July 31, 2011

Would you enter a dark tunnel on your own? A review of Anish Kapoor exhibition in Milan

Dismissed in 1930s, the Fabbrica del Vapore is a former tram factory which re-opened in 2008 as a creative hub with office spaces, flats for artists in residence, performance spaces etc. The complex includes also a huge space for temporary exhibitions in what used to be the hall to assemble the trams.

For this space, known as the cathedral, the 57-year-old British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor has created a site-specific work called Dirty Corner. It’s a 60-metre tunnel made of iron. Half way down in the cathedral there is a conveyor belt dropping earth on the tunnel so that at some point it would be completely covered.


You don’t watch this artwork, you have to enter into it, queuing patiently and waiting for your turn. The entrance is actually bigger than the tunnel itself. This gives you a sense of something getting smaller and slightly oppressive, especially if you stand in front of it looking at the pitch dark awaiting you. This exhibition wants visitors to reflect not just on the artwork itself but also on themselves as individuals.

Ideally you should walk through the tunnel with a partner the first time and then try a second time on your own. Depending on how you feel, you can enter the tunnel as many times as you wish, walking at different speeds and making brief pauses. To truly experience this artwork you need to be on your own without any visual reference, hence it is important you enter the tunnel when the person in front of you has disappeared in the dark.

Since I was on my own a steward offered to join me as I walked into the tunnel for the first time. I was encouraged to take off my shoes as the high heels caused noise, spoiling other people’s experience and mine as well. Silence and dark are both integral elements of this artwork. Being barefoot also allowed me to experience the artwork more closely as I could really feel the iron I was walking on.

Walking into the tunnel is a deeply physical experience. As I moved deeper and deeper into it, everything got darker and darker until we reached the point where it was completely pitch dark. This is the real essence of the work: it’s about losing the sense of space and orientation and having to walk forward in the dark. This is why exhibition stewards provide you with information on what to expect and the kind of feeling you might experience, encouraging visitors to walk into the tunnel first in pair.


The second time I entered the tunnel on my own. I was told that if I had felt uncomfortable, I could just turn back and look at the entrance so that I could see light and people, before carrying on in the dark towards the exit at the end of the tunnel. When I reached the ‘dark point’ I stopped to let my eyes get used to it. I did not turn back to look at the entrance as I took that walk a bit like a personal challenge, to prove myself I could do it on my own.

The most surprising walk was however the third one. I felt really comfortable about walking into the dark on my own but what surprised me more was to discover that inside the tunnel it wasn’t actually pitch dark! The only explanation I can think of is that my eyes finally got used to the dark. By the time I had reached the exit I could still see my pale shadow just in front of me as I actually realized there was still light coming in from the tunnel entrance.

For me this experience had a very metaphoric value. It was about being brave to walk into the dark and unknown on my own, challenging the feeling of unease, just to realize that there wasn’t really anything to fear and that the dark wasn’t dark at all!

(some more pictures are available in the gallery)

Further details:

Anish Kapoor - Milan Exhibition Fabbrica del Vapore 31.05.2010 - 08.01-2012

via Procaccini 4, Milan


July 05, 2011

Blue sky, violin playing and birds singing in Milan

A few days ago, after a long day in the office, I decided I needed a bit of rest and headed to the 6th floor of the student hall where I live. There's a common room there with sofas and TV plus two balconies, one on the front side of the building and the other at the back.

I sat in the rear balcony and had an amazing time!

Following on from my previous entries, I couldn't do without pictures...

Milan at 9pm in June

This photo was taken at around 9pm, hence it really has that typical "at dusk" atmosphere. The sky above my head was however still bright and just breathtaking...

the sky in Milan

add some classic music in the background: a student living here was rehearsing with his violin in the common room. And the very final touch to make the whole thing perfect: birds singing. You can hear them both, the violin and the birds, in this recording I made:

Music for the expo college (mp3)

June 14, 2011

Aiming for the embedded summary

Over the past months I've been asked to produce various pieces of writing for the web: copy for the newsletter, blog entries but mainly copy both for the Italian and the English website (the latter hasn't been published yet).

This has given me the opportunity to practise all the tips discussed during the course. In particular I've focused al lot on building paragraphs with heading and subheadings, training my mind and my eyes to recognise the information structure, i.e. the logic on which a text is build.

