Information design as investigation and storytelling
Future Landscapes. Information design as investigation and storytelling
IT AL Y
2 Explorative tunnel construction site TAV New railway project
MY WALK Following the existing railway
Future Landscapes is a research about the construction of the New High Speed Railway Turin-Lyon and the No TAV (No Train) social movement. The research is based on a three hundred kilometers walk from Turin to Lyon across the Alps. FL looks at the social-political conflict caused by the railway project and proposes its own interpretation. While doing so, the project questions the role of design: can a designer gather empirical information and share it as a unique story? Can this help in making a complex topic visible and understandable? Lyon Turin
The disciplines of information and communication design can give a contribution as an alternative to traditional journalism. FL is not neutral, but is transparent in its position and methods. This project gives great importance to first-person and on-site investigation, as a complementary source of information to mediated ones.
The Turin-Lyon railway project in the context of the other railways of the Trans European Network of Transport (TEN-T).
The conflict around the TAV involves all kinds of environmental, political, social and economical aspects. Its local dimension doesnâ€™t make it a local problem, on the contrary, itâ€™s very much linked to global issues that concern all of us: control of the territory and modification of the landscape; concept and practice of democracy, progress, and common good; top-down and bottom-up construction of Europe.
Construction site for the new High Speed Railway (TAV) Turin-Lyon (explorative tunnel in La Maddalena, Chiomonte).
Aim of the project
Introduction to TAV
The making of FL
Why the walk?
Cartography and land
I asked to the mountains
No TAV visual language
300 km in 20 images
Pro TAV vs. No TAV
83 Design proposal 84
Investigator and storyteller
The No TAV movement camp in Chiomonte, August 2013.
A report from Val di Susa
My hypothesis is that a graphic designer has the possibility and should engage in an original research practice that goes beyond (but includes) his usual focus on form and representation. Here are the reasons for this: the profession of graphic design is a privileged position to understand communication-related problems. Graphic design is a median point at the intersection of art and science, culture and business; a graphic designer is a mediator and a translator. This position allows to be in contact with many different realities. the products of graphic design can be used as a starting point for an analysis of the social forces behind them. Relevant meaning can be extrapolated by looking carefully at the visual artifacts that a society produce in a certain time in history. graphic designers need to somehow upgrade the status of their profession. Form-giving is outdated since long time. The role of editors and directors of communication could also not be enough anymore. the multidisciplinary knowledge and skills of graphic designers allows them to move freely between different contexts. This year I will try to shape an approach that allows me to research socio-political issues through graphic design, first person investigation and journalism research.
In the context of information and news there is an emerging figure: the visual journalist. The division between producer, organizer and designer of content is becoming more blurred. The visual journalist can research a topic and create content, and then find the more suitable way to design it and make it available to the audience. The main concern of the news industry is to provide the readers with a constant, up-to-date, fast stream of news. Due to speed and amount, news are often treated in a superficial way. A part of journalism needs to slow down the research and production process and readers need to have deeper insights on specific issues. There is also a serious problem of trust and credibility, even for major news corporations. Many urgent and complex socio-political problems need to be understood in depth and opened up for the citizenâ€™s awareness. Newspapers, and media at large, often canâ€™t or avoid to do this, for various reasons, but these stories still deserve to be told. The thesis is an attempt to define a figure and a position for the information designer as investigator and storyteller. This role is explored through practice and experience: the development of a narration about a large infrastructure and the related social conflict. Although in an academic context is hard to understand how this activity can be done on a professional level, this project lies the foundations for an approach to research and design.
Introduction to the TAV
The TAV (Treno Alta Velocità, High Speed Train) is a project for building a new railway between Turin and Lyon. The project is part of the longer railway partly funded by the European Union, that should connect Spain to Ukraine (called Mediterranean Corridor). In Val di Susa, an area of the Alps on the border between France and Italy, the railway is planned to go through a 57 km tunnel. Since the project started, more than 20 years ago, that region saw the born of a No TAV movement concerned with the environmental, social and economical impact of such a huge infrastructure. Even if almost any work has been done yet, a lot already happened: projects proposals, protests, clashes, economical networking, studies, conferences, sabotages, trials, an endless public debate, a lot of money spent, etc. What we see is the paradox of a non-existing infrastructure – a project, a line on a map – that nevertheless provokes a myriad of consequences. The Italian mainstream media are almost all in favor of the project, and not many Italians have a clear opinion, based on facts and numbers, about it. Similar struggles are going on everywhere in the world. What looks like a very specific and local topic is actually of global interest: it’s about democracy, modification of the landscape, social movements, the role of the media, and how we envision our future together.
