Doing Things Together
Bologna, Between Communities and Spaces of Freedom

The city of Bologna is a complex, living organism. It has grown up around groups of people who, starting from the basic gesture of being together and sharing, have spontaneously given rise to seminal experiences.

In recent decades, art communities have contributed to building a heterogeneous, often pioneering cultural scene. Amidst continuities and fractures, this scene finds its foundational, shared elements in the incessant building of networks, experimentation with spaces and languages and the breaking down of disciplinary boundaries.

Reading a contemporary situation is never simple, first and foremost because of the absence of the historical distance that allows us to find the right perspective. To try to shed light on the current panorama within the Emilian city, we can try to start from some predecessors, identifying common elements, models that have moulded and influenced the current generations.

The Link Project was born Bologna’s Via Fioravanti 14 in 1994, after the clearance of Isola nel Kantiere, an iconic and seminal location for the hip hop scene. It became a centre of cultural production[1] that provided a launchpad for contemporary art, as it offered everything between rooms dedicated to music and performance, readings and film screenings, a bar and a bookshop. Within this climate of experimentation, an artist who took on the role of curator: Luca Vitone. He was invited by his friend Daniele Gasparinetti[2] (whom he had met ten years earlier in the classrooms of the DAMS art school, a companion of his in common experiences and cultural activism) to conceive Incursioni,[3] an annual showcase event dedicated to the artists of the latest generations. These latter were invited to present works, actions, gestures and ideas in these various spaces, indeed at the same time as the other initiatives going on. They were invited to reflect on art understood “as a relationship and a meeting of minds on what art is, through its relationship with history, with the social context in which it operates, the environment and the place where it is exhibited”.[4]  Incursioni would see four editions, from 1996 to 1999, with around forty artists invited. But its impact in building a community was incalculable.

One sign of continuity is linked to the name of Gasparinetti, who in 2000 — together with Silvia Fanti, Andrea Lissoni, Giovanna Amadasi and Federica Rossi, set up Xing[5]  — an organisation and network, which, starting from the idea of building collectivity among artists as well as among the public, still today continues in an extraordinary work of developing cultural projects across different disciplines and languages. It proceeds in this work everywhere from an independent venue such as Raum to the pavilions of the trade fair, a festival such as Netmage or showcase events like Live Arts Week. Yet, in all these cases, it follows consistent lines of research, while enabling artists to build dialogues and discourses.

These are just some of the premises — some of which often extend into the present — needed if we are to shed light on the formation of artistic communities in today’s Bologna. Another necessary step, in this regard, is to attempt to classify them, in a both encyclopaedic and taxonomic spirit, starting from their characteristics — and in particular by looking at the types of spaces that have seen interconnected systems emerge.

One such example is artist-run spaces. Independent, non-profit and hybrid realities have always played a decisive role in this city. They range from Il Graffio, conceived in 1994 by the artist and lecturer Anteo Radovan, a space of freedom for artists that presented three solo exhibitions every week; to the later experience of Casabianca, where Radovan, in a farmhouse surrounded by fields on the edge of the urban area, proposed dialogue and engagement between artists, but also moments of meeting and discussion outside of any institutional logics.

Even a gallery — Neon, founded in 1981 by Gino Gianuizzi together with a group of friends and fellow travellers, its history recently reread and reconstructed in the MAMbo (Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna)[6] — could prove itself as a permanent workshop, a community for artists, critics and curators, and a site of formation: “For me, Neon was a desiring machine that had the function of opening relationships and developed rhizomatic and unexpected connections”.[7] A gallery that almost went so far as to deny its own nature by becoming an artist-driven space.

Today, an experience such as Gelateria Sogni di Ghiaccio starts out from the vision of two artists, Mattia Pajè and Filippo Marzocchi, who have rethought two connected spaces in the via Tanari Vecchia — just a stone’s throw from the city’s most important institution, MAMbo, as well as various galleries. They have dedicated these spaces to an exhibition programme, meetings and, at the same time, to research and production.

