Inside the Domestic Culture of Italy

Until 2013, when I didn’t get to work as a performer on a biennial project, Venice, Italy, was never a destination on my bucket list. Why should I travel to a place that everybody wants to visit? La Serenissima has long been a ghost town, with no inner life, whose rhythm and culture have adapted to the hordes of tourists who grind down its bridges. I was very happy when I discovered places and events that have nothing to do with the attractions that are usually offered to visitors. One of them is Punto Croce, one of the few alternative art venues in Venice. I lived in Punto Croce for a few days in 2014, during the Hors Lits home festival, organized by Laura Colomban. In 2015 I spent one wonderful month in Ca’Raibi, another Venetian house where homemade culture flourishes. In the yard of the Punto Croce house, I met Gabriel Adams, an American artist and curator. In 2019 I participated with the pj.lo project at The Picnic Pavilion, an artistic event that Gabriel curated with Isadora Tomasi and Silvia Susanna.

By this time, Venice had already become a city where, despite the perennial crowding, I felt at home. Two months later, I received a message from Silvia telling me that she’d found my name, looking for information on the internet about artistic events in houses and apartments. Indeed, in the short and intense time we spent at The Picnic Pavilion, we didn’t get to talk much. On her invitation, I arrived in July 2019 at Demanio Marittimo at 3 in the morning! Demanio Marittimo is a nightly event on the beach of the Adriatic coast in Italy dedicated to architecture, arts and design, curated by Cristiana Colli and Pippo Ciorra. I attended a conference with other homemade Italian culture producers, for which I proposed the term »hostartist.« Hostartists are practically the soul of homemade culture, their initiative and availability depending on all projects of this kind. Now it’s time to find out from Silvia Susanna about how this event came to life.

Jean-Lorin Sterian: What was your first encounter with homemade culture?

Silvia Susanna: Well, it’s hard to say because the concept of homemade culture became part of my vocabulary after a series of dispersed meetings, happenstances, observations, and later, intuition on specific spatial practices. Somehow an awareness that I didn’t have in my first encounter. To be precise this year, while I was in Venice co-curating The Picnic Pavilion with Gabriel Adams, Tobia and Isadora Tomasi within the home project Casa Punto Croce, I got the chance, thanks to Eugenia Morpurgo, to meet Alvise Giacomazzi and his home prototype 2.73. Sure, the debate on cultural production in Venice and the critics on speculative and extractive tourism were common research. But at that point, achieving 2.73 let me realize that in the past years, through my network, I came across different projects that have to do with the use of domestic space for cultural production. 2.73 was yet another example that made me ask; are these housing practices a cultural occurrence? Why, how, and when do they start? Could these very different projects – shaped upon specific inhabitant identities, engaging relative networks, and changing the housing standard logics into specific productive cultural systems – be conceived as critical spatial practices?! So instead of focusing our collaboration on tourism, I asked Alvise to let me introduce an open discussion on these questions. This proposal marked a moment from which I started to frame these housing projects as a phenomenon that we can certainly call homemade culture.

»The outdoor merged with the indoor in a unique pluriverse without fences for joyful and vibrant discussions where the urban world, the domestic realm, and a specific cultural production interweaved: it was life!«

That said, and in connection therewith, the first encounter was probably a special home in which I spent an intense period between my pre- and post-diploma, 2009–2012, in Rome. It was a system of small houses with an incredible central garden. There was a multifaceted little community of artists, architects, and photographers living there who occasionally worked together, but everyone had his/her personal research. Sometimes there were gatherings or exhibition previews, periodically art residencies, but in a way, everything proceeded unsystematically and according to the enthusiasm and vibes of the moment.


For sure the first case with a vision on the program was Casa Sponge, known through BIO50}hotel, a project I co-curated with Alessandro Fonte in 2014. Giovanni Gaggia, the founder of Casa Sponge, is a committed, passionate artist and curator who, ten years ago, opened his country house, located in Mezzanotte di Pergola (PU), as a laboratory for experimental curatorial projects and artist interventions. In his words: a refuge within nature for human and artistic experimental confrontations. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to visit him yet, so the more vivid memory is indeed linked to Casa Punto Croce, in 2016. At that time, I was living in Venice and by word of mouth, I learned of a special event in a »clandestine location.« I follow the white rabbit and an incredible dimension embraced me. From the campiello a unique flux of people was moving into a mystical indoor space to a softly lit garden. A flow of people was inhabiting a cosmos made of urban Venetian singularities, exhibition rooms, convivial places. The outdoor merged with the indoor in a unique pluriverse without fences for joyful and vibrant discussions where the urban world, the domestic realm, and a specific cultural production interweaved: it was life! When I met Tobia Tomasi, founder of Casa Punto Croce, the following year, it was evident how this social, generous, dance-loving creature mirrored the atmosphere of Casa Punto Croce.

J-L S: How did you get involved in The Picnic Pavilion team?

