Campagna Urbana is an experimental project by Cohabitation Strategies supported by Musagetes in collaboration with Loop House and Ammirato Culture House (ACH) in Lecce.
The project stems from an attempt to amplify the emergence of collaborative practices in Lecce through the role of ACH, a space of encounter between different groups already active in the city in cultural and social life. The ambition is also to establish a more fertile dialogue between the activities of ACH and the Santa Rosa neighbourhood, where it is established.
Campagna Urbana began with research into Lecce, in an attempt to understand the principal issues, unexplored potential and mood of the city. A series of conversations, discussions and field work brought out a number of themes that have inspired our work and led to interminable and fruitful discussions at the local level. To these we have added a series of interviews with intellectuals from Lecce who have given us their personal and vivid vision of the city.
The theme that emerged most forcefully in the course of this process was that of “bonds”: family, political and economic ties by which the functioning of the city of Lecce is based and sustained. These bonds, sometimes hidden, as in the case of the Masonic lodges and the secret power centres in Lecce – the places where it seems most of the important decisions for the city are taken – form a framework while it keeps the city alive, while compelling the other forces to the unconditional repetition of the same gestures, the same family relationships and unshakable power structures.
These issues have inspired Campagna Urbana, a project born from the attempt to break some of these links and experiment with alternative forms of collaboration, dialogue and basically ways of seeing the city. To encourage alternative practices and views of Lecce, we were inspired by the traditional figure of the cantastorie, the balladeer and storyteller, who in the past had a key role in exposing the network of power and to constructing imaginary alternatives. This traditional Italian figure would travel from city to city and bring the inhabitants of towns and villages a popular account of current or historical events, usually in stark contrast to the official version written by the rulers. As widely studied by Dario Fo, the troubadour tradition is a clear political act, a gesture of appropriation by citizens of their own history: a tale of the oppressed. The tools of the trade were the voice, a stand, and possibly a banner on which the story would be depicted visually.
In an age like ours, in which folk tales have been replaced by reality shows and talk shows, we are using these ancient techniques as a source of inspiration to experiment with a new approach. We want to understand whether it is possible to tell a popular and shared story today. With this work we are experimenting whether it is possible, by re-examining the role of the storyteller, to reactivate public awareness about the importance of building an alternative imagery of the city. A many-sided vision, no doubt full of inner contradictions, but one that creates the inspiration to change, the desire to challenge systems that have failed, and ultimately to try out alternative and spontaneous forms of construction of the city.
Another recurrent aspect of this process is the sharp division between the public dimension and the private in Lecce. There is a huge gap between the clear perception manifested in personal relations of the lack of political, social and economic prospects in the city’s life, and any form of public affirmation.
To construct this experimental process, we have divided Campaign Urbana into two phases. The first phase aims to test a range of practices and actions at the local level, to understand how to create a dialogue with the neighbourhood and find out the most effective methods of intervention. In our work we were approached by a growing number of collaborators who have extended our mandate and have interpreted our mission in a personal way that is incredibly enriching for the project.
To these energies we have added the work of a number of artists from different countries who have come to Lecce to add their own interpretation to our action and provide tools for more effective intervention. Their projects are immersed in the local context through seminars open to all and are being amplified by the work of dozens of people who have dedicated themselves to experimenting with new forms of expression.
In the Santa Rosa district of Lecce, a series of urban actions and artistic interventions have been held in public spaces in order to understand the local problems, establish ties with the inhabitants, and initiate the process of creating a collective storytelling.
The Urban Actions created a link between the artistic interventions and problems specific to the city through the work of artists in dialogue and partnership with citizens’ groups and associations, whose members are encouraged to become active participants. A collective of artists, activists, sociologists, cultural producers and citizens had the role of producing collaborative platforms by means of visual campaigns, urban actions and the temporary use of public space. The neighbourhood became a stage for experimenting with alternative models for imagining, reclaiming and living in the city.
The Urban Actions were open to everyone and free of charge. They ranged from collective writing with Kai Zen to the radical campaign with Peter Zuiderwijk, spontaneous creativity with Daniele Pario Perra, painting as radical activism with Nikolay Oleynikov, and performance and improvisation with Ippolito Chiarello.
This work was planned to continue into the second phase of Campagna Urbana, but while in the first phase we have tested some practices, the second phase was supposed to focus on experiments with a more accurate model of a contemporary popular song to share with the City of Lecce. The ambition is that the story we are going to tell could become a gesture to be reclaimed as continuous exercise in provocation and resistance, but also to regain the dignity and the right to raise a voice or even a chorus.
Unfortunately the project remained incompleted because the second phase of Campagna Urbana was unexpectedly canceled by Musagetes. Therefore the documentation you find here is concerning only the first phase of the project.
We would like to thank our great collaborators Laura Perrone and Gianluca Marinelli who contributed a great deal to the success of the first part of Campagna Urbana.