The perhaps baffling name (for it literally means “Ice-Dreams Ice Creams”) is the result of a relationship between artists and a game, as the founders tell us on the site: “When Roberto [Fassone] came to the space for the first time, he proposed to donate a piece of art, which consisted of baptizing the space with a name chosen by himself. The only condition he gave us was to unconditionally accept the name, whatever it was. Roberto invented a series of names, each one with a related logos and short descriptions. Then, he created an elimination tournament where the names were the competitors. The fate of each match was decided by the curator Valeria Mancinelli and the resulting name winner of the tournament is Gelateria Sogni di Ghiaccio.” This anecdote also helps to read the programme that was set for a space open to experimentation and encounters with the experiences that criss-cross this city’s life. For instance, as well as the stories of the two founders, a thread of continuity seems to tie it to the history of Localedue, another non-profit project in Bologna that has never been afraid to put itself into the fray and test the spaces of freedom outside the art system. Since 2013 it has been driven Fabio Farnè, a figure of continuity, in the spirit of building community. From his experience as an entrepreneur, over the years he has been able to build exhibition and cultural production systems with and for artists and curators; first within his companies themselves, then in the loggia of the former Hotel Brun and through a move to Milan with Gaff.

The artist’s studio is another dimension on which communities are build. A place where dialogue and engagement come into contact with artistic production, the studio is one of those dimensions that helps shape specific modes of sharing.

Alchemilla is a project constructed around a building, Palazzo Vizzani in the via Santo Stefano, in Bologna’s city centre. A multifunctional and shared space in a historic building that dates back to the sixteenth century, it is home to the ateliers of artists particularly significant for this city — such as David Casini, Cuoghi Corsello, Valentina Medda and Milena Rossignoli. It also hosts residencies dedicated to younger artists, who are thus given the opportunity to develop and complete new productions, as well as to work on specific spaces and contexts.

The dimension of exhibition and openness to the city thus becomes a further form of giving art back to Bologna, one which can be in dialogue with or be independent of the experiences within the building.

The Collegio Venturoli is today a foundation, but it actually opened in 1825 with the bequest — and at the behest — of the architect of the same surname. This is a more institutional entity, but one that nonetheless offers work spaces and scholarships to emerging artists. It opens its doors behind the façade of an eighteenth-century building in the via Centrotrecento; this is also where Sissi’s studio is located, a string of Wunderkammern and archives that acts as a reference point for the entire Bologna art system.

Finally, the studio was the space that MAMbo (the most important museum institution dedicated to contemporary art in the city) offered to artists upon its reopening at the end of the public health emergency dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking its name from the original function of the building that today houses the museum, the Nuovo Forno del Pane [i.e. “New Bakery”] was an experience that offered those who needed one a place to produce and, above all, to build a community. Putting the use of the museum’s main space for exhibitions on standby, this transformed its function.

From July to December 2020, Ruth Beraha, Paolo Bufalini, Letizia Calori, Giuseppe De Mattia, Allison Grimaldi Donahue, Bekhbaatar Enkhtur, Eleonora Luccarini, Rachele Maistrello, Francis Offman, Mattia Pajè, Vincenzo Simone and Filippo Tappi occupied the Sala delle Ciminiere, working in a specific and shared sense on the creation of works and projects.

Starting this year, with six new artists — Lorena Bucur, Beatrice Favaretto, Valentina Furian, Giorgia Lolli, Lorenzo Modica and Davide Sgambaro — this experience will be extended to six cultural districts in the metropolitan city. This will expand the network of art venues and centres and bring the museum back to the centre of a production system based on the artist. This a further attempt to alter, through slight shifts, the relations within the art world, and to allow those who produce art to self-determine their own conditions, spaces and modes of engagement.

[1] <>.
[2] L. Lo Pinto, L. Vitone, Ho voluto volere. Appunti per una conversazione con Luca Vitone, in Io, Luca Vitone, exhibition catalogue edited by L. Lo Pinto, D. Sileo, Silvana Editoriale, 2017, p. 16.
[3] Incursioni, edited by L. Vitone / Xing, Edizioni Zero, 2005.
[4] Text published in the Link Project’s own house organin January 1996.
[6] No, Neon, No Cry, edited by G. Gianuizzi, Edizioni MAMbo, 2022.
[7] Intervista con Gino Gianuizzi, in ‘ATPDiary’, 20 April 2022 <>

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