Reggio Emilia’s tiara dazzles with Approach, Basilica di San Prospero, Piazza Fontanesi, ICC and Colletivo FX among other usual suspects. However, Reggio came on my radar whilst creating Food4Thought, part of artist led guided walks for motiroti’s last project Multiwalks. Being the London host, I gelled with Simone, the artist behind Colletivo FX. In 2013 upon his invitation and to experience their street art I visited him. A short and magical day trip during which I met the posse of artists working independently as well as collectively from under that banner. The most precious yet hidden gem of the city was this vast derelict site called Reggiane as it lies unnoticed behind the train station of Reggio.
Since then I have been to the site several times and seen the artists in the process of transforming the space with every new lick of paint and their interaction with the temporary residents living within the complex of these hangars and sheds. The potential of this place is mega. In the past I shared my vision of making an oasis within the rubble by cultivating edible plants and injecting an alternative dose of tourism. However there are always doubts about the future. On my last day in the city, I was treated to this extraordinary gathering of over forty artists from all over Italy and abroad, who came together to mark an historic moment of resistance. It was the 65th anniversary to celebrate the occupation of Reggiane from 1950-1951. In the longest occupation that Italian history has ever seen, in the factory that once manufactured bomber planes and locomotives, the Tractor R60 was born. This artists’ jam session in memory of that occupation and was dedicated to Jacqueline Castagnetti. Better known as Giacomina, the woman who is part of that history, as she was photographed driving the Tractor R60, “the son of occupation”.
From early morning, artists kept pouring in. There were meetings and greetings and hugs and laughter. A delight for me to go from one to the other, seeing how spaces were negotiated and how images took shape. At times crumpled sketches were pulled out from back pockets to scale-up. Then there were times of unfathomable alchemy, unison of heart and dexterity of hands that created impromptu magic! People checked out each others progress, shared food and smoke and conversations – it was a big party. A gathering of artists dwarfed by the scale of the building and surrounding rubble. And then… in a sprightly stride of ninety years, Bella grandé of Reggiane, Giacomina arrived. Her presence was just sublime! What a journey for her! She had never imagined the a group of artists/activists would trace her through the archival photograph and invite her to the factory sixty five years later, to bear witness to the tribute being paid to history but most of all to celebrate her! She was handed over the brush to sign her presence on the walls as the “official vandal”. To which she responded with a twinkle in her eyes, ” I have already been jailed you see”. In 1948 she was imprisoned for 40 days for participating in solidarity demonstrations. She stayed and conversed with many artists… the appreciation and enchantment was deep and mutual.
By late afternoon, after quick round of kisses and goodbyes, my friends dropped me to the gorgeous Mediopadana TAV Station to catch my train for Turin. It was all too much, too good, too fast and too much to process. A big question for me is what is to become of the six or more years of investment by the artists. Artists who have slowly but surely been chipping away at this rubble and making it a priceless asset in the process and embedding in it the many stories behind each mark and art. Artists who are blurring concepts and constraints of time and are reinterpreting and rewriting histories. Will the city council be able to see how extraordinary this is or will they bleach out the artworks and bulldoze the buildings.
The artists feel uncertain in the lack of clarity towards the future… perhaps gentle and constant persuasion to create a space for constructive conversations on a local and national level will go a long way in giving Reggiane the much deserved brilliant cut.