Andrea Bell – 12 December, 2011
The work is more than just a recording of the psychogeography of urban alienation. When read against Zielony's wider oeuvre, it becomes clearer that he is more interested in the youth that populate this space/film, than in this specific space as a symbol of social malaise.
Le Vele di Scampia
22 October 2011 - 4 February 2012
Tobias Zielony’s 2009 film Le Vele di Scampia, documents a night in the life of the Modernist housing estate Le Vele di Scampia, known as the sails, in northern Naples. The work consists of around 7,000 photos taken at night with a digital hand-held camera, running together at an irregular pace, to create a nine minute stop-motion film. Described as capturing “the familiar marriage of utopian architecture and dystopian society”, the film features harshly lit Modern architecture, urban detritus, and idle, loitering youths, all recorded in a fluorescent, stuttering rhythm.
Designed by leading post-war architect Franz Di Salvo, and completed in 1975, Le Vele di Scampia, with its parks and social spaces, was designed to serve as a model community. However, before long, (and largely due to non-architectural factors) the sails was seen as a failure, characterised by building decay, squatting and crime. Reflecting this history, in Zeilony’s work, the sails come across like a surreal, post-apocalyptic setting for a Michael Mann film. Early shots of fireworks initially seem like news footage of night-time air strikes on a city. We later see people watching the fireworks in the distance: no one is celebrating. The silent, jerky way the camera moves through the frequently empty spaces of this slum, and the quality of the imagery, seems like a first person shooter video game. A sudden cut to someone wearing a horror mask only adds to this impression of the sails as a battleground. Indeed, the building has long used by the local mafia as a centre for drug trafficking, and is seen by many as a symbol of local mafia power. Gomorrah was filmed there. As a site, the sails illustrates the opposing narratives of post war socialism and architectural Modernism; political corruption and black market capitalism.
It’s perhaps a little too easy to simplify reading this film as a documentary of the dark side of capitalism and politics in the 21st century. While the history of the sails itself speaks of the failure of Modern architecture and progressive politics, the work is more than just a recording of the psychogeography of urban alienation. When read against Zielony‘s wider oeuvre, it becomes clearer that he is more interested in the youth that populate this space/film, than in this specific space as a symbol of social malaise.
Rather than simply documenting and moralising about the plight of youth in today’s uncertain world, Zielony’s photographic practice examines how youth occupy, and present themselves in liminal spaces common to 21st century urban life. Indeed, the surreal way that the sails are presented by Zielony transforms it from a specific architectural place to generic archetypal space. The setting could just as easily be an English estate, a French banlieue or any marginal urban space common to large metropolis. Globalist discourse often presents the world as one multicultural global village where people are no longer separated by time, distance or culture. However globalisation also serves to erase geographic and cultural specificity. And it is in such non-places that Zielony depicts his subjects’ attempts to claim a space and identity within the placeless-ness of globalisation. Despite the somewhat grim setting, the young people of the sails betray hope. Alongside the waiting and the boredom, there is a sometimes playful mix of self-assured posturing and smiling shyness. In this way, Le Vele di Scampia is perhaps more about potential agency, than failure and powerlessness.
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