Students revolts have spread in Italy and England in the past few weeks. The images that I see coming from my country remind me of interactive urban installations organized by Coop Himmelblau in the 1960′s and 1970′s .
These are called ‘soft explosions’, such as the covering of a street in Vienna with foam,or the appearance in the streets of Paris of habitable ‘bubbles’.
Coop Himmelblau’s approach,according to the pleasantly subversive Spatial Agency, is similar to that of Haus-Rucker-Co, based on the Austrian heritage of Freud’s psychoanalytic approach– this led them to explore the relationships between the architectural environment and our individual perceptions of it. Their early work leading up to the late 1970s consisted of performative installations and actions involving the spectators as participants. [read more at
Post-traumatic Urbanism ]
Italian students today put the art in revolt.
During the Book Block protest in Rome (so called by the collective writers Wu Ming– see Black Block for reference ), which took place November 24, 2010 in Rome, University students fashioned ‘literary shields’ to defend themselves against the riot police (members of the Italian police have been charged with murder in several cases involving student demonstrators, sports fans rioting outside of stadiums and G-8 protesters in recent years). The shields become what the students are fighing for: the right for education against drastic government cuts. What better symbol of the predicament Italian Universities are in, than to take to the streets books relevant to today’s Italian young adults. A plank of wood sandwiched between two sheets of cardboard become the book covers. Here are some of the texts, and the titles are sometimes surprising:
Tropic of Cancer
by Artur Miller
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Italian Constitution
Decameron by Boccaccio
Naked Sun by Aasimov
A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze
Gomorrah by Saviano
Don Quixote by Cervantes
The Prince by Macchiavelliand…my favorite book of all time: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez
As the students recount, it was a spontaneous process started one November afternoon at the University. Each student proposed titles of books;they wanted to represent that ‘ culture is the only defence against a government who wants to demolish it’.
Gian Mario Anselmi, professor of Italian Literature at the University of Bologna says: : “These kids used culture as shield, our true and only identity. We defend ourselves with classical texts. The titles they chose are incredibly diverse, fruit of who knows what advice and suggestion, but it does not matter. It is the smbol that matters. And on these shields told of utopia, history, courage and love.”
The Book Block protest plans to make an appearance again on December 14 in Rome.
The writer Roberto Saviano, in his open letter to the newspaper ‘La Repubblica’ –written to condemn the violence emerged in some recent student revolts –praises ‘intellectual’ and creative demonstrations such as the ‘Book Bloc’. He writes:
‘C’era allegria nei ragazzi che avevano avuto l’idea dei Book Block, i libri come difesa, che vogliono dire crescita, presa di coscienza. Vogliono dire che le parole sono lì a difenderci, che tutto parte dai libri, dalla scuola, dall’istruzione… La testa serve per pensare, non per fare l’ariete. I book block mi sembrano una risposta meravigliosa a chi in tuta nera si dice anarchico senza sapere cos’è l’anarchismo neanche lontanamente.’
The kids who had the idea of th ‘Book Block’ did so in good spirit, books as defense, books that signify growth, self-awareness. Books are there to say words come to our defense, that everything starts with books, school, learning…Your head is there for you to think , not to use it as a battering ram. I think the Book Blocs are a wonderful answer to those who call themselves anarchic, wearing black overalls, without even knowing what anarchy even means.’
As I was preparing this post, I collected these quotes and thoughts on revolution and books:
Anthony J. D’Angelo
“The poet or the revolutionary is there to articulate the necessity, but until the people themselves apprehend it, nothing can happen … Perhaps it can’t be done without the poet, but it certainly can’t be done without the people. The poet and the people get on generally very badly, and yet they need each other. The poet knows it sooner than the people do. The people usually know it after the poet is dead; but that’s all right. The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world.”
— James Baldwin