Aim of the project
In relation to the railway Turin-Lyon and the No TAV movement, the project has two goals: to show the problem under a new perspective, in order to stimulate a debate based on different premises to position the conflict in a European horizon, and to use it as a paradigm of an ideological opposition about progress and democracy
In the last centuries we saw the growth of mass education, of journalism and information, and with the diffusion of the internet, knowledge has become ubiquitous and pervasive. If in the past the power replicated itself through hiding information from the people and keeping them in the darkness of ignorance, now it’s happening quite the opposite. The flood of information is dazzling, making us unable to see what matters, to identify the details as well as the overview. There is too much light.(1) To navigate properly in the informative opulence, people will need to develop new skills; but I believe that is not enough. We need new editors of information, professionals able to direct the light, to create shades in order to make us able to see properly again. We need someone able to organize information and present it clearly. The emergence of this new profession is likely to happen in the news field, that is facing deep changes: new ways to collect and publish information, new tools to design and present data, new professional figures and collaborations, new business models are taking place.(2) In the present situation design can play an important role in making sense of the complexity that overwhelms us. Otto Neurath (1882-1945) was one of the first in recognizing the value of
information design in a democratic context. He was a philosopher, sociologist, museum director and designer active mostly in Vienna in the first half of the XXth century. He developed a pictorial language called ISOTYPE (International System of Typographic Picture Education), that was aimed to visualize scientific and socioeconomic information in graphic ways. The will to democratize knowledge through visualizing patterns, relationships and systems of organization pushed Neurath to define a method and a set of rules that could be applied also by others. He then widely used this language, for example in realizing exhibitions in the Museum of Society and Economy that he directed. He understood that in a society dominated by images, movies and advertisement also information should be communicated exploiting the language of mass communication. ISOTYPE allowed to display all kinds of quantitative data and make it easily accessible to a heterogeneous public. Eighty years later many things have changed, but understanding the forces that drive our lives is even more urgent. Neurath was a convinced leftist: “As long as statistical data remains in the hands of the adversary, the workers movement will be missing an important instrument for building itself anew”(3); but substituting “the workers movement” with whatever social group
Charles Minard’s 1869 chart showing the number of men in Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign army, their movements, as well as the temperature they encountered on the return path. Lithograph, 62 x 30 cm
you like will not diminish the validity of the statement. The need to know the fact and figures is ever-growing in societies dominated by technoscientific arguments. Here the role of information design within journalism comes into play. The possibilities for information design in the field of news have been already widely presented in a book recently published, Designing News, by Francesco Franchi.(4) One of the main focuses is the idea of cross-platform storytelling (news should be published through different medias). Khoi Vinh, former design director at the New York Times, in an article on his blog Subtraction asks where are the editorial-experience designers, “the kind of person who can build a great digital product out of great editorial content”.(5) Vinh writes that there are very few designers in the world with these skills, and that “the demand for this singular combination of talents is high.” Vinh and Franchi surely knows what they are talking about; but the multidisciplinary approach could even be pushed further, and so the range of typical design outcomes. For instance, why the experience should remain exclusively of a two dimensional medium? In the everyday life of news production the choice for paper or screen is almost forced. But what about all the other ways to communicate with an audience: conferences, journalistic festivals, exhibitions? In the last years a new concept took shape: the idea of Slow Journalism. The application of this concept faces obvious problems when applied to a reality, the one of news production, based on speed and efficiency; but there are some examples, such as the challenge undertaken by Paul Salopek with Out of Eden Walk. The pulitzer-winner writer, sponsored by the National Geographic, is walking from Etiopia, to Chili, crossing Asia and America. The journey will take seven years and create a huge amount of writing, photos and videos.(6) In between this extreme case and the deadline-driven traditional journalism there are many possibilities and some of them are practiced by designers. Studios like Metahaven, from Amsterdam, and Bureau d’Etudes, from Paris, are just two examples. They differ in
18 practice, outcomes and style, but both developed a research that looks at political relevant topics. Metahaven focuses on media, identity and geopolitics and presents its research through various medias, while Bureau d’Etudes produces cartographies of contemporary political, social and economic systems. This kind of research is ongoing, and takes a long period of time. The aim is to foster awareness and trigger change by visualizing invisible processes. By unrevealing power relationships and using their skills to make them graspable, designers can claim a new position in the public domain. Of course awareness is not enough in itself: the internet is plenty of information for us to be aware. The point is to show things in a new light, turning a story upside-down, revealing what was under our eyes but that we couldn’t see.
19 Notes 1 Paolo Ercolani. Le metamorfosi del Signor Potere, in Micromega, http:// ilrasoiodioccam-micromega. blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2013/11/13/la-metamorfosi-del-signor-potere/ Visited 28th November 2013
An application of the ISOTYPE system, by Otto Neurath and Gerd Antz
Of course there have been and there are many more graphic design studios engaged with social issues. In this chapter I tried to contextualize my project in the conteporary horizon of political graphic design. Future Landscapes is an attempt to lay the foundation of a research and storytelling practice.
3 Vossoughian, Nader. Otto Neurath: The Language of the Global Polis, Nai Uitgevers Publishers, 4 Franchi, Francesco. Designing News, Die Gestalten Verlag, 2013. 5 Vinh, Khoi. Where are all the ed-ex designers?, in Subtraction. http://www.subtraction.com/2011/10/27/ where-are-all-the-ed-exdesigners Visited 28th November 2013
Designers need to learn how to talk to a wider audience. In the case of Metahaven for instance, I wonder how many non-designers know their work. An exhibition such as Black Transparency uses a language an a style quite obscure and enigmatic. While the research behind it is undoubtly of high level, I believe the design fails (if the goal was to clarify a topic). Of course neither the research nor the design process have to be solitary, on the contrary they ask for new kinds of collaboration, between journalists, designers, programmers, scientists and the “people formerly known as the audience”.(7) To conclude, three points: design skills are indispensable in today’s field of news; designer’s practice must be collaborative and multidisciplinary, to cope with the complexity of contemporary problems; there is need and space for a slower and deeper research and report process.
2 C.W. Anderson Emily Bell Clay Shirky. Post Industrial Journalism. Adapting to the present. Tow Center fo Digital Journalism.
6 Out of the Eden Walk, About a Journey, National Geographic.http://outofedenwalk.nationalgeographic. com/about/. Visited 28th November 2013 7 C.W. Anderson Emily Bell Clay Shirky. Post Industrial Journalism. Adapting to the present. Tow Center fo Digital Journalism. Top An exhibition by Bureau d’Etudes Bottom An exhibition by Metahaven
Cartography and land
Future Landscapes started with my dissatisfaction about the way the media reported a social conflict. Newspapers and television often represented the struggle around the new railway Turin-Lyon focusing only on spectacular aspects, such as the violences between protesters and police. The way the conflict was represented became a part of the conflict itself, deeply influencing the course of the events. In this chapter I’ll focus on cartographic representation, because of the territorial nature of the conlict around the railway Turin-Lyon. All along history, humankind has been using representations as mediators in its relation with reality. Maps, as an interpretation of space, are a powerful tool to project on reality the ideas of who draws them. Sara Graham write in her blog Citymovement: “before the 15th century, the word “map” did not exist. Instead, what today we consider to be maps were referred to in the centuries preceding the 15th, as “diagrams”. This makes a great deal of sense because cartographic accuracy was less important than the graphic depiction of spatial relationships between not only geographic features but between social, cultural and religious values and symbologies.”(1) A diagram is a drawing that explains how something works, usually in a abstract and synthetic way. This makes us understand that representing
space to allow orientation is only one of the many functions of cartography. A graphic example can help to clarify. The image shows the borders of the United States. These borders were not drawn according to an observation of geographic reality, but on other kinds of criteria. The straight lines demonstrate that the borders are utterly arbitrary, that they were drawn on a plain piece of paper and just then projected on reality. The same observation can be done looking at African borders. One of the main ideas of the philosophic discourse of Franco Farinelli is that reality is a copy of its representation and not the opposite. In his book La crisi della regione cartografica (The crisis of the cartographic reason), he develops an erudite analyzes of the role that cartography had in history. He explains that the word “map” comes from the Punic and indicates a piece of cloth used to wrap objects and carry them around. Every map is a mobile container (and the State is its immobile replica).(2) The map and the container are products of the same logic. Both of them are standards and both require the world to adapt o them, instead of adapting to the world.
