Archives as living matter
I-DEA was a cornerstone project for Matera European Capital of Culture, along with the Open Design School. The project focused on archives, not as places to store materials for conservation, but rather as living matter: living organisms that can be connected by artistic practices to reveal the complexity of the history and culture of the Basilicata region.
I-DEA relied on the collaboration of a multiplicity of subjects. First and foremost, the team from the Università della Basilicata, who researched the existing archives in the region and mapped a total of 249. This preliminary operation provided the groundwork for the meticulous undertaking by Associated Curator Chiara Siravo and the I-DEA research team, who visited the archives they mapped to pre-select the materials for the I-DEA exhibitions. The I-DEA team’s effort provided an outline for the next step by five artists and designers, who were designated as the curators for five distinct but interrelated exhibitions.
The I-DEA project began long before its public outcome in 2019, in the research of the dedicated team, which consisted of two Ph.D candidates and two research fellows from the Department of European and Mediterranean Cultures (DiCEM) at the Università della Basilicata, and the Honorary Inspector of the Soprintendenza Archivistica e Bibliografica della Puglia e della Basilicata.
Between June 2017 and March 2018, the research team undertook an unprecedented mapping project to “understand the state of the art of archives and demo-ethno-anthropological collections of interest in the Basilicata region”. Overall, data was collected on 249 archives and collections from all 131 municipalities in the region. The survey involved not only the institutional archives, but the private collections of individual families from the region as well, which could convey, from a unique and personal viewpoint, the complexity of the history and traditions of the territory. The archives they mapped contain various typologies of material: documents, objects, photographs, videos and other multimedia material. In all, the survey counted 2 State Archives, 6 Diocesan Archives, 133 non-governmental public archives and 108 private collections.
Composition of the 249 archives mapped in preparation for the I-DEA exhibitions
The mapping effort laid the foundations upon which the I-DEA research team, led by Associate Curator Chiara Siravo built its planning process. In a spirit of cultural mediation, the team visited the archives and private collections in Basilicata, to see firsthand, explore and pre-select the material that would later be included in the I-DEA exhibitions for Matera 2019.
It was not just the meticulous preliminary research in the archives that rooted I-DEA’s development so deeply in Basilicata’s history, it was also the exhibition venue: Cava Paradiso, in the Archaeological Historic Natural Park of the Rupestrian Churches.
The tuff caves are more than just a typical element of the local landscape, they are in their own way a living archive that bears witness to the evolution of the relationship between the inhabitants of Matera and their territory. These caves provided the raw material for local art and architecture, just as they set the day’s pace for generations of workers and to this day carry the markings on their surface of the many extraction techniques that evolved over the centuries. Cava Paradiso is not the only cave featured in the events of Matera 2019 and its choice as a venue for the I-DEA cornerstone project aligns with the bid-book for Matera European Capital of Culture, which explicitly called for enhancing Matera’s caves as places where history meets the contemporary arts.
The common thread that ran through the I-DEA exhibitions was the reinterpretation of materials from the region’s archives through a lens that would reactualize the past. The exhibitions do not simply display objects and artefacts from the past, they question their relevance to the present. In 2019, five I-DEA exhibitions were held at Cava Paradiso.
The Two Cultures: Artefacts and Archives, an exhibition curated by Mario Cresci, focused on the two cultures – scientific and humanistic — and their growing incommunicability. The materials selected from the archives touched on the past century, using photography, craftwork, science and machinery to explore the intersection of disciplines (cultures) in the Basilicata region.
Visione Unica — Cultures of Environmental Manipulation, curated by Studio Formafantasma, was an installation that assembled heterogeneous materials from the archives in films to investigate the anthropisation of the territory and the many strategies, from scientific to magical, enacted to manipulate the environment.
Thauma: Atlas of Gestures — 5 Exercises, curated by Virgilio Sieni, was a reflection on the concept of gesture lost and transformed, that grew out of research in the archives of the region aimed at discovering certain topologies of the body. The exhibition combined a series of vertical and horizontal panels with a cycle of practices for the body through dance.
The Land of Cockaigne, an exhibition curated by Navine G. Khan–Dossos & James Bridle, gathered objects and stories from around Basilicata that bear witness to the life force of legends, tales and non-human entities, and the ties that bind them to our own lives. The materials on display ranged from harvesting and breeding songs to chroma key panels of film sets.
