Show & Tell: Our Fancy Fences: An Anthology of Domestic Kitsch / Giacomo Magnani

Giacomo Magnani brings us a new post in the occasional series ‘Show & Tell’

Our Fancy Fences: An Anthology Of Domestic Kitsch

The project was born out of a photographic project to be exhibited during Fotografia Europea Festival 2012 in Reggio Emilia (Italy), whose yearly theme was “Living together – pictures for the community”: the idea became then to make the public aware of the ongoing weakening of civic life in dense town centers by showing the most symbolic element of private property – the fence – as it was the subject of a portrait.

Suburban dérive

Venturing into residential neighborhoods is like traveling to remote areas. Remote because frequented only by residents, but also because they are far less familiar than city centers, and often devoid of any spatial reference for the rare visitor. This journey lead me to wander around the provinces of post-industrial North Italy, through networks of labyrinthine alleys in neighborhoods where every detail conveys a message of reassuring isolation and friendly hostility.

If one adopts the gaze of the tourist, it seems that the only monuments that can be photographed along the streets of these anti-cities are the fences which reveal the owner’s aesthetic sense and serve as an interface between the dwelling and the outside world, screening and protecting (often visually, almost always purely psychologically) family life.

Skeumorphism & Ornament

What unfolds, after a more careful exploration, is a multifaceted and multi-material carousel of “façades.” Among the more exuberant images are those dating from the 1960s and 70s, when precast concrete became the material of choice for mimicking branches, logs, pebbles, like a Postmodern and scaled-down version of Bramante’s columna ad tronconos.

Donato Bramante, Columna ad tronconos, 1500ca., S.Ambrogio Milan” (author: Giovanni dall’Orto)

Citations of proper styles and architects are not missing either, it’s almost not surprising noticing Rococo- esque balaustrades, while a certain guilty pleasure is felt when stumbling into unexpected (unwitting?) citations of Wright’s textile blocks, as well as clear allusions to Carlo Scarpa’s concrete walls.

F.L. Wright, Ennis House, 1924, Los Feliz USA

C.Scarpa, Brion Cemetery, 1969-78, San Vito d’Altivole, Italy

This vernacular collage of items and features also a sample of tessellation compositions: few basic prefab elements with different shapes are combined with time to time in different lay-out, forming a large variety of geometries.

Fairy Tales and Singing Fences

A suspiciously somber brick wall is an unusual exception; a closer look reveals a plaster Disney sculpture watching over the street with false nonchalance from one of the square openings. Quite often fences happen to be the literal exteriorization of the owner’s tastes and personality, a visual message, supposed to be addressed to the life-time neighbours and occasional passers-by. An outstanding example of this is a unique wrought-iron fence shaped as a pentagram with keys, which turned out to be the music of the owner’s son’s biggest-hits, a once-child-wonder who won several singing contests.

The endless sequence of good things in terrible taste shows how kitsch can contain strong affective value, which, however, is worn out within the limits of the individual domain. Indeed, it is this paradox that triggers the leap from the local dimension to the global scale. The almost portrait-like, alienating treatment of the enclosures I wanted to achieve seeks to give visibility to these anti-cities that are places for living but that lack of any sign of citizenship or community life.

About Giacomo Magnani:
Giacomo Magnani is an architect and photographer currently based in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He has studied in Italy and Netherlands focusing his design and research activity on the public sphere and the dynamics of transformation of the contemporary city. Among his works the essay: “The in-between Public Realm. Reuse and potentialities of urban expansion’s residual spaces”.

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