Art beacon in the Mediterranean

The open-air gallery of Mangiabarche. Photo Beyond Entropy

The March 2013 issue of Domus features my piece on the open-air gallery of Mangiabarche, in Calasetta, Sardinia. This was a truly special place that I was lucky enough to visit late in 2012, which defies the conventional notions of what a gallery space is and can be. This feature also marks the first time I write about contemporary art and politics of territorial occupation. The full piece can be read over at Domusweb, and an excerpt can be found after the jump.

Ultimately, Rabolli Pansera has the larger goal of turning Mangiabarche into “an epicentre for cultural and artistic production for the whole Mediterranean region”. For him, Sardinia embodies the many contradictions that can be observed throughout the Mediterranean, from Spain to Lebanon. These are mostly expressed by an aggressive seasonal territorial occupation — overcrowded in the summer and depopulated in the winter — and the sharp contrast between vast natural reserves and tourist infrastructure. With this Mediterranean Kunsthalle project, Rabolli Pansera strives to envision a future for this geopolitical territory beyond the current dialectic.

His ambitious project is not unfounded. Beyond Entropy has identified a territory with immense potential by mapping and identifying the more than 1,000 cultural institutions that border the Mediterranean, all of them no further than 
2 kilometres from the coast. Such verification begs the question: could this sea become a connector once again? Could a new, alternative network of collaborations and exchanges emerge? The political and economic turmoil of recent years in Northern Africa and Southern Europe speaks of a bleak future for such institutions, particularly in terms of financial sustainability. And for nascent projects such as the Mangiabarche Gallery, the greatest challenge is to attract and maintain an audience, without conniving to create simply another venue for artistic tourism.

A few indicators suggest that such an audience could effectively be established, and a project like the Mediterranean Kunsthalle might indeed thrive. For example, new low-cost air routes have recently been announced, promising to link nearby Cagliari Airport to the artistic hubs of Vilnius and Berlin. Further north, Alghero Airport opens the way to London.

Simultaneously, Rabolli Pansera continues to strengthen and adapt his curatorial programme. His latest initiative is a “civic epic” where young artists in residence bring art into the lives — and houses — of the inhabitants of Sant’Antioco, setting up an exchange between the population and the artists. Then, of course, there is the centuries-old history of Mangiabarche, Sardinia and the Mediterranean. The geopolitical territory of resistance so eloquently described by Fernand Braudel in his magnum opus conspires to give a place such as the open-air gallery of Mangiabarche — and with it the many cultural institutions that surround this sea — the possibility of success in an undoubtedly strenuous process, which will nevertheless be a “slow, precise and magnificent conquest”.