Anarchaeology Series. A Project by Az.Namusn.Art – by Alessandra Ferrini


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Anarchaeology: an + archaeology. (1)

As Maurizio Coccia points out in his text Anarchaeology. Sopra e Contro L'Archeologia (Anarchaeology. Above and Against Archaeology, my translation) (2), anarchaeology is a composite word made by combining the suffix an- with the word archaeology. The suffix derives from ancient Greek and it means at once 'above' and 'against'. As such, the Anarchaeology Series presents itself as a project that strives to overcome and oppose the traditional notion of archaeology. At the same time, however, it is a wordplay, alluding at anarchy and thus proposing an even more extreme form of opposition, one that is rooted in a specific context: resistance and radical politics.

Under the umbrella of the Anarchaeology Series is a growing number of public interventions started in May 2011 by the art collective Az.Namusn.Art. Founded by Riccardo Fadda in 2007, Az.Namusn.Art collective has been developing radical actions in Sardinia, Italy, an island with a complex and little known past and present. Widely considered as a peripheral land within the Italian nation-state, Sardinia sits on a blind spot that makes it vulnerable to sustained exploitation. The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia has been used since the Second World War by militaries and arms manufacturers to test all sorts of warfare matériel, train soldiers and pilots, launch bombing sorties as well as explode, burn and bury old weapons and dangerous chemicals. Indeed, between the 1970s and 2007 Sardinia hosted the most active NATO base in the Mediterranean basin. During this time, Italian, NATO, and U.S. bases occupied about one third of the island’s land and sea. Currently, Sardinia is scheduled to host the Israeli aviation training. On the other hand, Sardinia has also been heavily and brutally exploited with the construction of large industrial complexes - mainly oil refineries and related petrochemical operations – since the 1960s. With the recent financial crisis, however, these industries have mostly left. Both the military and the petrochemical industry have largely polluted the island and its sea, contributing to a cancer and leukaemia pandemic. Lastly, Sardinia has been affected by high rates of unemployment which have led to sustained emigration.

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Az.Namusn.Art, Occupy Sardinia, detail, 2012.

Courtesy of the artists.

Az.Namusn.Art intervenes in this landscape, through physical, economical and cultural re-appropriations. The collective relies on a fluid group of people that have come together to create projects and actions designed to engage and challenge the local population. The Anarchaeology Series, building on Az.Namusn.Art collective's dedication to collaborative and inclusive actions, involves different professionals that operate in specific areas, such as archaeologists, academics, and artists. Complying with the collective's primary focus - that is developing actions of 'civil disturbance' - the Anarchaeology Series strives to transform the crisis of its geopolitical location (occupational, environmental and ethical in nature) in an opportunity to re-claim this site, its heritage and its potential for self-sustainability. In order to do so, Az.Namusn.Art establishes a clear line between legality as a conformist or even compliant practice, and illegality as a survival strategy that ensures the preservation of independent expression.

The first part of the Anarchaeology Series comprises two videos – Anarchaeology and Nurra A.T.(Nurra Antagonist Tourism) - realized during the local initiative Monumenti Aperti 2011 (Open Monuments). Both videos can be considered as enactments of what I call guerrilla archaeology, that is an activist form of archaeological practice. Conducted through militant actions, this practice aims at unearthing and denouncing social problematics while following traditional archaeological methodology. The backdrop to these artworks is the coastal town of Porto Torres, in Sardinia. Once hosting a flourishing petrochemical industry, Porto Torres is now the victim of a deep socio-economical crisis as well as of an environmental disaster. Covering an area roughly three times as large as the residential area, the industrial district sits empty and decaying as a result of the recent industrial collapse. Skyrocketing unemployment figures, lack of prospects for young people, and an exponential growth in cancer deaths linked to toxic waste, have led to a diffuse sense of distrust and opposition towards both local and national institutions, which have been unable to control the failure of this vanished capitalist utopia. The colossal industrial area of Porto Torres is now in a state of ruination, both a ghost town and a no-man land that awaits regeneration. As many local people know, this process can take decades and it is flooded with controversy and corruption.

