Vaults of Milan
Making Memories by Clara Mazzoleni

January 27, 2017 Vaults of Milan No Comments

Last autumn I read a book called The Fiction of Autobiography: Reading and Writing Identity, by Micaela Maftei. In this beautiful essay about memory and the self, Maftei talks briefly about the work of the neurologist and writer Israel Rosenfield. According to him, memory is something the brain can create, rather than something the brain can process or find: “Memory… is not a set of stored images that can be remembered by an independent ‘I’; memory is a set of ever-evolving procedures.”

“A set of ever-evolving procedures” can be argued to structure the programmes of an array of art institutions that, in the last few years, reshaped the relationship between Milan and the contemporary art scene. Indeed, it can be noticed an increasing engagement in linking the historical evidence of the city—and its story-telling ability—to those works of art which have the power to transform the space, and thus creating a new memory made of the fusion of the past and the future, of space and time.



Sarah Lucas, “INNAMEMORABILIAMUMBUM,” Installation view at Albergo Diurno Venezia, Milan, 2016. Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan. Photo: Marco De Scalzi


The visitors of the many exhibitions organised by the Nicola Trussardi Foundation, which operates as “a nomadic institution” transforming Milan “into both a stage and a material to be shaped and reshaped,” have experienced contemporary art alongside the city’s richly layered past. For example, Sarah Lucas’s exhibition “Innamemorabiliamumbum” (2016), a collaboration between Trussardi Foundation, FAI and the municipality of Milan, took place in the disquieting underground environment of the Albergo Diurno Venezia, which was opened in 1926 (up until 2006) to provide the Milanese people with public baths and grooming services.

Leaving the city centre, two beautiful spots of industrial archaeology can be encountered: Hangar Bicocca and Fondazione Prada. If the former was a factory owned by the engineer Ernesto Breda, who moved into the Bicocca district in 1903 to produce railway carriages and locomotives, boilers, farm machinery, as well as aeroplanes and projectiles during the First World War; the latter was a distillery dating back to the 1910s. The new venue of Fondazione Prada in Milan, conceived by the architecture firm OMA, is characterised by an articulated configuration of spaces which combines seven existing buildings with three new ones. In addition, from last December, Fondazione Prada offers even more to the city of Milan: Osservatorio is a new exhibition space dedicated to photography and visual languages, which extends itself across the fifth and sixth floors of one of the wings of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.



Laure Prouvost, “GDM – Grand Dad’s Visitor Center,” Installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio


Milan has long been benefited from the generosity of private initiatives which sought for creating spaces where to discuss contemporary art, every time in different situations and with different publics. Among them, since 2004 Artache has transformed the places of worship in Milan, by putting into dialogue history with religion, through the unusual presentation of works by Bill Viola, Mark Wallinger, Adrian Paci and Susan Philipsz in the Cathedral of Milan, the Basilica di San Marco, the Church of San Bartolomeo and the Court of Palazzo Reale. The last example for this overview is FuturDome—which lately hosted the group show “The Habit of A Foreign Sky” curated by Ginevra Bria. Coming under a recent plan for the urban renovation of areas with historical and cultural significance, the project was developed with the aim of realising a programme of residencies for artists. The building was designed in 1909 by architect Giulio Rezia according to the contemporary Liberty style. Later concluded in 1913, it was the reference destination and meeting place for those Milanese artists who adhered to Futurism.

The Futurists were linked together by a strong faith in progress, velocity, technology and movement. They wanted to erase the past and overcame its dusty slowness. These Milan spaces and their programmes are teaching us that past and future are not enemies one to the other, but can collide and create new memories and desires, giving shape to a more precious experience of the present.



Mark Wallinger, Via Dolorosa, 2002. Projected video installation, continuous loop. © Mark Wallinger. Courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London


Clara Mazzoleni (b.1987, Lecco) is an independent writer. Her texts have been published in minima&moralia, The Towner, Abbiamoleprove and Pixarthinking. From 2014 to 2016, she collaborated with the online contemporary art magazine ATP Diary. Clara currently writes about pop stars, current events and visual arts for Rivista Studio.


Cover image: Paul Kos, “Partoftheprocess7 _Imitatio Christie’s II,” Installation view at Futurdome, Milan, 2016. Courtesy of the artist; and ZERO…, Milan