SS: Gabriel Adams is the reason for my involvement. He is a visual artist and curator. He works mostly in the realm of site-sensitive installation, and often ventures into multidisciplinary collaborations and curatorial projects. He cooperated with Punto Croce in 2015, as coordinator and project manager of the collective Nine Dragon Heads. I met him at Casa Punto Croce in May 2017; when we were living with Tobia. We had a great time together especially for our memorable after-dinner discussions on life! In January 2019 Gabriel had the idea to make a venture in Casa Punto Croce as the third chapter of his crazy project Pranzetto together with Tobia, Isadora and me.

J-L S: What did you bring to The Picnic Pavilion?

SS: Gabriel proposed and drafted the idea, which reveals his vision, but the manifesto was defined through an online exchange of texts and opinions between Gabriel operating in Massachusetts and Korea, Tobia based in Mexico City, Isadora in Venice and Amsterdam, and me in Rome and Ljubljana.

Certainly one of the major topics of discussion was the intent to recontextualize the artistic practice and the tourism connected to Biennale using the picnic as a framework. Why? The urban policies prohibited picnics, but interestingly didn’t have any problems with huge cruise ships and oversize yachts crossing the San Marco Basin and the Giudecca Canal. The Picnic Pavilion was an invitation to re-establish everyday practices in Venice, and honestly, Casa Punto Croce was an indispensable condition for expressing our statement. We launched an open call and engaged the artists that were seriously in tune with the spirit of the project. We give them space, our organizational support, freedom to express themselves; then we just left the door open and, as usual, a flux of people were immersed! We worked in a team all the time: from the definition to the organizational process. My only exclusive competence was the visual identity and, at the moment, I’m the editor of the publication on the results of The Picnic Pavilion experience.

Casa Punto Croce
Casa Punto Croce
Casa Punto Croce
Casa Punto Croce
Casa Punto Croce
Casa Punto Croce

J-L S: How did what happened in Casa Punto Croce seem different from other artistic events and especially other official artistic events that you participated in at the Venice Biennale?

SS: The Picnic Pavilion was an autonomous, independent, self-initiated project that was possible thanks to a common mindsets and collective tireless enthusiasm for the project. We wanted to generate a shelter for communal convivial moments with a citizen-oriented sense of the city. The Venice Biennale is an old institutionalized machine where the current houses of the national pavilions in Giardini is the geography of the political affairs between Italy and the other countries during the twentieth century. And still now, the curated exhibition, as well as the other presentations, reflect the governmental situation of each country as well as the internal dynamics of each specific curatorial organization, including aims, logistics, goals and surely financial opportunities. The Venice Biennale is a place that combines different backgrounds and distinctive conditions within an established frame. I have had several participations in the Biennale: in 2016, I was the curators’ assistant of the Slovenian Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale, in 2017 the assistant producer for the Tunisian Pavilion, in 2018 assistant designer for Maruša Zorec, and although the structure was always the Venice Biennale, every experience had its specific process: my role was different in each particular project that the end conditions in which I worked are not really comparable.

I think this is a crucial point in this discussion: in both cases, the idea of inhabiting, re-appropriating and auto-determining was fundamental.

For this reason, I prefer to put BIO50}hotel and The Picnic Pavilion in relation, because in both cases, there was the intent to question the impact and potentials of a big cultural event throughout an active, 1:1, real-time art production (BIO50 the 24th Design Biennial of Ljubljana, in the case of BIO50hotel and the 58th Venice Art Biennale in the case of The Picnic Pavilion). But while the first project worked out after the negotiation of a free productive »home« within a cultural established institution, the second one invoked a free, open art »institution« within an independent home. I think this is a crucial point in this discussion: in both cases, the idea of inhabiting, re-appropriating and auto-determining was fundamental, but didn’t process in the same way because contexts were completely different. More than finding out differences between institutionalized or independent frameworks, I think we need to point out the thought-provoking achievements in each circumstance.

BIO50}hotel managed to give the keys of the Museum of Architecture and Design of Ljubljana (M.A.O.) to 29 people (artists, curators, designers …) who have been free to inhabit, participate, contribute and interfere with the curatorial program and the exhibition space night and day. Of course, this risky and hazardous proposal was possible through a long negotiation process that deeply challenged the security system, but also encountered the motivation of Aljoša Dekleva and Tina Gregorič (initiators of nanotourism research), the critical support of Jan Boelen (curator of BIO50) and the respect of Matevž Čelik (director of M.A.O.) In the second case, without the trust, cohesion and warmth of the Casa Punto Croce community which physically and critically supported The Picnic Pavilion, the entire program couldn’t and wouldn’t have been the same. And again, doing it there was the very sense of doing it at all.

J-L S: How did the Home Cultural Home talk at Demanio Maritimo unfold? What was the process?

SS: When I was in Venice, for my contribution to 2.73, in June 2019, my purpose was to share a few thoughts with specific people. I contacted Giovanni Gaggia to talk about Casa Sponge, Alessandro Fonte for the connection with nanotourism and Shawnette Poe lately joined.