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Az.Namusn.Art, Anarchaeology, 2011.

Courtesy of the artists

For Anarchaeology, Az.Namusn.Art collective has worked with two local unemployed archaeologists. Managing to trespass into an abandoned ironworks, they have conducted an archaeological excavation, unearthing different tools and detritus that document the history of the factory. These discarded items were treated with the same care given to historical artefacts. Accurately cleaned and catalogued they were subsequently placed in the local archaeological museum, within the collection of grave goods belonging to Turris Libisonis, an ancient city from the II century. The resulting video work portrays the public's reaction to such 'intrusion'.

In the aftermath of this exhibition, on Sunday the 29th of May 2011, the Az.Namusn.Art collective organised the first instance of Nurra A.T.(Nurra Antagonist Tourism) which was documented in the video by the same name. This project aimed at bringing to public attention the most mysterious and impenetrable heritage site in the area: Nuraghe Nieddu (the Black Nuraghe, built about 3000 years ago), one of the best preserved on the territory, but inaccessible to the public (3). In fact, it sits within a private industrial complex that belongs to Eni S.p.A., an Italian multinational oil and gas company, now a fenced off, abandoned place. Bolt cutters in hand, the art collective trespassed into the industrial site and unlawfully introduced a group of 25 people (formed of families, students and artists) in order to re-appropriate the local, occulted archaeological site that was swallowed by the petrochemical industrial complex of Porto Torres. Here, in total disregard of the police force, a guided tour, conducted by an expert archaeologist, took place followed by a picnic. Nurra A.T.(Nurra Antagonist Tourism) thus came together as a peaceful but firm re-vindication of the local cultural heritage, enacted through an illegal, collective action.

Az.Namusn.Art, Nurra A.T.(Nurra Antagonist Tourism),

video, 2011. Courtesy of the artists

The second part of the Anarchaeology Series, started in 2012 and is still in progress. With this project, the Az.Namusn.Art collective aims at shedding light on the mysterious vicissitudes surrounding the much criticized decision taken by the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to move the 35th G8 Summit of 2009 from the Sardinian island of La Maddalena, to L'Aquila (in central Italy), a city that was recently devastated by a major earthquake. The regeneration of La Maddalena was in fact necessary since the island was finally returned to local authorities in 2008, after decades of U.S. and Italian military occupation. The G8 was seen by the local population as an opportunity to repurpose the ex-arsenal and re-launch the island as a touristic destination (tourism being the main source of income in Sardinia). However, the works were never completed. A closer look at this event, suggests Berlusconi's move to be a cover-up manoeuvre, in order to hide the fact that the money destined to the regeneration of La Maddalena had disappeared into the pockets of corrupted politicians and local authorities. Once again, the Sardinian population had been deprived of a much sought after investment; left to recover from yet another empty promise.

The second part of the Anarchaeology Series takes as its subject an unfinished statue from the fascist era, which was found on the island of Santo Stefano, in the Archipelago of La Maddalena. This statue, a bust portraying the fascist hierarch Costanzo Ciano, was supposed to be part of a grand monument which was commissioned by Benito Mussolini to the sculptor Arturo Dazzi after Ciano's death in 1939. It was to be comprised of an altar (which was actually erected in the vicinity of the city of Livorno, in Tuscany) and the statue of Ciano, which was to sit on top of it. It was supposed to be the second largest in Italy - the biggest being the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) in Rome, which is 70 metres in height. Dazzi started to work on the statue in 1941 but, because of Mussolini's fall from power shortly thereafter, he was unable to see it through, leaving it unfinished in a cave, on the island of Santo Stefano. Az.Namusn.Art's project, which calls for the virtual removal of the monument, strives to draw a connection between two historical blind spots: fascism and the current corrupted politics surrounding the G8. This project is prompted by a destructive, anarchaeological impulse and is articulated in three phases.