Inhabiting the Archives, Life, Movement and Collection, curated by Pelin Tan & Liam Gillickerge, raised the issue of habitation as the central theme of the twentieth century. Borrowing from both institutional and private archives, the exhibition dwelled on the themes of everyday life, in a story told from many perspectives that begins with the agrarian reform in 1950 and the exodus from the Sassi to today’s influx of migrants from the Mediterranean Sea.
The peculiarity of the I-DEA exhibitions lies in considering the archives as a starting point to challenge the cultural trivialization that has affected the history of every territory, and Basilicata in particular. Discovering the archives, the collections, the materials and the history behind them becomes an opportunity to reveal new and original meaning, which generates new connections and interactions between people, between objects, between archives.
These programmatic values in I-DEA were materialized in the ways that the 5 exhibitions were developed. Each curator designed his or her exhibition following a “process of accumulation”, adding or removing materials from the archives featured in the previous exhibition. The I-DEA space has always remained open, allowing visitors to take part in the phases of researching and selecting the materials and setting up the exhibitions, bringing together the public, the curators, the documents and the processes of artistic creation. This led to a blurring of the boundaries between one exhibition and the next: the transition from one exhibition to another was not to be considered as an interruption, a shut-down before the next installation, but as an integral part of the process of evolution, fusion and generation of new connections, growing out the living matter of the archives.
I-DEA’s mission was not to give rise to a new museum or a permanent exposition to display materials from the archives. It was to be the prototype for a “meta-archive”, a living and temporary commons that cast a light on the existing archives to which the material on display would return, and remain accessible. The future scalability of the I-DEA project lies precisely in its decision to be more than a mere museum product: to represent a curatorial methodology and a new way to conceive exhibitions about archives.
The chart below explores the “living” relationships between the archival materials used in the 5 exhibitions, specifying the archives each one came from and the exhibitions they were part of.
The archival material displayed in the 5 exhibitions
The activities of the I-DEA project did not end with the preliminary research and the 5 exhibitions. A series of satellite events and collateral projects constellated the year 2019, involving the citizens in an interdisciplinary and participative effort focused on the archives. The most striking aspect of the programme that ran parallel to the 5 exhibitions was the way it connected different disciplines and formats to the theme of the archives, and featured absolutely unique events. As illustrated in the chart below, the 5 major exhibitions were complemented by a series of parallel exhibitions, workshops, performances and lectures. Estimates show that the various events associated with I-DEA counted over 6,000 participants.
The first I-DEA exhibition, curated by Mario Cresci, was accompanied for example by the public workshop “Creation of a collective archive”, led by the curator himself. During the two-day event, the participants reflected on the archives and the themes of the exhibition. Then, in a collective archival practice, they created posters based on an intersection between the archival materials on display in Cresci’s exhibition and materials that the participants in the workshop brought in from their own personal archives.
Thauma: Atlas of Gesture, curated by Virgilio Sieni, similarly pursued this participated dialogue with the citizens, with a rich calendar of workshops and dance performances, that rounded out the installation of archival materials.
I-DEA also served to activate a project that specifically involved the upper secondary schools of the Basilicata region: “19 Schools x 19 Archives”. Each of the participating classes adopted one archive, which became the starting point for a reflection upon the deep memories of their land, based on I-DEA’s archival material and their own personal family objects. All in all, the project involved almost 300 students between the ages of 14 and 19, who then showed their work during the Open Culture Festival which concluded the Matera 2019 calendar of events.
All the material produced by the I-DEA project is currently in the process of being published on the dedicated digital platform.
The texts on this page describing the 5 exhibitions were written on the basis of the texts contained on the I-DEA website, for which we would like to thank:
The Two Cultures - Associated curator Chiara C. Siravo
Visione Unica - Curators Simone Farresin, Andrea Trimarchi
Thauma: Atlas of Gestures - Curator Virgilio Sieni
The Land of Cockaigne - Curators James Bridle and Navine G. Khan-Dossos
Inhabiting the Archives - Curators Pelin Tan and Associate Curator Chiara C. Siravo
Open data corner
At the centre of this platform, the data, now published in an open format. The Matera 2019 datasets are thus transformed into a digital commons that can inform, inspire and support new information and design practices for the local, national or international communities.
Below, you can download both the raw data related to the theme of this section and the aggregated data used for each of the above visualizations. You can also find more data in the site’s Open Data Center, which contains all the data available in the platform, or in our GitHub repo.