A map of the United States that clearly shows the straightness of the borders lines.
Before Colombo discovered the America, was a shared knowledge that the world is a sphere. This knowledge was derived from mathematical and astronomic studies, but not yet empirically confirmed. Colombo trusted what he knew, and not what he was seeing: he subordinated the reality to its geographic image. He forced the world to fit its representation, and from that he gained the trust needed to leave for his exploration. Five centuries later, the container, what makes global transports possible and convenient, impose the transportation system to adapt to its standards. The whole infrastructure of transport, from ports to trucks, from products to their packaging is designed to fit the container standard. Two of the most important tools that brought us to the present condition of globalized economy share the idea that is the world that must adapt to the human mind and to the design it produces.(3) The TAV project is a consequence of the same way of thinking. In the introduction of the CostsBenefits Analysis, Mario Virano, the director of the Observatory on theTurin-Lyon railway, states that today the standard for a tunnel is to be built on the ground level. He considers mountains an exceptional situation that must be normalized with a base tunnel.(4) On the website of the Comitato Transpadana,(5) the institution that promotes the TAV, there is a map: it shows two points standing for Turin and Lyon and a line connecting them, on a neutral grey background. In the cartographic logic, derived from Euclidean geometry, a segment is the shorter way to connect two points. But reality is much more complex, and this became evident when they tried to transpose the line from the map to the territory. It’s clear to me that the TAV is a product of a cartographic mentality, the same dominant way of thinking that gave to modernity its actual face: the conquest of space, its control (colonialism, the emerging of centralized state nations), and the always fastest and possibly
rectilinear movement through it (the global transport system and its infrastructures). It’s also clear that this mentality, and its capitalist interpretation, are obsolete and don’t fit a world where time and space are made irrelevant by the speed and ubiquity of communications. Zigmunt Bauman’s distinction between solid and liquid modernity can be useful here. In synthesis, solid modernity is an era focused on hardware, industry, heavy and big machines. It’s the time of the industrial revolution, of the development of global transport and of the Fordist factory; it’s a world made of steam, metal and concrete. Liquid modernity is focused of software, services, light and small machines. It’s a period of digital revolution, of the development of a network of instantaneous communication, and the delocalization of production; it’s a world made of bits of information. In both these ages, capitalism is the ruling ideology, but it takes very different shapes.(6) Even staying within the capitalist realm, the Turin-Lyon railway and the 57 km tunnel through the Moncenisio are linked to an old world view. The preoccupation with size, quantity and endless growth already shown their unsustainability. What is interesting to point out here is the role that representation, in particularly cartography, plays in this story. Cartography turns places in space, a measurable and neutral entity. The world becomes flat and it acquires the property of a geometric plane. The TAV is a project, a plan, designed on a plain sheet of paper, to plane an altitude gap, to make reality more similar to its ideal form, the flat map. Most of the maps produced by the promoters of the TAV exclude the representation of the physical characteristics of the territory. Of course those maps are aimed to communicate the project and not to describe the territory. Nonetheless, I think there are at least two more reasons for this absence. While making those maps, it’s easier to consider reality homogeneous and continuous as an Euclidean plane, where all the points have the same value and substance. Doing so the planners can forget the specificity of the local realities present on the blueprint. The second reason is that also when
Notes 1 http://citymovement.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/ diagram-mapping/ Visited on 22nd November 2013 3 Holmes, Brian. Do containers dream electric people?, in Open n. 21, Rotterdam, NAi publishers/SKOR, 2011
Two maps of the new railway Lyon-Ljubljana, from the Comitato Transpadana website.
4 Virano Mario, Introduction, in Quaderno 8 (Analisi Costi-benefici), Osservatorio collegamento ferroviario Torino-Lione, 2011 5 http://www.transpadana. org/ Visited on 22nd November 2013 6 Bauman, Zigmunt. Liquid modernity, Polity pr, 2000.
promoting the project showing reality as a grayish field helps to make people forget that we are actually talking about a real railway, a real tunnel, real communities and real mountains. Representation can play a role in the re-evaluation of places, through the focus on specific aspects of local realities. For example we can describe our surroundings through landscape photography, capturing qualitative values, instead looking only for the measurable quantities shown by maps. A reference for this kind of attitude is the HSL-South project. In 2004 Atelier HSL awarded Bertien van Manen, Jannes Linders and Bas Princen a photography commission to document the construction of a high speed railway. The use of photography enable to show the relation between landscape, humans and technology in a more immediate way. This doesn’t mean refusing abstraction, but taking into account the modes of representation and their effects when describing reality.