This first encounter on Skype (Alvise and me in Venice, Giovanni in Mezzanotte di Pergola and Alessandro with Shawnette in Berlin) was an opportunity to talk about a series of intuitions and questions I wanted to share.

Giovanni Gaggia was so enthusiastic about this investigation that he proposed a public debate at Demanio Marittimo in July 2019. Demanio Marittimo is a night marathon of conversations and appointments between architecture, art, design that takes place on the beach of Marzocca di Senigallia (the Italian Adriatic coast) and where a series of experts takes place. It is a unique event in Italy. I wrote the statement and he proposed the event to Cristiana Colli, the curator of Demanio Marittimo with Pippo Ciorra. They accepted and suddenly our inner, private discussion was launched into the public realm. I think Giovanni was right. Speaking publicly was crucial for confronting these ideas, instigating further thoughts, and growing the research. Especially since Eurotopia was the main theme of this year’s ninth edition of Demanio Marittimo, which mapped out speeches, debates and studies about Europe as a new topos and utopia. Therefore, it could not have been a better place to introduce our research and experiences.

Demanio Marittimo
Demanio Marittimo
Demanio Marittimo
Demanio Marittimo
Demanio Marittimo Flyer

J-L S: How did you find the guests for the talk? What do they have in common?

SS: I invited the people that were part of the first discussion: Giovanni Gaggia, Alvise Giacomazzi, and Alessandro Fonte; and I extended the invitation to Beatrice Meoni and you: Jean Lorin Sterian.

In that period, Beatrice was a resident at Casa Sponge, and her voice helped to understand her collaborative experience within Casa Sponge.

Your invitation was the result of a eureka moment: I was writing my introduction to the talk and I thought that a good title for the discussion would be Home Made Culture. I Googled it and found your research! Naïvely, on the occasion of The Picnic Pavilion, we didn’t talk about your home projects. Sure it wasn’t smart, but in the end, everything comes back and I found it incredibly real that we were connected. I was overjoyed at having found you: my thoughts were not wrong and your extensive experience as a creator and researcher on homemade culture (Lorgean Theatre, Lorgeannale, and Homefest) was a piece of evidence.

The participants of the talk at Demanio Marittimo were different, but all of them expressed a reaction to a spatial lack of representation in their context. The answer to a shortage of experimentation or absence of spaces of belonging. They all create a new topos by using the space of a home.

J-L S: What was the outcome of the encounter? Did you fulfill any expectations?

SS: The idea was to stage a debate on the birth, development, and objectives of some home cultural productions, hosted in inhabited houses and led by its dwellers. The talk aimed at tackling topics like the shared domestic sphere beyond tourism, cultural production beyond museums or established cultural institutions, the social active sphere and everyday life between home and urban realm. The talk aimed at bringing out meanings and values generated from these experiences and the spatial, social, cultural, financial and political effects on a local and global level.

»I think this encounter has to be seen as the starting point of many different trajectories: the occasion to reveal new domesticities and new art practices, the possibility of creating a network of home projects and personally an opportunity to see this investigation as architectural research.«

In a way, the talk at the Demanio Marittimo posed different and particular contemporary questions. With Casa Sponge, Giovanni Gaggia reflected the potentials of human relations within the suspended time of the landscape of his home. Beatrice explained how her art was confronting and exploring the context starting from the relations with people. You explained the potentials of a home as a fertile space for performative experimentations through the unpredictable and unstable conditions of the audience in the scene. With 2.73, Alvise Giacomazzi conveyed the significance to facilitate citizenship in Venice instead of tourism. And his position was supported by Alessandro Fonte that stated premises and goals of nanotourism research.

I think it was a discourse that revealed how one’s own home could embrace, express and actively power an idea on a collective level, through project-driven organizations at home. I think this encounter has to be seen as the starting point of many different trajectories: the occasion to reveal new domesticities and new art practices, the possibility of creating a network of home projects and personally an opportunity to see this investigation as architectural research.

J-L S: What is the architect’s perspective on homemade culture?

SS: Well, I believe in urban transformations through practical everyday life more than in top-down design solutions, and I think this phenomenon can be the body of interesting architectural research that I’m very eager to pursue and you are already in the list of references!

J-L S: What would be the chance of managing a home festival (like Lorgennale) in Rome? Roman citizens would be open to homemade cultural events?

SS: Sure, Rome is an incredible city! Let’s think about it!

J-L S: What new things does homemade culture bring to the art scene? Do you see it more as a social phenomenon generated by art people or an art genre or as you wrote: »specific phenomenon of cultural production« generated by the domestic space?

SS: I think it’s both. Probably in most cases, these are aspects of the same organism. In some other cases it’s the best extreme territory for stimulating explorations where the unpredictability, as you describe it several times, was the fundamental feature. And in some other projects, home is explored as the ultimate shelter for creating a significant reality.

J-L S: Could July 19, 2019 mark the start of a network of »hostartists«?

SS: This is a bold question that needs to be discussed. There are many potentials for activating a network which I think should work more through the cultural belonging agenda than on a geographical level. I have already some ideas in mind, but I think it has to grow organically and collectively.