Fixing a sulfurous compound: Science, Technology, Sicily by Michele Pedrazzi Asteria Multimedia, Trento In 2009 our studio was commissioned to carry out a new exhibition near Caltanissetta, Sicily. The initial task definition was explicit and concise: we were to design from scratch a small Science and Technology Museum. But what we found on the spot was much more complex than expected, as the museum site was a former solfatara, a sulfur mining district that was still open until the 1970s. Our exhibition was to be staged in the premises of a power plant serving the mines. While inspecting the site, stories and memories from the past emerged still alive and poignant, mostly about incredible hard working conditions, with controversial technological equipment. Is it possible to ignore such circumstances in favor of anonymous science exhibits? As we later understood, official memorials of the mining epos already exist in Sicily, and, above all, our purchasers wanted us to go beyond the commemorative approach. But in the end, as we got fascinated by the context, our exhibition became a hybrid show, in which interactive scientific explorations lived together with documentary audiovisuals and art installations. Quickly, an apt metaphor emerged: a museum like a sulfurous compound, linking different elements (“science, sulfur, society”) that interfere and interconnect to each other. How these ingredients should be mixed is a methodological and theoretical challenge, which exceeds exhibition design alone. Which facts? Problems arise when comparing different kind of facts. Science shows present evidences, apparently beyond human mediation. Artistic treatments produce artifacts, with traces of human hand all over them. In the middle of them, documentary audiovisuals can became a sort of glue, adjusting with convenience between the two edges, but also a veil, randomly mystifying the hegemonic rhetoric. Which objects? For us, the most interesting museum findings were technological (for example, three huge electricity generators). Technical objects turned to be more fertile than geological samples, allowing us to disclose complex entanglements behind them, but again posing the problem of an unclear focus. Which voice? After having gathered scientists’ remarks, former workers’ narratives, artists’ commentaries, which was the emerging collective voice? Furthermore, what was our authorial status after, as invisible curators, we actually created the videos, the display panels, the texts? On March 2010 the exhibition opened. Science, sulfur and society discreetly cohabited, as if a mysterious regime of invisibility interwove all three elements. The dome-like space of the central power plant, where we chose to stage our work, assembled everything under the same roof. Visitors walked around the exhibits, forced to compare different types of representation. The chemical bonds seemed temporarily fixed, hopefully preparing to engage new attractions and repulsions in the cultural practice.
Published on Sep 7, 2010