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ON SOME COMMON PLACES

Gianni Romano
In a recent special issue of a popular architecture
magazine that was devoted to Milan, two expensive
shops in the city's center were listedwithout any
embarrassment or perplexityas indicators of the
city's liveability. In reality, to paint Milanese liveability in such a pandering way is a perfect example of
the loss of identity of a place while it seems to be
labouring to hold in due consideration the identities
that compose it. More and more, Milan resembles one
of those condominiums imagined by J.G. Ballard.
By now it has become commonplace to say that the
metropolis causes alienation and fragmentation;
evidently, the places where meaningful aggregation
and communication are still possible are elsewhere.
More than a social space, the city has become a Net of
cells which don't meet, without center and without
margins. According to some, the need for virtual
places emerges from this lack, not because of a demand for simulation, but due to the need for communication. The virtual develops as a reaction to a
world that has no other physical realities to develop.
Extraterritoriality
The space that invites activity is the space that contains the present. It is not the case, therefore, that in a
society still sceptical of contemporaneity (and of art,
its illegitimate daughter), a virtual space has been
created, though it's fundamentally extraterritorial.
Inside this space, ways and places find space inside
those interstitial areas which usually deny them access
because they don't conform. Yet, it is exactly in these
middle areas that meanings barter to ransom content
from conformism and banality. These are the places
that give the signal of a diffused metropolis, a dilated
space, a place that is no longer possible to circumscribe within the limits of urban space: a gigantic, extraterritorial metropolis. Transition, exportation, and
communication are possible here. The boundary
between the observer who interprets, classifies, and
orders, and the spectator who is confined to receiving
in a contemplative manner, is definitely weakened
here.
What I augur, however, is certainly not used diffusely
in technology by artists as a healthy cohabitation, the
awareness of still wanting to investigate contemporaneity as a space of endless inventionI always hope
that technology will help to bring imagination beyond
the pure mimesis of a reality that's more and more
difficult to represent.

Space as Container
Perhaps this is only one of the symptoms of the
landscape's change, which is no longer our material
territory, but the area to where communication has
moved. The passage from landscape to mediascape involves a change our perceptive rather than
communicative modalities, and it is the media
landscapethe decentralized place par excellence
that appears to us all the more as a non-place of communication. From the very beginning, new communicative technologies privileged spontaneous aggregations: BBS, community groups, or concepts like
MUD (Multi-User Domains = areas of multiple frequentations), which tried to establish community
dialogues based on common themes and ideas. In
these cases, the space is constituted by those people
who frequent it. The position of these areas of discourse inside a virtual space has opened new roads for
the complex architecture of communication, represented today by the Net.
It appears quite evident that if single spatial unity
becomes increasingly meaningless for us, we will no
longer be able to place and define it as a living/
meeting place; the tendency is to widen the context
because it develops (or cultivates) an awareness of
place. Place, in general, is the true space for the
transmission of content. It's happening in the new
media landscape, but is it not absurd that this place is
revealed through the windows of those small boxes
called computers? The Net thrives on these incongruities, it is an unbelievable mixture of public and
private. Think of the use of the word home page,
which covers the site of a single person or a big firm.
The home page vindicates the personalization of the
message, the singularity of private space made available to the endless communicative potentiality of the
Net. Whereas in our cities, every culture of difference
is waning, the Net forces us to consider them. In this
new space, the two symbolic places between which
the contents expand are, please note, the home page
and the World Wide Web. Which is to say, your own
house and the whole world, local and global. In this
uneasy, but extremely dense context of meanings, it
has become necessary to open the right perceptive coordinates, to cross what seems like the true contemporary metropolis: a place that pushes the subject to
rediscuss every stabilized or normative boundary. In
this place, where you can no longer distinguish
between inside and outside, fragmentation is the
model best adjusted to face reality, forcing us to see
again the traditional way of observing, living, and

criticizing the connection between space and communication.


Here and now, values and styles, plans and visions,
encounter one another in untraditional forms. Here is
a possibility to negotiate identity through the manifold territories in which differences cohabit. Above all,
it is in this situation of virtualitywhich is very near
the virtuality of artthat everything remains to be
built.
For a Poetic of Habitation
To inhabit, it seems, is attained only through building.
This ultimate, to construct, has that, that is to inhabit,
as its end. But not all constructions are of residences.
Martin Heidegger
We exist contemporaneously in different places: physical and virtual, mental and emotional... But there is
one place that is usually ignoredand in effect it is
small (at least mine is)perhaps precisely because it's
right in front of our eyes. According to Gaston
Bachelard all inhabited spaces communicate the
concept of house, a feeling that furnishes not only a
sense of protection and shelter, but also an environment with perceptible limits... He is dealing with
limits that are remade to our innate attitudes towards
centrality and to our natural inclinations towards
privacy.
In many works by Italian artiststhat refer to the
image (...not all constructions are of residences)
the house is considered the central reference point in
our relationship to space; which is then the space that
we inhabit, or the inhabitable space. The house as
container from which flow images of passion and
obsession, images of empty, alienating, overflowing,
or extremely brilliant rooms. Rooms in which, like
rooms figured in the memory, artists create an intimate architecture of experience and reflection. I speak
about rooms not to point out the easy icon of a closed,
circumscribed place, but as a metaphoric place inside
of which there are no physical barriers, only experiences of relationships between oneself and the world,
rooms in which a simple object might remind us of an
image from infancy, or at times refer to the Bel
Paese, other times to the typical, which no longer
typifies, an empty referent testifying only to the loss of
identity. The house is certainly a cell in traditional
architectural terms, but in many works it symbolizes a
unity of place that springs out of the meeting between
traditional architecture and the visionary one of communication, which is in turn composed from various
arts, but is based above all on our desire to contribute
and share.

The idea of house and the concept of habitation


seem somewhat inadequate in an epoch in which
many are turning towards cyberspace and crossing
over appears more meaningful than any permanent
hypothesis. Even wanting to stand behind the most
enthusiastic, we are forced to acknowledge that it is at
home that we have our personal computer and that
the computer itselfonce torn asunder for the pleasure of our childrenreveals to us an image not very
distant from what the Romans imagined as the series
of rooms in which we distribute our memory. Answering machines and our electronic mail terminal testify
to our presence even if we are physically absent. We
are available even if we are not there, and this doesn't
seem to provoke in us any serious identity problems.
The house seems, therefore, to replace our memory:
we are everywhere, it is the place of eternal return. The
language html and the figured language in use in the
Net have by now made the use of the term home
page common. From here, one departs to travel along
new roads; to here one returns to close the connection
or go on toward another home page.
Our houses have become ambivalent; on the one
hand, they confirm the idea of shelter; from another
point of view, the invasion of home technology has
made them mere switchboards that can carry us
anywhere, mentally. If multimedia machines carry us
in continuous movement toward a virtual physicality,
it is also true that people have not been invited here to
meet with a new world of fantastic objects, but to
discover the expansion of their own communicative
abilities within these objects, and, perhaps, to rediscover some places to share.