Libero Commune Di Firenze

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This artwork was made as a response to the situations prevailing during “Formal Interference”, Florence, May 6th – 19th 2014.

“This project aims to resist and challenge the legitimacy of an aestheticizing rhetoric that can be insidiously authoritative… The project, featuring 8 public interventions over 8 days, is scheduled for May 2014. Formal Interference will include new works by 5 UK based artists, CAAPO & Spazi Docili. Documentation of all the interventions will be shown together in a gallery based exhibition on completion of the public intervention series. CAAPO has devised an additional set of dialogue and film events to accompany the public and gallery based programme: This will create an opportunity for the artists to develop an interest in the project content with a wider audience.” CAAPO

When I first arrived in Florence, I intended to make a participatory artwork by talking to locals and tourists on the streets of Florence and offering them my mobile phone to tweet a message on my Twitter account.  I wanted to collect one hundred messages to weave into a Decameron for the 21st century. Alongside this process, I was performing in the main Florentine piazzas as part of CAAPO, but the difficulties of doing this became very apparent when our work was halted by the police.

By working alongside and having discussions with Spazi Docilli, I was able to develop an appreciation of some of the cultural difficulties and restrictions in place throughout Florence, and how much the city’s important heritage conflicts with its ability to be contemporary. When researching the location of the exhibition from my home in Cardiff, I felt that the area was a kind of living museum, and this feeling was reinforced by our concerns over what we can and cannot do in the city’s public areas.

When I first arrived, I noticed that the signage for the city featured a red fleurs-de-lis and the words Comune di Firenze. I understand that the Italian word Comune means something like a town council, but I mistook it for the English word Commune with its connotations of liberal, socialist or perhaps even utopian politics. I was told that the fleurs-de-lis is inviolable; people have to be very careful how they use the symbol. This attitude seemed very much at odds with my initial misunderstanding between commune and comune, and the thought of a Florence Free State started to develop.

The pyramidal structure is designed to be a cultural information point or monument for visitors to the Libero Commune di Firenze; a structure for a non-government that uses stencil graffiti as it’s official language of communication. The front face has cultural orientation information, so that visitors know what may be approved of (babies – forwards 10!) and what is frowned upon (fascism – back 10!). There is no irony in having a pyramid as an icon of an anarchistic state because any anarchistic situation would quickly create hierarchies as the strongest push their way to the top.

The tweets from the streets of Florence then became a ready-made, imported from a project that was superseded by the pressing need to respond to my surroundings, into the official communication channel of the Libero Commune di Firenze. Some of the messages were détourned so that they appeared to be from visitors to the Free State of Florence, others were left unmolested to provide some veracity.

The Libero Commune di Firenze uses the anglicised form of Commune in order to evoke the radical sense of the word that I understand from English, rather than the ‘community government’ that I understand from the Italian.