Since people reading online are fundamentally in a hurry and just scan the page for information, it is also important to make a strategic use of the bold format as this can clearly attract the reader. The basic rule is that you should put in bold the key concepts of a paragraph so that even if the reader reads just those words, he/she can still get the gist of the text.

However, what I'm really trying to do is not to give the reader just a 'list of key words/verbs written in bold' but to construct a coherent sentence written in bold and still embedded in the 'normal text'. Basically, if you take out the words in bold and put them one after the other you should have a grammatically and logically correct sentence.

I've realised this is more of an ideal goal than something easy to achieve. When I try this exercise I end up thinking that I need to rewrite the main text to fit around the bold text. However, this would mess up the main text, resulting possibly in a less pleasing piece of writing.

Well, I've tried this exercise with this blog entry. If you take out just the bold text, the result is:

To produce various pieces of writing for the web I've focused al lot on building paragraphs with heading and subheadings, to recognise the information structure. People reading online just scan the page for information. Make a strategic use of the bold format: put in bold the key concept of a paragraph. Construct a coherent sentence written in bold and still embedded in the 'normal text'. This is more of an ideal goal than something easy to achieve.

I've been lucky this time. It has worked and the result is a fairly logic paragraph expressing in a very synthetic way my key idea! However, I think this is just casualness. I don't start with a summary to then write the main text around it. I start with an idea, write the main text and then decide which parts should be in bold creating a visual summary. You can't follow the inverse order as nothing can be really conceived in the human mind as a summary. To have a summary there needs to be by definition something else before, an articulated and deep thinking. An idea is always the result of a more articulated thinking: so we can't really start with the summary. It's not possible to have an idea before having reflect on other things. Brilliant and innovative ideas always appear after a brainstorming or a long and stressful 'mental search'.

I think that as far as online writing is concerned summaries/bold text should not be seen as a shortcut for not reading the main text but as a hint on the quality of the whole content. The summary/bold text should help the reader decide whether he/she wants to read further.

The company where I work sells guided tours to Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. The website has obviously a section on the Last Supper and on Leonardo's life and works among other things. I like to think that even if the online reader reads just the bold text he/she will find the ideas presented interesting and be encouraged to pay more attention to the full text and finally be interested in booking a tour to find out more about Leonardo and his works. Borrowing the retail sector concept that the customer is king, I think we can say that on the web content is king: to grab the reader you need top-quality content!

June 04, 2011

What I hear out of my window…

After writing an entry about what I see from my bedroom window, I thought it would be nice to add some sound to it, to complete the mental picture. I can hear different sounds: cars passing by, birds singing and people chatting but the more characteristic are the church bells and men playing football.

Below are the links to two audio recordings:

football_players.m4a (1' 24'' - you might need to turn up the volume full blast to hear this. I even managed to end the recording with the referee's whistle!)

church_bells.m4a (1' 8'')

My favourite one is obviously the bells. The church is so close that the music really seems to be inside my room!


This entry was also meant to be a way of experimenting with audio recordings as I had never used them before. I recorded the clips with my iphone and then uploaded them to this entry. Hence when you click on the links an automatic download should start and your default media player should play the recording. About AudioBoo I decided to leave it for another time. I haven't even done any editing for these audio files as I haven't got a clue on how to do it. They're just very amateurial in style.

May 23, 2011

Can games make the world better?

The answer is yes, according to Jane McGonigal, a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games — or, games designed to improve real lives and solve real problems.

Jane McGonigal

On 3rd May 2011 she gave a lecture at the National Museum of Science and Technology ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ in Milan presenting her revolutionary theories on the potential of games to achieve social change.

Before attending the event I have to admit I was among those dismissing games as a childish pastime. However, Jane made me change my mind.

Is playing-games a sound way of investing time?

The idea of game-players as inactive people wasting their time is based, according to Jane McGonigal, on a misconception of what productivity is. In fact, productivity should not be understood just as output in purely economic terms but as the ability to produce more:

  • positive emotions
  • stronger relationships
  • meaning
  • a sense of accomplishment

and games can do all this!People playing

Games are ‘unnecessary obstacles we volunteer to tackle’

For example, in golf we decide to put a small ball in a tiny hole and to do that we stand far away from the hole and use a golf club. If we needed to complete such a task for a practical reason, if would be much easier to just take the ball and walk to the hole or build a machine to do that. However, human beings enjoy complicating their life without having any real practical purpose for that. This is because humans like the surprise, the challenge and to play with others.