No TAV visual language
Social movements develop many different communication strategies, aimed both to the public opinion and to the movement’s activists themselves. They usually adopt a logo or a symbol to identify the movement and make it recognizable. Movements struggling against the construction of a specific infrastructure on a territory, usually use the logo as a statement, a declaration of opposition to the project. In this way the message is made extremely straightforward. Looking at some of these logos from recent Italian and European movements, other aspects also recur. The logos use mainly sans serif typefaces, set in bold and high caps: this communicates strength, the words are said out loud. The typography is dry and oriented to efficiency. Sometimes the type is outlined or made “three dimensional”. This gives a quite “pop” feeling, being them visual cliché very much used in vernacular graphics. The color palette is usually quite minimal. It includes black and red on a white background. Red-black is of course a color combination widely used by social movements throughout history. Sometimes yellow is used, referring to street signs (of work in progress, for istance) and danger.
communicating the main content. By visualizing the infrastructure they oppose, the movements make clear, for the activists and the promoters of the project, what is at stake there. The image becomes a symbol of the unwanted, and in fact sometimes it’s even crossed (as a cigarette in a “no smocking” sign). Over-simplifying the image, the criticized infrastructure or transport looks almost childish and dumb. The illustrative style is actually similar to comics strip. Irony is a tool to ridicule the “enemy”, usually big corporations, politicians, lobbies, and somehow humanize them. Through the logo, the promoters and the project itself are taken down from the pedestal of the irreversible fact, scaling them down to something that can actually be fought and avoided.
The typography is just one part of the image. Stylized illustrations are often used, for their capability to be very clear, direct and fast in
The No TAV logo, if analyzed more closely, reveals other meaningful aspects. The activists use the logo to communicate their opinions and
While not being very carefully designed, these logos reach their goals. They identify the movement and the issue it struggles for, create a sense of political and social engagement and convey a feeling of strength, urgency and resistance. The typography, color, illustration and their combination make them look somehow familiar for their resemblance to popular motifs.
The No TAV logo is probably the most well known among this kind of symbols in Italy. It exist in some variants, with or without the drawing of the little man on the right side. It has been designed by Lele Rizzo, from the social center Askatasuna, in Turin (in collaboration with other activists). The NO MUOS logo. No MUOS is a social movement active in Sicily, fighting against the construction of an antennas system used for the control of US military drones in the Mediterannean. The NO DAL MOLIN logo. This movement was based in Vicenza, north-east of Italy. They struggled (2009-2011) against the construction of an American military base in their territory.
NO PONTE is an movement opposing the old project of building a bridge to connect Sicily with the mainland. This logo differs from the others: in fact it was designed by a satyric comic-strip illustrator, Vauro. The logo makes a smart use of the elements: the letter N and O look like two angry eyes, and the curvy line is both the mouth of the face and a stylized bridge. Since more than thirty years there is a plan for building a large airport in Notre Dame des Landes, close to Nantes, France. The project found a strong and long-lasting opposition. The European Forum Against Unnecessary Imposed Mega Projects is an annual meeting where social movements discuss their struggles. Each partecipating movement is represented by a white elephant carrying the sign of the movement itself. “In parts of Asia, a white (albino) elephant was regarded as holy and it could not be used for work. You had to give it special food and allow people to come onto your land to worship it. Keeping a white elephant was very expensive. If you were given a white elephant as a gift, it would be a major financial burden which might bankrupt you. It was an unwanted and burdensome gift. So ‘white elephant’ projects are unwanted and likely to bankrupt.”
their identity. The words simply say NO TAV in red, bold, capital letters. By reading them out loud, they become a single word, NOTAV. In fact TAV is an abbreviation (Treno Alta Velocità), and should be spelled T.A.V. If the full stops are avoided is to create unity, to change the initials in a word. It becomes therefore an acronym, it loses its bureaucratic formality, and it’s therefore more approachable. The typeface is probably Arial, and it dominates the composition made by other two elements, the drawing of a crossed train and the figure of an old man. The train is represented in a highly perspective view, enhancing the fact that it comes from far away and it moves fast. It looks aggressive, or at least invasive, with the big front part moving rapidly towards the foreground, on the left part of the image, as it was getting out of it soon. A small Euro symbol is present on the train: it explains where the train comes from and what it carries. The movement asserts that the TAV is a big business made in the interest of few companies, lobbies and politicians with the patronage of the European Union and funded with public money, at the citizens expenses. The black and white
drawing is crossed with a handmade-looking red X. The contrast between the straight lines and angles of the train, and the more curvy look of the cross, shows the difference between an imposed object coming from far, and the more spontaneous (handmade) action of people. On the right part of the flag there is the drawing of an old man, shaking his hand in sign of anger and protest. This little figure is very meaningful and refers to the resistance heritage of Val di Susa. In fact, in September 1943 the valley saw the inception of the partisan resistance against nazi-fascism. The people of the valley are still, righteously, very proud of being the first in Italy that got organized to fight for liberation. Some of the No TAV activists were partisans themselves. The valley has a strong leftist subcultural heritage, due also to many workers struggles (mainly factory laborers and railway workers). The man in the image refers to the valley that resist. His left hand is closed in a fist not only for rage but also for political belief. His face is caricatural, deformed by the fury, but inoffensive. The scarf blows in the wind provoked by the passing train.
This multilayered image creates a story that has been replicated thousands of times, especially on flags and neckerchiefs. The No TAV movement is very heterogeneous in its composition. It started in the first ‘90 as a small group of environmental activists of Val di Susa. Then it grew, incorporating national environmentalist associations, citizens committees, local authorities, social centers, labor unions, parts of the Turin’s academic reality and the French movement against the TAV. Then, it projected itself out of the Region Piemonte, attracting activists, students, social centers and other similar movements. It’s interesting that a single image, the logo, has been able to represent all this different sensitivities. In fact, the logo is only one of the visual expressions of the movement: they (each of the movement’s souls) produce a vast amount of brochures, banners, posters, websites, big letters on the mountain’s sides, flags, and three-dimensional props for demonstrations. This material - playful, ironic and spontaneous - worked pretty well to mobilize citizens.
