This photograph was taken by Giona Mottura a month ago in the Basilicata region of Italy. Members of urbz – including the authors of this article – with artists from Alterazioni Video and members of the Fosbury Architecture collective, explored this train track that had been financed by the European Union. It is now abandoned and includes two stations, several bridges and a long tunnel.
The image captures two contrasting dimensions that concern us – the vast, seemingly empty landscape of rolling fields and hills sliced by gigantic pillars of concrete that link a phantom railway network. The skeleton of a 29 kilometre stretch which was to link the regional capital of Matera to the national railways, has become a symbol of an epic tale of environmental damage and wastage of public resources.
A sense of remoteness and distance must have been stridently evoked while raising money to create this Incompuito A new movement in Italy seeks to reclaim incomplete public infrastructure, write Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove. giant piece of expensive infrastructure. And then, as the construction came closer to completion, equally strident reasons may have been cited to show how financially unviable the running of the project would be in reality. Leaving behind this half-built infrastructural stump.
Alterazioni Video and Fosbury have joined forces to diligently document projects like this one, as part of a vast archive that chronicles what they estimate could be around 1500 similar incomplete and abandoned public projects all over Italy. They have given these failures a name – Incompuito. They see this as a distinctive architectural style that mirrors Italy’s famed ancient ruins. Similar sediments and fragments, but with its future eroded instead of the past.
It is easy to create a fable through the story encoded in the image – of pristine nature and a violent culture of construction, of past grandeur and contemporary failure, of upright morality and corruption. Like most fables however, such binaries often come full circle to eventually show inverted shadows where an eternal exchange of fluid morality makes things messy.
Giona Mottura. Photograph. 2018.
Would a successful highway project chock-a-block with cars necessarily have been a success? And is an incomplete project inevitably a failure? Is there a possibility of reappropriation, which is also a way to respond to the conundrum?
According to French anthropologist Marc Augé, there can be nothing more reactionary than to take delight in the failure of such infrastructural projects. Instead, we should understand them as some kind of crisis that needs a creative resolution.
Perhaps, this bridge will never be used for a train track connecting La Martella and the rest of Italy. But then what else can it be? How can such a massive work become meaningful to the people in the region? Can an imagination grounded in the reality of the territory emerge and produce alternative narratives and functions?
The Situationists had invented a practice, which they called ‘détournement’ which consisted of reusing artifacts or artworks by adapting them to new contexts and giving it new meanings.
From the recognition of a new ‘architecture style’, Incompuito aims to become a popular movement to reclaim incomplete public infrastructures all over Italy. This is a call for action not only for Italy. Wherever our modern civilization is failing us, we must hijack it and recycle it.
The photograph as evidence is a vital part of this process.