When you really think about it, playing games is a very hard work, you need to concentrate a lot to achieve your task. A game gives us the opportunity to develop new skills
and be productive.

The healthy stress and the 10 powerful emotions

Games produce eustress, i.e. the type of stress a person chooses to experience voluntarily, as it is the case when playing a game, and not the stress originating for example from an excessive workload in the office. Playing games make us more ambitious and positive. It generates 10 very positive emotions:

  • Joy
  • Relief
  • Love
  • Surprise
  • Pride
  • Curiosity
  • Excitement
  • Awe and Wonder
  • Contentment
  • Creativity (the belief we have the power to create something new)

It’s contagious!

All these positive emotions bring about a general state of happiness, making us more successful in life and super-resilient. This would then have positive repercussions in other aspects of life such as better grades at school, more promotions at work, etc.

Furthermore, according to research, every time a person experiences an emotion, this then spreads to other 6 people who are around that person.

From the virtual to the real: games with a social impact

The most innovative idea presented by Jane McGonigal is that, given all these positive effects both for gamers themselves and for those around them, it seems worthy to think on how games could be used to benefit the whole society.

One of the games she has designed is Urgent Evoke, a crash course in changing the world. The game, developed for the World Bank Institute, takes 10 weeks to be completed.Urgent Evoke

The goal is to help people all over the world to come up with creative solutions to the most urgent social problems (food security, water shortage etc.). To play participants are requested to complete certain actions in the real world and submit evidence for it (a post/video/photos on a blog, etc). It combines playing, learning and taking action in the real world. In this respect it represents a way of transferring all the benefits of playing games into the real world to benefit the whole society.

Another interesting example is the Italian game Critical City, developed by Focus, a social cooperative based in Milan. It’s a social game where people have to go out in the city and do unusual things. Then they put evidence of their actions on the web and the other players vote their favourites. Some of the tasks have a social relevance: for example, players were requested to fix something they saw on the street (a litter bin with a loose screw, a road sign covered by tree branches etc.).

Further details

The event was organized by Meet the Media Guru. I suggest you sign up to the newsletter so that you won’t miss out on forthcoming events.

If you wish to delve further into Jane McGonigal’s theories, she has also written a book: “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World”


I wrote this entry originally for the blog managed by the company I work for.


May 08, 2011

A room with a view….

view from my window - on the right

I live on the 4th floor of a student hall in Milan. Out of my window I can see the backyard of a church with a football field. The area is managed by the church itself as a way of providing facilities for local people to gather. There're people playing almost every evening: kids, teenagers, grown-ups, with families and friends watching the game and supporting the players. There're also regular sport classes for disabled people and occasionally festivals with music, food stalls etc.  

I like seeing all this. It gives me the idea that there's a real local community here despite the fact this is still Milan, a city with about 1,300,000 inhabitants (foreigners account for about 16% of this figure). It's a big change for me, used as I was to Leamington Spa with its 45,000 dwellers.

However, on the left side of the football field, behind a wall, the picture changes. There's in fact the rehab centre for drug-addicts and at the back of it a centre run by nuns providing hospitality for teenage mothers and women experiencing difficult situations. From my room I can see them, with their kids among endless lines of clothes hung to dry outside.

The nuns run also a daily canteen for the homeless and poor. Weekly I can also see these people gathering in the central yard to get used clothes donated by more fortunate people. It looks a bit like a market with clothes displayed on tables but people have not money to buy....

It's a sad viewing but it really reminds me not to complaing about those things in my life which are not really as I'd like them to be.

view from my room - on the left

May 03, 2011

Targeting bankers?

Follow-up to Public Art and public Morals from Giulia's blog

I don't know why but it seems there's a preference for displaying public art in financial districts.

Maybe because those working there are just too busy to look out of their office windows and if they pass by the artwork, they're always in a rush to go back to work? I really wonder if bankers are less likely to complain about artworks since they're busy with other stuff.