Its style is explicitly “from the people to the people”. This means that while being pretty straightforward, familiar and undesigned, it also misses something in credibility and authority. Sometimes, especially when conveying complex economical or environmental informations, the editorial and graphic choices are not appropriate. The tone should be more serious, in order to make the content more trustable. The use of typography and images should look more neutral, less engaged, it shouldn’t reveal so much about the opinion of the writer. In this way it would be easier to communicate, and convince, people not used to the graphic language of politically engaged movements. “Normal citizens” are used to the neutral formality of (most of the time not neutral at all, actually) TV news and newspapers. Anyway, it’s not just a stylistic problem. Looking at a report about the economical network of the companies of Val di Susa, it’s clear how a design can compromise even the best researched content. A bad design can frustrate the effort made to find and make sense of the information. The whole report is hard to access, to navigate, to understand and to trust. By putting the same care used for the research into the design, the document would serve much better its scope. The same doesn’t apply to all the visual communication artifacts made by the No TAV movement. Many other documents are easy to access and use. Especially the websites, while being pretty informal and vernacular, underlie a huge effort in learning how to make the most of new technologies. One of the main activity of the No TAV movement, especially in the beginning, has been informing the citizens. The spontaneous and vernacular style worked to engage and mobilize, but some more attention to design would have been very useful when adressing the wider public opinion and the institutional figures.
Pro TAV vs No TAV
This text provides a synthesized history of the TAV, from the Italian perspective. Everything started back in 1989 when the Fondazione Agnelli in collaboration with the association Tecnocity organized a convention where the French region Rhones-Alpes proposed to build a TGV (very fast train) railway between Turin and Lyon. The railway was supposed to go through a 50 km tunnel through the Moncenisio. One year later the Comitato Transpadana was created. It’s aim is “to sensitize the public opinion and the Italian and European authorities about the strategic relevance of a fast railway connection to link Western Europe to East Europe through the Pianura Padana.” The Berlin wall had just been taken down, and the economists forecasted a long period of fast economical growth. The idea of uniting Europe was fascinating and had a strong political and economical influence. The control of the Comitato Transpadana was evenly divided between a private part, the vice-president of FIAT Umberto Agnelli, and the president of the region Piemonte, Vittorio Beltrami. The committee was supported by the public administrations and by the Association of Industry of Piemonte. La Stampa, the third Italian newspaper, is controlled by FIAT (Agnelli family) and based in Turin. It gave large importance to
the hypothesis of the construction of the railway. The main arguments to promote the new railway were based on the supposed increase of trade and mobility in the next decade. Both goods and passengers were believed to grow and to saturate the old railway that goes through the Frejus tunnel. The new railway was needed to avoid the isolation of the Piemonte region from the European economy. The promoters also claimed the the new railroad would reduce carbon emissions and road accidents by taking hundreds of trucks off the streets. One of the first studies on the project asserted that the number of passengers would increase from 1.5 million to 7.7 million per year (+500%), and the goods will grow from 8.5 million to 18.6 million tonnes per year (+120%) in a decade. On these basis the administrations of Piemonte and Rhones-Alpes agreed on building the new railway. It’s important to note that the study was realized by the Comitato Transpadana, the same organization that was promoting the project. Ten years later, in 2002, the number of passengers went actually down to less than a million passengers per year. A study by the Ferrovie dell Stato (Italian Raiways) said that the old railway was used at the 54% of its capacity. For this reason the promoters decided to focus on transport of goods, not people.
31 on regional and national scale. The project got soon internationalized. In September 1994 in Corfù, the 12 nations of the European Community decided to include the TAV in the list of European priority infrastructures. The TAV was named Corridor 5 when became part of the axis Lisbon-Kiev of the Trans-European-Network of Transports. Later it had been defined as Priority Project 6 Lyon-Ukraine border, an finally Corridor 3 or “Mediterranean corridor” that connect Algeciras in Spain to the Ukraine border. Some parts of this long railway have already been completed. The idea of corridor has been criticized because most of the goods don’t cross more than one border, so there is no evident reason to connect Spain to Ukraine. In the case of France and Italy, 90% of the transit is between the two countries, without going any further.
1997 has seen the peak of trade on that line, but in the next years the amount of goods went constantly down, crashing at 2,4 millions tonnes in 2009. Even if it looks simple, these datas are hard to read, because they should contemplate the global traffic of people and goods on streets and railways all over the Alps between Italy and France. To have a correct and clear vision of what happened we should take into account many parameters and correlation, but what we know for sure, and it’s admitted by the Comitato Transpadana itself, is that the amount of goods and passengers is not enough to justify the construction of such expensive new line. In fact, one of the biggest topic of debate has been the cost of building the new railway TurinLyon and the tunnel on the border between Italy and France. The budgeted cost was (is) around 20-25 billion Euros, to be shared evenly between the two nations and with a contribution of about 3,2 billions Euros from the European Union. If we look at other high speed railways in Italy we see that the final cost is in average 318% bigger than the budgeted cost. We can therefore assume that the final cost for the TAV (if ever built) will be around 60-75 billions Euro, a very high price especially in time of crisis. The economical aspect is probably even more complex than the traffic one. Dozens of studies
have been done, by the promoters, by experts in the No TAV movement and by external organizations. The main tool in decision making for this kind of project is the analysis CostsBenefits, an extremely complex document that take into account a wide range of elements in order to verify the economical sustainability of the project. In the introduction of the CostsBenefits Analysis, Mario Virano, the president of the Osservatorio sulla Torino-Lione, states that the document is intrinsically complex and not sufficient to support the will to build the railway. He adds that a political vision is needed, meaning that the technical and economical information, without a wider (and pre-conceived, in my opinion) idea of the future, is not enough to support the decision. I believe this is a paradox. This analysis, (that took some years and was published in 2011, twenty years after the idea was first conceived!) it’s 400 pages long and very detailed, but the main author claims, in the very beginning, that without the political will to realize the project, the analysis doesn’t prove the absolute necessity of the new railway. Going back to the early nineties, we see how the network of promoters got larger and included personalities form politics, industry, finance. Politically, the project has been supported by all parts, but especially by the center-left, both
In 1995 there were the first reactions against the project, mainly for environmental reasons. But until 2003, when 15.000 people manifested in Val Susa (the area of the Alps where the tunnel has to be dug), the opposition is quite marginal. 2005 is the year that brings the No TAV movement under the attention of the national media and of the public opinion. The No TAV developed from a local group concerned with environmental risks and worried about their own control of the land to a large and flexible movement. The No TAV activists managed to gather around their struggle many different social parts: environmental organizations, social centers (squats), citizens committees, local administrators, experts and intellectuals and labor unions. By using each group’s knowledge and skills, and by mediating by different positions, the No TAV moved for being simply a NIMBY and single-issue opposition to develop an articulated political, social, economical and environmental discourse. In the beginning the No TAV were mainly concerned with local issues, such as protection of the territory and the health of the people of the valley. Later, the No TAV positioned itself within a wider horizon of movements for a “globalization from below”, and slowly became a political laboratory. Involving many different actors, the movement enriched the topics it addressed, and became a social entity that doesn’t only “fight against”, but also have a vision, it’s able to propose