Phase one is resolved in the video Ciano Pool (Ciano Piscina). This work suggests the sinking of the statue in the same area used to dump toxic waste originating from the building works undertaken at La Maddalena for the repurposing of the ex-arsenal for the G8 Summit. In the past, this site was also used by the Italian Navy to discard polluting substances employed in the former arsenal. With this metaphorical action, obtained through the superimposition of footage portraying toxic seawaters and footage portraying the statue, Az.Namusn.Art alludes at the discarding of a historical artefact, through a gesture that both calls for a process of remembering and forgetting: on one hand, the fascist statue - already a piece of a forgotten history - is re-instated into history while being submerged and so hidden again; on the other, the recent past is brought with force into the present, highlighting the corruption and ecological disaster at play in Sardinia still today.

Az.Namusn.Art, Ciano Pool (Ciano Piscina), video, 2012.

Courtesy of the artists

This process of re-insertion of the past into the present, is also at the core of phase two of the project. Ciano Poll (Ciano Sondaggio) consists of an online survey aimed at gathering public opinion regarding the removal of Ciano's statue from the island of Santo Stefano. In this way, Az.Namusn.Art interrogates the Sardinian population at large on how to activate this piece of heritage: what are they to do with such a controversial statue? As such, it invests them with the dilemma of determining its future legacy. By rescuing this piece of history from oblivion, Az.Namusn.Art and by extension the local population is now faced with the problematic of performing an action charged with meaning and future resonance. Once again moved by an amnesic, anarchival impulse, Az.Namusn.Art proposes the destruction of the statue as one of the possible options. Amongst the Amongst the other possibilities that they offer, are the submerging of the statue in the toxic seawaters of La Maddalena as well as the refusal of moving, destroying or altering the statue.other possibilities that they offer, are the completion of the mausoleum – involving the transportation of the statue to Livorno - as well as the refusal of moving, destroying or altering the statue.

The poll is still ongoing and is now open to a wider public.

Take Part Now

The last phase, If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow Was Today, still ongoing, began with a trip to La Maddalena, during which the statue was 'duplicated' using the technique employed for the creation of the Shroud of Turin, which was developed by Professor Luigi Garlaschelli of the University of Pavia (4). This action was performed as a funeral procession and could be interpreted as Az.Namusn.Art's desire to both acknowledge and put to rest this statue – and with it, the political issues that it raises, including the high rates of deaths linked to environmental pollution in Sardinia. Thus, the whole procession could be interpreted as an act of closure and mourning. (5) However, this performance does not simply sanction the symbolic death of the statue, rather it marks its afterlife. Reduced to a ghostly blue imprint - that at once refers to the name of Ciano (6) and to Yves Klein's anthropometries – the statue, or at least its impression, is folded and packed, ready to be physically moved. This image is in fact programmed to be affixed in the city centre of L'Aquila, in order to bring back to light the problematic issues surrounding the G8 summit of 2009. L'Aquila has been itself victim of the same empty promises and corrupted practices of the Berlusconi's administration. As La Maddalena, and Sardinia as a whole, this city has entered the register of forgetfulness. L'Aquila still sits destroyed, its inhabitants still awaiting for a much needed help that the government should have provided a long time ago.

As to conform with the amnesic status of these locations, the imprint of Ciano's face is not made to last: it will gradually fade, until disappearing altogether, symbolically erasing the memory of this fascist hero. If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow Was Today, Ciano Pool and Ciano Poll thus reverse the very meaning of archaeological practice: rather than unearthing and preserving, they call for burial, destruction and erasure. Az.Namusn.Art's actions thus seem to proffer amnesia as the only possible legacy for this controversial piece of heritage.

