Creeping into the most burning social issues, Sandro Mele explores the concrete human reactions to the disasters of our time, and moves us to urgent ethical and aesthetic reflections, which have the force of the protest and the audacity of the hope.
Nature, as shelter from the daily catastrophes, as nostalgia for a world not corrupted by violent human passions and by ferocious selfishness, has often played (for mankind) a peacemaker role. Towards nature, man’s role has always been twofold, switching from an attitude of superiority to a close, inspiring relationship.
The environmental catastrophes that we are witnessing are the direct consequence of this ambiguity. Murray Bookchin, an American philosopher and leading theorist of social ecology, back in the Eighties he already tried to prove how the logic of the dominant economic mechanisms have bewildered the environmental and social balances, with disastrous consequences.
Sandro Mele, Lotta di classe, 2009, courtesy of the artist
Sandro Mele was born in Apulia – a land where the relationship with nature has always been significant, he studied in Venice and then he moved to Rome, where he worked for many years as personal assistant to the artist Fabio Mauri, a master who deeply influenced Mele’s artistic career.
Among other things, being a construction worker brought him to develop a special sensibility towards the issues regarding labour and labourers. The artist has therefore developed his research creeping into the most burning social issues through the use of all kind of languages, from video to photography, from installations to painting, developing forms of expression that bring the observer to foster deep thoughts, to go towards reprocessing and openness states of mind.
DROME: The video Raccontami di Cerano (Tell me about Cerano, TN), made in 2010, shows how the construction (in Apulia) of the Italian biggest coal-burning thermoelectric power station provoked an environmental catastrophe, with tragic consequences for the economy and the local occupation. How did you manage to develop in this project the possibility of a socio-political transformation?
SANDRO MELE: Raccontami di Cerano is composed by interviews to labourers and peasants from Brindisi who lost their jobs and their hopes because of the power station. In the project I’ve been supported by the results of scientific researches provided me by the committee NO al Carbone (NO to Coal, TN). I felt the need to tell this story, so that I could give voice to the denunciation of the workers and feel part of their struggle.
D: The theory of social ecology, developed by Murray Bookchin, acknowledges the historical validity of the principle of power abolition and the edification of a self-administered society of equal and free people that excludes the intervention of the State even just for a transitional period. In 2006 you followed an example of self-management enterprise: FASINPAT, “fabrica sin patrones”, in Argentina. Throughout your research, you describe the path that leads from catastrophe to revival: how did you develop this project?
SM: I got the idea at a workers’ demonstration, where I happened to be in Buenos Aires in 2000: after one year the crisis burst, and I started to follow the story of the Argentine labour movement. In 2006, I came in contact with one of the most important self-managed realities of the country, the factory FASINPAT (former Zanon), in order to understand closely their reasons and their (won) struggle to win back their labour rights.
D: The video installation working poor (2010) tells about the new poor, describing the category of honest people who turn to social institutions for help, unable to “make the ends meet.” Do you think that social de- nounce, class struggle, communication and art represent a hope? What are you focusing on right now?
SM: working poor denounces the hardest challenges of the working class and the lack of dignity of people who do work but are, still, not self-sufficient. Poverty, which has devastating consequences at both social and individual levels, is coming back, together with the solidarity derived from an external help. My last project faces the issue of the “Marchionne contract” evaluating how it will determine impressive effects on the Italian working class. Among the (many) workers I’ve met, I was struck by one of their statements, “When a rotten apple falls on the ground, a sprout grows out.” As it happened in FASINPAT where, during the economic crisis, workers reacted occupying the factory. They put into effect and made real the only practicable solution: the utopia of the expropriation. The reaction to catastrophe.
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