alternatives. Especially in building and sharing knowledge, taking decisions and participated democracy, the No TAV activists produced a great know-how, becoming a point of reference for other similar movements in Italy and Europe. Each of the groups within the movement brought its own skills and knowledge. The environmental organizations are credible on national scale, they know how to deal with communication campaigns and make legal actions to interfere with the bureaucratic procedures of the authorities. They have the scientific and technical knowledge to cope with the complexity of this kind of topic. The local authorities brought the possibility for the movement of sitting in the official meetings. The activist of the social centers (mainly form Turin, and from the anarchist area) know how to do direct actions, such as occupations and manifestations; they are also expert in self-organization. The citizens committees provided a dense network of personal relations. The growth of trust and the consolidation of relationships among the activists, took many years, and didn’t happen without conflicts. But considering the different political background, age and social status, the activists managed to build a strong, long-lasting identity. In 2005, after many years of capillary work of information and networking, the No TAV movement organized a protest attended by 40.000 people that walked between two towns in Val Susa (this will become a recurrent format of protest for the No TAV). Whilein the past years the TAV issue was noticed mainly when there was some sabotage to the machines working for the ground explorations, now it’s a large mobilization of citizens. It attracted the attention of the mainstream media. But violence still is the aspect of the story that broadcasters and newspapers prefer to channel. When the conflict becomes harder it also becomes more visible. In 2005 the Italian minister of transports insisted that the works had to begin, otherwise Italy wouldn’t get the European financing. So, with the help of the police, a field near Venaus was fenced-in. The people of Val Susa saw this action as an illegitimate occupation of a foreign “army”, and the reaction has been fast and explosive. The two main roads of the valley and the railway were occupied, many factory started a strike. Two
weeks later, 70.000 people walk from Bussoleno to Susa. On the 6th of January, during the night, the police raids and violently evacuate the No Tav meeting point in Venaus. Many activists, journalists and common citizen where sleeping there, trying to keep control of the land. Even some mayors of the local villages have been beaten by the police. The whole thing didn’t have any serious legal consequence because it’s impossible to identify the policemen that personally inflicted the violence (in Italy policeman don’t have a personal number on the uniform). Anyway, two days after the evacuation, the people of the valley took control of the field again. In 2006 the government, in an attempt to lower the tension with the No TAV movement, created the Osservatorio sulla Torino-Lione, a commission aimed to be a place for technical confrontation between the promoters and the administrators of the valley. The No TAV movement and the politicians of the valley always complained that the government avoided confrontation and dialogue. In fact the national authorities always acted following the scheme decision-announcement-defense. They presented the TAV as a fait accompli, where the opinion of the people of the valley was not relevant during the decision-making process. The Osservatorio itself soon became the place for analyzing, designing and planning the railway. Its original purpose was betrayed and many of the local administrators left it. The following years are a sequence of variations of the project, new business relations and feasibility studies. Both the network of promoters and the No TAV activists undergo serious legal procedures, for different reasons. The companies involved in the contracts are suspected of relations with the organized criminality, especially the ‘Ndrangheta, the biggest and most dangerous cartel. Criminal organizations are always interested in getting involved in big affairs funded by public money, especially in the building and infrastructure sectors. The ‘Ndrangheta has been rooted in Piemonte for some decades now. The Piemonte region had a massive immigration from south Italy since the fourties. Bardonecchia, in Val di Susa, has been the first municipality in north Italy to be dissolved for mafia infiltration. In 2011, within
32 the Operazione Minotauro, 140 people were arrested, entrepreneurs, politicians, and clan members. Two years later, Bruno Iaria, a boss of the ‘Ndrangheta in Piemonte, has been sentenced to 13 years of jail. He has been working for Italcoge, the company that built the fence of the TAV construction site in Chiomonte. Especially the center-left party, the Partito Democratico, has been active in supporting and propagandizing the TAV. They often criminalized the actions of the No TAV movement. If we look at how this party is linked to the cooperatives that work for the construction of the railway, we understand that they couldn’t acted differently in order to protect their interests. The TurinLyon is only one of many TAV projects in Italy: many of the other high speed railroads have been troubled by irregularities in the contracts, briberies and environmental disasters. The huge flow of money moved by this kind of big infrastructure represents, if managed illegally, the “the greatest thread to the Italian public debt”. Even without questioning the construction of the railroads, some attention should be focused on how to guarantee legality and how the business is managed and controlled. After the clashes in Venaus in 2005, there are not major events until 2011. Nevertheless, there is a general rise of tension. There are sabotages at the machines working for the ground explorations and threads to the entrepreneurs from the valley that accept to work for the TAV. For many years the public prosecutor’s office and the tribunal of Turin tried to keep control on the movement’s activists. Depending on the points of view this is a persecution and a repression, or a way to maintain the public order and enforce the law. In 2008 LTF (Lyon-Turin Ferroviare, the company in charge of the 57 km tunnel) decide that the explorative tunnel will be dug in Chiomonte. The citizens react by buying a square meter of land each, 1251 m2 in total: they try to slow down the process of expropriation. Only in 2011 LTF actually sent the letters of expropriation. About 10.000 people manifest in Val Clarea (a tight valley near Chiomonte) and a thousand stay in the “garrison” called “Libera Repubblica della
33 Maddalena”. But the gornement is determined in opening the construction site. In the morning of the 27th June, an army of policemen wearing riot gear, violently evacuate the no TAV meeting point. In most of the manifestations where clashed occured, there have been No TAV activists engaging in frontal clashes with the police. Both parts claim to be only reacting and defending them self. To me, it appears clear that the police exagerated in the repression and that some of the No TAV are violent and use tactics and tools of guerrila. There are very hard clashes, and in the end the police, helped by bulldozers and other machines, manage to take control of the land. In a short time the site is fenced all around, including a part of the open air archeological museum of La Maddalena and many local farmers vineyards. The construction site needs to be guarded 24/7 by around two hundred policemen. One month later, in July, there is a big No Tav manifestation where 70.000 people participate. During the night, in the area around the site, there are violent clashes between protesters and the police, with many people injured. Also in this case the media are in first line to report the event, in a quite partisan way. In January 2012 the head prosecutor of Turin orders the arrest of thirty activists. Moreover the site has to be enlarged, with new expropriation of land. In reaction there are manifestations, occupation of the highway, and tough struggles. The movement gains the attention of the media, but the focus is on the riots, and the real topic, the construction of the railroad, is ignored. The consequence is that the Italian citizens forget why the clashes are taking place: the news is violence, the reasons are not analyzed. The 2012 goes on: trials, manifestations, occupation of the highway and roads, and other initiative of protest. In summer 2013 the “mole”, a huge machine for digging into the mountain, arrives in the construction site in Chiomonte. They will use it to explore the geological composition of the ground: this is not the tunnel the train will go through. The No TAV resistance goes on. So does the digging and the promotion (or political propaganda) of the project.