Az.Namusn.Art, If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow

Was Today, video, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

As a whole, thus the Anarchaeology Series consists of different artworks/interventions that adopt different and contrasting attitudes to (an)archaeological practice. We can identify a tension between the adoption of the language, protocols and methodologies proper to classical archaeology, albeit in a rebellious and militant way (as in Anarchaeology and Nurra A.T.), and the inversion of such practices in the form of a destructive, amnesiac impulse (as in Ciano Pool, Ciano Poll and If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow Was Today). What connects them, however, is the fact that, through anarchaeological gestures, they make us question how a society chooses to remember and to forget. By materially reclaiming the past – either in the form of gaining access to an archaeological site by force, illegally excavating a symbol of the present economical and ecological disaster of a specific geopolitical location, or advocating for the destruction of a piece of heritage – the Az.Namusn.Art collective brings to light the way in which historical amnesia is created by silencing and obliterating the present, rather than the past itself. If we dig enough, we can always recover some traces of the past. What is at stake, though, is the way we go about making choices for the future, from our present position. The way we act for the future. Ultimately and tangibly, however, what these artworks show us is simpler than this: we can reclaim the past and act for the future only if, collectively, we make the choice of re-appropriating the present.

To conclude, what overall unifies the Anarchaeological Series and Az.Namusn.Art's work as a whole, is a commitment to bring to public attention – in the present - the links between environmental pollution and unregulated industrial and military developments, calling into question the way in which Sardinian's land is negotiated and exploited at the expenses of its population. This is an issue that has great urgency, considering that Sardinia keeps being marketed as an idyllic holiday destination with crystalline seawaters and breathtaking coastlines. Sardinia's image is impressed in the collective unconscious in the form of a beautiful postcard: an image that is able to cover up its tragic situation and, most of all, is able to distance the world from the struggles of its inhabitants. Projects such as Anarchaeology Series can help, perhaps, to make this illusory image fade away and to turn our attention towards what has actually been happening in Sardinia, in much the same way as Ciano's imprint will be hopefully doing in L'Aquila, once installed.

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Az.Namusn.Art, If Today Was Your Last Day and Tomorrow

Was Today, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

AZ.Namusn.Art (aka Riccardo Fadda)

AZ.Namusn.Art is an art collective founded by Riccardo Fadda (1976). It arose in Porto Torres (Sassari, Italy) in May 2007, after an artistic action in the central square of the town. AZ.Namusn.Art collective is a fluid group of people that come together to create projects designed to shake the conscience. It is not just a militant group of generic social activism, but an artistic endeavour. Az.Namusn.Art is a floating collective that includes different professionals that operate in specific areas, on specific projects. They have exhibited extensively in Italy and Europe, in institutions such as Macro in Rome, Palazzo Lucarini Contemporary in Trevi, S.a.L.E. Docks in Venice and the Internationale Sommerakademie für Bildende Kunst Salzburg, Austria.

Alessandra Ferrini

Co-Founder of Mnemoscape

( 1 )

A different version of this article appears on the Action, Intervention, Daily Deployment (AIDD) web platform (a project by the Department of Visual Culture, Goldsmiths, University of London): http://aestheticsofprotest.org/anarchaeology-an-archaeology/

( 2 )

Maurizio Coccia, Anarchaeology. Sopra e Contro L'Archeologia. Text accompanying the exhibition Lontano da dove?/Far from where?, Macro, Roma, IT, curated by di M. R. Sossai

( 3 )

The Nuraghe Nieddu was actually returned to Porto Torres Council in May 2014. It will now be (legally) accessible once a year, during the Open Monuments event.

( 4 )

Although the Shroud of Turin, allegedly a faded imprint of Jesus' face, is considered a sacred relic, carbon dating has proved that it was created in 1300 AD. Prof. Garlaschelli has developed a technique that, he claims, corresponds to that employed to create the Shroud.

( 5 )

At the same time, the religious symbolism adopted by Az.Namusn.Art seems also to bring to light the involvement of the Vatican within Italian politics, which the fascist regime helped to establish.

( 6 )

Blu Ciano is in fact the Italian equivalent of Blue Cyan, one of the three primary colours.