Art springs from ruins of Rome’s industrial past

The ruins of a landmark industrial building in Rome have become home to a thought-provoking art project that casts an unflattering light on the capital's patchy record on urban regeneration.

Art springs from ruins of Rome's industrial past
A man stands near a makeshift camp in the ruins of the ex Mira Lanza factory. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
Sections of the abandoned shell of the Mira Lanza, once a factory where soap was first produced in Italy, are now home to a collection of works created by Seth, a French street artist who camped, illegally, on the rubbish-strewn site for two months last year.
Now looked after by a group of ethnic Roma migrants, who have set up camp inside the ruins, the paintings and installations created from the on-site debris are already starting to decay.
And that is exactly the point, according to Stefano Antonelli, a director of 999Contemporary, the not-for-profit organisation behind the initiative.
Piled-up books, which initially appeared to provide a seat for a boy painted onto the brick walls of the listed 19th-Century building, have fallen over and now lie encrusted in mud on the soggy floor.
The paintwork on what was the re-creation of an empty swimming pool has been mostly washed away by the rain.
So why not touch up the paint, put the books back in place?
“This is the destiny of these works,” says Antonelli.
“This place has been abandoned since the factory closed in 1957. Since I was a little boy there have been plans to turn it into a museum, student accommodation, something.
“But nothing has ever come of it. So now, we are asking the question: what is the destiny of the Mira Lanza going to be?”
That such a prime site, located a short walk from the trendy downtown neighbourhood of Testaccio and only a few kilometres (miles) from the ancient heart of Rome, should have been left undeveloped for 60 years would be unthinkable in most comparable cities.
That it has been appears to be down to a combination of Rome's chronically weak urban planning – seen most notably in its underdeveloped transport network – and some unfortunate twists of fate.
The books were brought to the site when plans to develop it as an offshoot of a prestigious drama college were at an advanced stage.
But those plans and most of the books went up in smoke when the building was ravaged by a fire that broke out after hundreds of squatters were forcibly evicted from the site in 2014.
In an area the squatters used as a latrine, the artist has painted a crouching boy with his head emerging into the light, a work entitled Lux in Tenebris (Light in Darkness) in homage to how it came to be.
“To clear the space we literally had to shovel out piles of shit – it is not what you usually associate with curating a contemporary art exhibition,” said Antonelli.
Another wall sports paintings of migrants crammed onto boats bound for Italy's southern shores. The colourful images create a similar impression to a run of stained glass windows in a church.
In the adjacent, roofless hall, the surviving, often lopsided, pillars have been painted in the colours of the rainbow to create an installation inspired by the destruction of treasured Roman monuments in Palmyra, Syria, by the Islamic State group.
Since the roof's collapse, the colourful pillars have themselves become damaged history.
A pile of painted bricks provides the support for another painted little boy: “Brickseat” it's called, in a nod to the Brexit vote that had just taken place when Seth was creating the collection.
The Paris-born artist, whose real name is Julien Malland, has created large-scale murals and colourful street art all over the world.
In the aftermath of the 2014 fire, Antonelli's organisation put together a proposal to clean up the site, make it safe and put on a pilot exhibition to demonstrate its potential.
With a budget of 50,000 euros ($54,000), plus the cost of employing an architect for 50 days, that vision won the backing of former mayor Ignazio Marino.
But he was forced to resign on the very day the accord was due to be signed and it was back to square one.
Fifteen months later, the collective is hoping to persuade his replacement Virginia Raggi to sign up.
But with her administration beset by more pressing issues, a resolution of the fate of the Mira Lanza does not look imminent.


The new guide to Florence’s Uffizi Galleries – showing only the nudes

There are lots of guides to the visual splendours of Florence's world-famous galleries - but for those with a short attention span comes a new one, showing only nude or erotic artworks.

The new guide to Florence's Uffizi Galleries - showing only the nudes
Sandro Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is the most famous work included in a controversial new guide to the Uffizi Galleries. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The online guide to the gallieries is produced by the porn website Pornhub and provide a list of the best erotic artworks in each museum, plus directions of how to get there – so you don’t need to waste your time looking at paintings of people in clothes.

Part of the site’s Classic Nudes series of ‘erotic’ guides to some of the world’s most renowned museums, the guide for the Uffizi lists 21 artworks, together with a tongue-in-cheek commentary, and the location of each piece within the galleries.

“The Uffizi Gallery is located in the birthplace of the Renaissance: Florence, Italy. So it’s no wonder it has such a large collection of artwork from the era. But what you may find surprising is the sheer volume and variety of naked bodies rendered in paint, bronze and marble in this marvelous museum,” writes Pornhub.

Among the works featured are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1485) and the Roman statue of the Knidian Aphrodite, dating from the 1st Century.

The guide also includes the Venus of Urbino by Titian (1538), which it calls “kinky”, and Painting and Poetry by Francesco Furini (1626), which is described as featuring “two ridiculously hot babes who just so happen to be making out”.

Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Bosses at the Uffizi were not amused at the gallery’s inclusion in Pornhub’s series and have threatened to sue.

Meanwhile in Paris, the Louvre’s management has said only that it is ‘dismayed’, while the Musée d’Orsay remained silent on the subject.

As is hopefully clear, the Pornhub guides are explicit in nature and not suitable for children.

The Uffizi does, however, provide a great day out for all the family and contains a lot of fully-clothed artwork too. At present it is operating with reduced visitor numbers due to health rules, so advance booking to recommended.