In November 2013, four activists are arrested. They are suspected of sabotage on a machine in the construction site in Chiomonte in June 2013, and they are charged with terrorism. The trial will begin in May 2014, for those six months the activists are kept in jail, in isolation, The accuse of terroirsm is very serious, the activists are pretty young and they could spend many years in jail. The No TAV movement contests the arrests, claiming that there is an unconsistency between the act of burning a machine (no person was hurt) and the accuse of terrorism. The promoters of the TAV reply that is only by chance that no one in the site got injured and that such actions could bring later to more dangerous attacks (in the logic os the escalation of violence). This event raises one more time the level of tension in Val di Susa and Turin. Some No TAV activists react by vandalizing walls and windows of the Democratic Party offices, and the buildings of the main Italian newspapers in Milan and Turin. The tension is very high also between the judges and prosecutors of Turin and the No TAV movement. This is an extreme synthesis of what happened. The future is uncertain: the government, of whatever political side, will hardy renounce to the project, also because it would mean admitting that even a relatively small group can win a struggle. This would mine the fundaments of what is commonly conceived as democracy, and motivate other groups to believe that fights can be win. On the other hand, the movement is now deeply rooted locally and connected to a wide European network of similar experiences. I believe the No TAV won’t give up. So the conflict goes on, the ideas are polarized, the dialogue suspended. The TAV issue is a chance for democracy: it contains many of the topics that will be at stake in the future development of social, political and economical relations. For instance it highlights the conflict between centralized power and the will of communities to decide on their own destiny. This is a central problem for the project of united Europe. It will determine its success or failure. If we understand what is going on in Val di Susa, and how it can be constructive for the collectivity, we can approach other problems with greater awareness.
The making of FL
Mapping the economical and political relations behind the TAV project
The research started in june 2013 with a deep immersion into articles about the topic. It was a way to be updated, but it didn’t provide a broader understanding. I therefore decided to go to Val di Susa, the valley where the No TAV movement is based, to see with my own eyes. I spent a whole week in August at the No TAV camp in Chiomonte. The report of that week is included in this book, and it’s a relevant part of my research. Back to Eindhoven in late August, the research passed from articles to books and the internet. The sources have been diverse and sometimes contrasting. There was the need to learn about the history of the project and also to be updated with current events. The amount of documentation created in twenty years is huge. In this case, reading all the original documents was a task out of the scale of the project. Therefore the attempt has been to learn as much as possible without going through the all historical records, looking at different sources: articles from different newspapers, books, short videos, documentaries, television news, Facebook pages, the movement’s and promoter’s websites. Looking at information design and at traditional journalism, there is a relevant difference: jour-
nalists do on-site research, while information designers usually use information provided by others. This is slowly changing: newspapers like the New York Times sometimes send designers on the field, but it’s an exception. Moreover, most of the information comes to us (citizens) after being interpreted and mediated, and our view of the world is strongly shaped by these narrations. Through the experience of the walk I want to gather information and to provide the audience with a first-hand source. The fragmentation and abundance of information makes it hard to navigate and understand. For such a conflictual topic there is also a problem of trust and credibility. I am facing a paradox: it’s easier to walk 300 km in the Alps, rather than read and compare all the information sources about the conflict. One of my hopes with this project is to give a new perspective, a fresh interpretation of the TAV problem. I believe that a personal exploration of the subject is essential to find my own voice, and create an original narration. I decided I wanted to tell – or rather, to show – the story through an exhibition. The exhibition allows me to have three possibilities: show
Attempt to synthetize the histroy of the TAV project and of the conflict between the State and the No TAV movement
39 real things and not just representations, have various medias (video, graphics, photography, models), provide an experience in space. I wanted my exhibition to be nomadic and to travel across Europe, connecting different realities and acquiring new materials along the way. To be easy to move and flexible I decided to design an exhibition based on screen-printing on textile: fabric is resistant, adaptable and light. When I experimented with textiles and ink I realized that the product had a too much activist look, I therefore discarded the idea. I wanted my project to have is own visual language, not a pre-coded style. Trying to define a coherent language that would unify the various parts of my work, I looked into editorial design, mainly newspapers. The research also looked into activist movements, art, cartography and bureaucracy documents. My objective was to design a trustable, straight and apparently neutral style. How could my work look credible and still have a strong visual identity? I also wanted my design to have something from the everyday life, to be transparent and open, playing with the ambiguous space between formal and informal. The way my design looks should avoid easy identification with the visual language of activism and journalism. It should have something and nothing of these styles. Typography has always been one of the starting point in my approach to design. Future Landscapes doesn’t make exception. Open source typefaces are in tune with the “bottomup” and participatory aspect of the content of the research. Times New Roman was a first choice, for its newspaper design origins and for its ubiquitousness. Coupling Times with Arial, I would have a very neutral look, having them be used everywhere by everyone. In the end Lido, an open-source redesign of Times, has been chosen instead of the British classic. The second step was trying to understand how to use these non-cool typefaces in a personal way. This research on the visual identity went on along more content based work, both on the design context of the project and on the topic itself, the conflict around the railway Turin-Lyon.
