Cities of the future: What’s next for art and urbanism? Default 13 interview



An international residency programme is bringing together 18 Asian and European artists to discuss art and urban regeneration.

From 17 to 26 September 2013, nine artists from Asia and nine from Europe will take part in a “masterclass in residence” organised by biennial project Default in Lecce, southern Italy. Through workshops and seminars the 18 artists will attempt to answer the question, “What is next in art, cities and regeneration?”

Default 11- participants at Ammirato Culture House, Lecce, September 2011

Default 11 participants at Ammirato Culture House, Lecce, September 2011.

Now in its second edition, Default is an international residency programme on art and urbanism organised by Ramdom, an Italian association focusing on artistic and cultural mobility. Attempting to reflect changes in the world’s power structures, Default brings emerging international artists to the city of Lecce, Puglia, every two years to discuss their ideas on the urban landscapes of the future.

In September 2011, artists and guests were invited to discuss ideas on how art can interact with the regeneration of former industrial spaces. Building on that foundation, in 2013 Ramdom is collaborating with Arthub Asia, a creative think tank and curatorial platform based in Shanghai. Masterclasses will take place at the art space Manifatture Knos and other recently redeveloped buildings in Lecce, where international leading artists and art professionals will share ideas with the 18 artists selected for the project.

Default 13 is supported by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), in partnership with Arts Network Asia (ANA) and Trans Europe Halles (TEH) as part of the second edition of the programme Creative Encounters – Cultural Partnerships between Asia and Europe.

Art Radar asked Paolo Mele, Founder and Director of Ramdom and Davide Quadrio, Co-Founder and Director of Arthub Asia, to talk about their hopes for Default 13.

Default 11, masterclass at Ammirato Culture house, September 2011

Default 11 masterclass at Ammirato Culture House, Lecce, September 2011.

Default’s foundations

How was the idea of Default born?

Paolo Mele [PM]: The project’s name was inspired by the idea that contemporary art today should have a default. The world’s economic system has suffered a jolt and so has part of the contemporary art world. I think that this earthquake should serve as a reason for calling art practices into question. The distance between a restricted, privileged art circuit and the vast majority of artists struggling to emerge has widened enormously in recent years. So I think it’s time to reflect on how art in Italy should interact with the public and open up. As is already happening in other parts of the world, art should get out of the narrow world of galleries and museums.

Can you tell me about the mission of Default 13?

PM: Default 13 is the second edition of our “masterclass in residence”, the first one took place in 2011. It’s an innovative type of international residence in Lecce, an intensive ten day in-depth study of the artists’ individual skills aimed at giving substance to and developing their projects. In the past, Puglia financed many redevelopment projects of abandoned urban buildings and spaces, but few have involved art and we wanted to redress the balance. Mostly, we wanted to give artists from this part of Italy the opportunity to meet with artists from other parts of the world. For geographical reasons and for the lack of museums and private foundations, Puglia is cut off from the big circuit of international contemporary art. Our team places great value on collaboration and the planning part of this project, which will result from a close interaction between participants and our international guests.

Default’s selection process

What are the criteria for the selection of the projects submitted and who will be selecting them?

PM: We are interested in participatory and site-specific projects which can interact with Lecce and its communities, and we’ll try to put these into practice after the masterclass as much as we can. Ramdom and Arthub Asia’s teams will make a shortlist, which will be submitted to our international guests for feedback. For Ramdom, it is usually our artistic project curator, the artist Luca Coclite, who makes the selection. At first, we ask artists selected to submit a draft of the project, which is then developed during the residency. After the masterclass we give [participants] a month and a half to resubmit the proposal in a more structured form. We want to put in place a process of full cooperation between all participants. Masterclasses are shaped on our guest speakers’ profiles to maximise their contribution to the project. We organise the masterclass in two phases, the first with a simultaneous presence of more guests and the second with smaller study groups. For Default 13, we tried to keep the project’s theme, art and urban regeneration, as broad as possible, because we are aware of the difficulties of comparing extremely diverse cultural realities in the context of Lecce, where contemporary art is rarely seen.

Serena Porrati, 'Environment, 2011, work proposal for DEFAULT Masterclass in Residence 2011: On Art, Cities and Regeneration. Image courtesy the artist.

Serena Porrati, ‘Environment’, 2011,
work proposal for DEFAULT Masterclass in Residence 2011: On Art, Cities and Regeneration. Image courtesy the artist.

Asia meets Europe: Default 13

How did you hit upon the idea of organising an artistic collaboration between Asia and Europe for this year’s edition of Default?

