Exhibition curated by Marina Caneve, Gianpaolo Arena and Niccolò Fano
Photography: Andrea Alessio, Gianpaolo Arena, Sergio Camplone, Marina Caneve, Céline Clanet, Scott Conarroe, François Deladerriere, Marco Lachi, Michela Palermo, Max Rommel & Marissa Morelli, Gabriele Rossi, Petra Stavast, Jan Stradtmann, Zuijderwijk/Vergouwe, Cyrille Weiner & Giaime Meloni
Urbanism: Latitude Platform
An eternal present
“We inhabit a world in which the future promises endless possibilities and the past lies irretrievably behind us. The arrow of time [...] is the medium of creativity in terms of which life can be understood.”
Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield
The year 1963 proved a landmark year for many international geopolitical events.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the President who was attempting to change the history of the USA and the western world, was assassinated in Dallas. Martin Luther King delivered his historic speech at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he expressed his hope that every man would be recognised as equal. In Vietnam, Buddhist monks set fire to themselves in protest against the tragic events of an increasingly intense war. Fidel Castro travelled to the USSR where he visited numerous cities, factories and secret military bases for 40 days. Throughout the world, there was a growing desire to live freely and in a peaceful environment. On 4 October, Hurricane Flora struck Cuba and Hispaniola, killing nearly 7 000 people.
In Italy, the economic boom and pop culture transformed the lives of its citizens. Francesco Rosi won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for “Hands over the City”. The feature film was an extraordinary indictment of the conflicts of interest that exist between government bodies and the construction speculation industry, in a country afflicted by continuously expanding concrete jungles. Bernardo Provenzano was incriminated for homicide but was not captured until 43 years later.
Nomen Omen is a Latin expression that literally means “the name is a sign” and comes from the Roman belief that names were an indication of the fate of a person or thing. The mountain where the Vajont dam was built – still intact and stable today – bears the name Monte Toc, meaning a mountain that is rotten, putrid or prone to landslides. The name Vajont has now also acquired a catastrophic connotation in the collective consciousness.
Vajont used to simply refer to the valley where a river of the same name crossed. Then the landslide catastrophe, potentially triggered 30 years prior, violently manifested on the night of 9 October 1963 and gave this place its unfortunate fame.
The Great Vajont has, in its name, the manifesto of an ambitious project that planned to use the gravitational energy of the water reserves in the Dolomites as hydropower to supply electricity to Venice and the Triveneto region. In 1940 the Adriatic Energy Corporation (SADE, which later became ENEL) requested and received authorisation to construct a large dam. The tallest dam in the world when it was built, it would go on to become a monument representing political power and shame. The dam held up perfectly against the violent collapse of the mountain that invaded the Vajont, but wherever the landslide wave of destruction passed, nothing else remained intact in its wake. There were 1917 confirmed deaths.
Many years have passed between 1963 and now. Numerous procedures have been discussed and controversial urban reconstructions have been initiated, but the wound is still tender. In our opinion, it is crucial to continue the dialogue today at an important time when utilising local sources of energy and preserving the land are not always carried out through the same means and with the same instruments. The analogies with the present are evident and repeat themselves even amongst the eternal conflicts of interest, the corruption of tools of control, the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of losses. The nefarious case of the Vajont is, in all respects, one of the most pivotal events of 20th century Italy – a black hole of sense and meaning that is still easy to fall into. A symbol of modern Italy.
The CALAMITA/À project was born in this context out of the urgency to investigate an area whose fundamental equilibrium was altered by a catastrophic event that broke the natural sequence between past, present and future, and fragmented places, stories and lives. The present is sometimes indifferent and inattentive. However, life continues and we can seek consolation in reflecting upon the collection of traditions and memories we hold dear to our hearts. Many people have made an effort to give shape to the passing of time. In some ways, it is as if the landslide swept away the past and future of an entire community. Time is crystallised in an eternal present.