabitation, consumption, eco-sustainability, infinity, nature, occupation, permeability, redesign, savings, choices, stratification, utopia, passage, virtual. Powerful words, immense even. But let’s go in order.

The time of this journey, as evident from the title of the volume, is the Intermediate Time. It is not easy to define it, to place it with certainty. The Intermediate Time is an arc that underlies our immediate past, that of the economic boom, that of the post-war years, that of uncontrolled growth and proliferation, that of cement at any cost. In short, that of production, where the dream of unlimited growth has crashed against the rock of reality. The Intermediate Time is years and an instant long, the one immortalized in the black and white of the photos, that very long instant that still lasts. Until we open our eyes.

The place is multiple and unique. Multiple in its facets, in the geographical coordinates that characterize these cathedrals in the desert, from south to north of the Italian peninsula. They are the places we frequented, where we worked, where the future was being produced. These are the places we still frequent, where we still work, where we still produce. The future. Because the dream is not over yet. Because there is still something to produce, to export, to sell.

The prayers in these solitary cathedrals generate a dream that goes beyond separate places, unites them under a single sky, a single story. And all these places merge, share their concrete walls, metal barriers and lowered bars. They become a city, a single agglomeration that approaches those fantastic cities described by Calvino, a place built by thought and governed by convictions, now memories.

Absolutely not invisible, this city, which we could baptize Kairos (Calvino will forgive me for not using a woman’s name), the “time in between”, a time in which something “great” happens, expands its innumerable protuberances on the territory, it occupies it, it crystallizes it in its indefinite duration. Kairos is the city that we have learned to accept, willingly or unwillingly, that we frequent even just passing through. It’s the abandoned factories, the deserted warehouses, the titanic multiplexes that dominate in the middle of nowhere. It’s the discovery that we cannot grow forever (in the economic sense of the term), and that sooner or later it is necessary to come to terms with a society in crisis and with irreversible changes.

Like a modern Marco Polo, Cicchetti makes his way through this sprawling city, visiting with the calm of a traveller, with the slowness that imposes reflection on the places that have given way to speed and frenzy. His guides are very special Muses. Permeability and occupation, close yet in opposition, in places designed to be punctured by abandonment; savings and consumption, which accept each other by alternating their multiple positive and negative meanings; ecosustainability, the inflated word on everyone’s lips, rulers or folk, used by many and applied by few; nature and utopia, which at times seem to become a single entity; and then virtual, passage and archetype, stratification and occupation, redrawing and infinity, cohabitation, tracks already traced in not too distant times.

But perhaps it is “choices” the magnetic pole that influences, as Cicchetti writes, his “reflective wandering”. The choices that lead us to embark on such a complex and tortuous journey, the choices that tell a great piece of Italian history, that strip it in fictitious and abandoned structures, that conceal the ancient desire of never to wake up from that industrial dream that it has led to cementing the soil, polluting the waters, annihilating consciences with large chains of mass entertainment. But also the choices that have not yet materialized. The choices of those who care about the territory, the landscape and nature. Choices that see not only a failure in those post-modern (and in some ways very contemporary) ruins, but the opportunity to exploit compromised sites to promote the well-being of the citizens who gravitate around them.

I am thinking of wonderful projects such as the regeneration of industrial sites in the Ruhr Valley, the Zhongshan shipyard in China, transformed into an urban park, and Parco Dora in Turin, or the redevelopment of the Pirelli spaces at the HangarBicocca in Milan.

The Intermediate Time will end when a real path of change begins, which will bring these places of concrete and steel out of the state of crystallization, and promote real environmental and landscape policies, beyond the easy slogans that are often presented. I have always been a fervent supporter of the quote “Beauty will save the world”, but at the same time I believe that “choices” are the real engine of change. Manuel Cicchetti has shown us part of this journey.