Bazar Elettrico – electrifying the present to imagine new futures
By Flavia Tritto, MA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins
How to imagine a new future, if it is hard to think differently? How to conceive of a better world when we are unable to think it together with the others? How to become sensible to the questions that shake our habits and our prejudices? How to spark our imagination and electrify the pieces of our lives?
These are some of the questions that underpinned the happening/installation Bazar Elettrico (electric bazar), realized in partnership by the collective Action30 and the cultural association Cu.Bo. in Bari (Italy) between the 14th and the 19th of November 2017.
Bazar Elettrico unfolded from the idea that it is necessary to rethink cultural presuppositions collectively in order to address the crisis of social ties and the existential precariousness variously felt today by the members of society. It materialized as a playful but thoughtful activity which engaged the civil society in a collective reflection on social cohesion.
More than 500 individuals -with different social backgrounds and of different ages- took part in the happening, accepting to enter a parallel world where chaos reigned, where piles of older and newer objects were accumulated in a post-apocalyptic landscape. At the gates of the cave, participants had to go through a bureaucratic phase, where they were asked to give their personal information and to choose whether or not to wear thermal blankets and white latex gloves. Once inside, they were invited to lose themselves in the totemic accumulation of objects, switching off the preoccupations of their daily lives. Subsequently, they were introduced to two giants- a boy and a girl, projected on two 4×2 meters big interactive surfaces facing one another. Having familiarized with the giants, participants were asked to actively play the game: imagine a narrative for making the boy and the girl meet through the objects in the bazar (i.e. through the fragments of their exploded lives). Each participant selected two objects from the stockpile, around which to build his/her story. The two objects were later photographed together and printed out live. At this point, individuals could write their story -or just a thought- on the print of the selected objects and stick it onto the crazy wall – a detective’s wall which became a cartography of possible encounters.
Participating in the happening, people discovered the electric current which slither among everyday things. They had an input to critically rethink their own attachment to material objects and to assess the role that those objects play in their perception of the world. Imagining the possible connections -be they magical or real- among the objects, players saw the bazar -the one we crated but also the one of their lives- transform, electrify and illuminate. In this way, they gave their contribution to disassemble and reassemble reality, just like children with their toys, without fears of the voids that opened among things, but investing on the fragments, on the leftovers, and on everything that is not yet finished, thus opening escape routes toward new possible worlds.
Beyond our expectations, the electrification occurred not only among the objects and -hopefully- in the participants’ heads. To the contrary, electricity saturated interpersonal spaces, setting a vibrant collective mood which could hardly be ignored. Empathy and curiosity spread in the air, creating the conditions for the attainment of a strong sense of belonging, which was evidenced by most people’s long stay in the bazar.
The chaotic and disorderly environment of the bazar encouraged the recognition of the creative possibilities that a lack of imposed order allows for: disorder can amaze, it can trigger unexpected emotions and unforeseen reactions. It can help to break away from those predetermined lifestyles and models of thought which usually limit our freedom and creativity.
“Per incontrarsi bisogna rinventare il mondo” (“to meet, it is necessary to reinvent the world”) was one of the slogans at the outset of the happening, as it was the narrative pretext of the game. However, in addition to this, a twisted version of the slogan became an accurate description of the dynamics that unfolded in the bazar: the space became a meeting point where the differences among the participants were leveled and flattened, as people met to play and interact, free from the prejudices and positioning dominant in society and free from fears of judgment by others. Refugees, high school students, artists, doctors, fishermen, lawyers, all responded to the call, all accepted to take off the clothes of their profession and let the children inside them play carefree.
The engagement and involvement displayed by participants was absolute. In choosing their pairs of objects, they couldn’t help bringing in their personal lives, their memories and their affects. A woman chose two toys -a dinosaur and a motorcycle- which resembled her now-adult-children’s favourite toys and wrote “..rincontrarsi sempre” (“meeting again”). Another one chose two shells, reminding her of the symbol of Santiago’s walk, thus bringing her religious faith into the project. In other words, the people electrified the bazar by bringing in their emotions, their pasts, their imagination and their stories, real or fictional.
Yet another beautiful aspect of the project was the collaboration with three classes of a local art high school. Fifty-six students -aged between 16 and 17- were involved in different parts of the project, some of them reflecting on the scenery, others producing ceramic pieces for the installation, and others carrying out a photographic and video coverage of the event. The value added brought about by their inclusion was exceptional: not only did the students advance interesting and stimulating proposals, but they also brought in a passion and a vitality which created warm sparks in unexpected ways.
At the conclusion of Bazar Elettrico, a premature sense of nostalgia already resonates in our souls. The unexpectedly large turnout and the heterogeneity of the citizens who accepted to play is a very promising piece of evidence of people’s willingness to gather together in social actions which shake habits and prejudices, and of their enthusiasm in being actively engaged in the imagination of a better world. It must be pointed out, ultimately, that this was the first time that a similar event took place in Bari and that, therefore, its unforeseen success shall be seen as an imperative demand for more critical and socially engaged participatory art in this territory and, hopefully, everywhere else.
Bazar Elettrico found the occasion of his realization as a collateral event of TedxBari 2017, whose main theme was “disorder”. However, it has its theoretical underpinnings in the research of the Collective Action 30, recently culminated in the graphic essay “Bazar elettrico. Bataille, Warburg, Benjamin at Work” (2017).
The event was complemented by a website (http://www.elettricobazar.it/) which was meant to serve as a toolbox for the fruition of the experience (a working table with heterogenous references from different disciplines), as a diary of the preparatory activities and meetings toward the happening/installation, and as a journal of events and exhibitions dealing with the same themes around the world.