PM: The world of contemporary art in Italy has long had an interest principally in the West. We decided to investigate the Asian front, where we think the most interesting things are happening today. During our search for funding for the project, we ran into a call for competition issued by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). We applied, asking for support from Arthub Asia, directed by Davide Quadrio, who has been living in Asia for over twenty years and is very familiar with its artistic panorama. In partnership we organised Default 13.

Which Asian countries will you consider when choosing participants and projects to include in the residency?

PM: The countries are those indicated by ASEF, a wide geographical area that includes very diverse realities, ranging from Australia to China and India and many others.

Are you aware of any projects like Default 13 taking place in Asia itself?

PM: Surely there are projects of this kind in China, for example. I don’t know if they involve urban regeneration and working with communities, I imagine the latter could be a sensitive issue.

Davide Quadrio [DQ]: Today it is impossible to talk of Asia and the western world as waterproof realities. Educational realities such as Default 13 are a global phenomenon that organisers in different places develop in a transnational way. Projects such as Default should become widespread, because they bring the world to the peripheries, feeding the possibility of opening, contamination and cultural exchange.

Urban regeneration and public art

Can you tell me in what ways “urban regeneration” will be addressed and defined in the debates that will take place at Default 13?

PM: The interpretation of urban regeneration is linked to our guests’ different feelings and experiences. Some guests in the past edition understood it as an intervention on specific areas, such as disused buildings; this year, we’ll consider the issue in a broader sense, as involving urban communities. Lecce has a historical town centre, beautifully redeveloped in recent years with European funds, which contrasts sharply with rather ugly outskirts lacking amenities. Being able to involve the suburbs in artistic projects is one of the goals that we mean to develop on a practical level this year.

 And how is “public art” defined within the project?

PM: What we won’t consider is monumental sculpture, which has often been misused in Lecce as elsewhere. Public art that aims at involving urban communities in both the processes of production and fruition is one of the targets of our association. Public art should be site-specific, analyse the context and possibly take into consideration wide socio-cultural groups. There is little public debate in Italy on public art, and that’s why there’s a number of small non-profit organizations like ours who seek to raise awareness on this issue and create a demand for public art that is actually scarce at the moment.

Do you think that art and urban regeneration are addressed differently in western and eastern countries? And what about the concept of public art?

DQ: The diversity probably lies in the different anthropological and cultural meanings of urban regeneration and the way in which it is put into practice.

PM: Clearly, Asian and European realities are extremely different from each other in this sense. During a panel organized in Shanghai last April as one of the side events of Default 13, we discussed different perspectives on public art. In China, from what I could see, the concept of public art is still linked to monumental art, with a strong filter applied by politics and institutions. For a wider mapping of public art projects, I expect our guest Lewis Biggs will be able to make a contribution because in Shanghai last April [2012] he coordinated an award during which he discussed projects of public art worldwide.

Maria Rebecca Balestra, 'Journey into Fragility - Second Step', 2012, still from HD video. Image courtesy the artist.

Maria Rebecca Balestra, ‘Journey into Fragility – Second Step’, 2012, still from HD video. Image courtesy the artist.

Italy’s response to a globalised art scene

How do you think the public in Lecce will receive the project, and how was the previous edition of Default received?

PM: We had a great response to the first edition of Default, and very interesting projects. For budget reasons, though, we were only able to sustain an itinerant project by Italian artist Maria Rebecca Balestra. This year we expect to realize at least one [project] in Lecce. We trust in the artists, we hope they will surprise us with innovative projects and in this sense the contribution of international artists will be very important. I believe that a look from the outside is fundamental to processes of growth, to shed light on what one has and to understand one’s limits.

How do you think Italy is reacting to the increasingly globalised art scene?

DQ: Young Italian artists go to Berlin or Paris. In Italy, cultural globalisation does not automatically lead to the modernization of cultural and artistic structures, which are static and based on a [national] political and economic glory now in danger of extinction. A revolution has been expected for quite a while now…

The future of Default

What are Default’s future plans?

PM: We are already planning a sequel to this edition of Default. Our objective is to consolidate a format that alternates one year of masterclasses to a year dedicated to realizing projects. We also hope to expand our geographical focus. We’d like to involve African artists in the project, investigating sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the continent that artistically has not been much researched. Finally, we would also like to bring together the first two years of our experience in a publication that gathers our projects and discussions.

International guests at Default 13

International lecturers at Default 13′s masterclass include:

AAN/CN/CXMA

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Related Topics: artist residencies, Asian art in Italy, art and urbanism, art and the community

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