If you put a sculpture in a public park or in a place where people already gather in their free time, it really needs to be a good artwork as people will definitely take the time to look at it...


April 28, 2011

Junk food triumphs on Facebook

I've been doing some research on Facebook to understand how to use this platform to do business, to raise brand awareness and engage with online audiences. Yesterday I came across some statistics on the most loved Italian brands on Facebook, i.e. company pages with the highest no. of 'Like'.

Surprise surprise.... at the top of the chart is Nutella, followed by Kinder Chocolate (in the UK people might be familiar with the little kinder egg with the surprise inside). I was puzzled with these results. Chocolate tastes good but it's definitely not part of the Mediterranean diet Italy should be famous for! However, it's also true that there isn't any dominant brand with a very unique identity for mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil or pasta.

Prompted by curiosity, I checked also the UK data. The top four brands on Facebook are Skittles, Cadbury Cream Egg, Cadbury Wispa and Maltesers. I wonder why chocolate is so popular.....why not crisps?

anyway it's the triumph of junk food!

Data source: http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics

April 20, 2011

The "happy hour" ritual

One of the coolest places in Milan is the Navigli District. The Navigli are Milan's waterways. Built in 1100 they were in use until about 1930 when some of them started being covered up and replaced with roads. They served commercial and trade purposes, connecting Milan with the main rivers and lakes in the north of Italy. For example, the Candoglia marble used for the Duomo was transported from the quarries near the Lake Maggiore to the construction site via the Navigli.

Today just two Navigli have surveived and they are populated with bars and pubs, one after the other and you're spoiled for choice. This area comes alive in the late afternoon, evening when the Milanese meet there for the 'happy hour' ritual. 'Happy hour' is basically a deal offered by all the bars in the area: between 6pm and 9pm all drinks (beer, wine, cocktails etc.) are offered at the same price, usually between £5 and £8, and there's a finger buffet available and you can eat 'as much as you like'.

April 17, 2011

I've seen amazing things….

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the fashion company Trussardi the english-born design Michael Young created this installation made with gilt aluminium "links" that can be reconfigured in innumerable ways.

Every April Milan offers the best in domestic and office furnishing at the 'Salone Internazionale del Mobile' (International Furnishing accessories exhibition), 12 - 17 April 2011. In addition to the exhibitors at the fairgrounds, the city itself  hosts an endless programme of cultural events spanning various historical locations. There's an obvious link between design, art and fashion and the Salone becomes then an opportunity to celebrate what Milan is worldwide famous for.

The choice of what to see and do is just endless, it's an ongoing happening, day and night. I ventured out to explore the situation in the Brera distric (it's where the Brera Pinacoteca is located. It's one of the oldest art gallery in the city and the area around is just full of shops offering the best in design, craft, art etc...)

I visited the exhibition IX Mirrors by Ron Gilad at Dilmos http://www.dilmos.com . Those were not usual mirrors! They don't tell just the story of the person they reflect but they seem to have a story of their own, something from a magic world....just take a look at the picture I put in the gallery.

After that I stopped at the Lago Flat (see the picture in the gallery). Lago is a company producing design furniture for the house. They have obviously normal showrooms where people go and buy their products but the most innovative concept is to present their furniture in a real setting, a real house. The flat I visited is a private house all furnished with Lago products. So you have a chance to see a real 'working' home. If you're willing to refurbish your flat and are ready for a new way of life, then you should contact Lago. They offer you a 38% discount on the furniture and as an exchange you agree to have your house open to visitors interested in the products or open for any other kind of social event, meeting etc. Then you'll also get a 20% discount on the sales made thanks to your contribution.

Clearly, this is not a project for ordinary tenant. According to Lago's website this is their ideal tenant:

"The Tenant is a person who loves socializing, who manages to organize the coolest party in 2 hours, without losing heart when it’s time to tidy up. He lives in the Appartamento alone, with his family, with his friends. He doesn’t have a fixed timetable, he opens the doors of his flat according to his availability, making agreements each time with those who are willing to visit the Appartamento. In order to advertise his house he organizes dinners, hosts small events, turns his flat into an interesting and well-known place in the city. He tunes a serenade to his city from his houses’ balcony: he’s certainly not short of courage for it."


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