Design wise, the project position itself in between a design research practice (exemplified by Metahaven) and visual journalism. The publishing of Designing News, by Francesco Franchi, arrived just on time. The book displays the possibilities of contemporary editorial and information design, and it showed the emerging of a new profession, the visual journalist. Future Landscapes is an experimental project, developed in an academic context, without the usual constraints of the market: time and money, so it’s hard to understand how to directly translate this practice to a professional context. Nevertheless, the project lays the foundations for a new practice. During the second trimester, a large amount of time has been devoted to define the purpose and the organizational aspects of the walk Turin-Lyon. Planning the meetings and trying to make my project known took a lot of time. Having to send email asking for interviews ad support forced me to clarify what I was doing. I have 145 emails related to this project in my Gmail account. I asked for collaborations to some italian newspapers, without success; I then realized that working with them would compromise my autonomy, because almost all of them are positioned on either one or the other side of the conflict. I contacted two times LTF, the company in charge of planning the 57 km tunnel between Italy and France, with no reply. Also Geomont, a company from Val di Susa working in the construction site in Chiomonte, and victim of sabotages, didn’t answer to my request for a meeting. I also wanted to know the position of the many policemen guarding the construction site, “militarizing the Valley” as the local people says, but the didn’t answer to my email. All this has been quite discouraging; at the same time it says something on the state of the conflict and on the openness to talk about it. On the other side the No TAV activists have been more open and available to talk to me, providing support and information. Anyway, considering the high level of tension in conflict, the suspiciousness is understandable. I decided to create a Facebook page for Future Landscape, to project it out of the academic environment and make it more real. The page
is used to contextualize the research (through links to similar projects and to events related to the conflict) and to document the journey in real time. The page makes the design process more transparent, showing the development towards the end result, which is the only thing people usually see. Another tool I used to make the project possible and visible is a crowd-funding campaign: I used Indiegogo, an international platform for fund-raising for creative projects, I found a way to partly cover the expenses of the journey, the tools to document the experience and the realization of the exhibition. Making the video for the campaign, a sort of trailer of Future Landscapes, obliged me to be very synthetic and straight-forward in communicating the project. The video is mainly addressed to an Italian audience, but it has English subtitles. The crowd funding campaign is also a “reality check” to verify the potential interest towards my research. The crowd-fund has been successful in raising the five hundred Euro, from twenty funders, needed to cover the expenses of the journey. An important part of the research has been looking for a specifically “information design” approach to the problem. The risk, for a first person investigation, is to become highly subjective and hard to communicate. For Future Landscapes I want to collect, edit and design the information in way specifically defined for this project. As a source of inspiration I looked at some specific works by artists such as Ed Ruscha, Studio Orta, Damian Ortega, Laurent Adams and Dennis Malone, Hans Gremmens, Jon Rafman, Mediengruppe Bitnik, Camille Henrot, Edson Chagas, Daniel Eatock and Jozua Zaagman. It’s an heterogeneous group of artists, but something they have in common is an analytical approach; they show information and create a narrative around it. For many of them the approach is conceptual. For the idea of the walk I find the work of Richard Long very inspiring, especially in the various ways he document his work. Francis Alys, his subtle political engagement and the practice of walking, are a point of reference as well. As for photography, an important reference is
Luigi Ghirri, for is ability to turn common views in fascinating images: the skill of revealing the exceptionality of the banal is maybe the more important ability of a good observer. Ghirri’s color photography is subtle, elegant but not stylistic, transparent and informative. Is there a contradiction in looking for inspiration in art while trying to define a specific approach as information designer? Not necessarily. What I have been looking for, when researching into art, was a method. The specific “information design approach” is a transparent set of rules, that limits choice and interpretation, edits the information and guides the realization of the design. This means defining a protocol. Artists, poet, writers and musicians, but also programmer and designers, have used rules to limit the range of possibilities and at the same time boost creativity (from the surrealists to the Oulipo group, from John Cage to Yves Klein to Daniel Eatock and) Things such as metric in poetry, or a limited color palette in painting are not really what is meant for protocol. Karen O’Rourke writes, in her Walking and Mapping: “A protocol is a rule, guideline, or document that specifies how an activity should be performed. It should include safety, procedural, equipment and reporting standards.” Defining a set of rules is also a way to make my information-gathering and design process transparent. I wish journalists would make their methods more open, and therefore verifiable. I believe that for a project such as Future Landscapes the process is a part of the outcome. In fact, if the aim is to outline a professional figure, his approach to design is as important as the final result.
Studio Orta For their project Antartica, Lucy and Jorge Orta made use of many different media (installation, video, textile, graphic, etc) to achieve a coherent and strong identity.
Ed Ruscha Pay Nothing Until April expresses a cool, detached world-view in keeping with Ruschaâ€™s conceptual works such as his photo-book (Every Building On) The Sunset Strip 1966.
Damian Ortega While not being a direct reference for my project, Ortega proves that an analytical and objective approach can lead to a wonderful result.
Dennis Adams and Laurent Malone For JFK, the two artists walked for eleven hours from Manhattan to the JFK airport. Each time one of them took a photograph, the other took a picture in the opposite direction. The result is a concept book made of 243 couples of photos facing each other.
Hans Gremmens Mother Road is a video made by screeshots of Google view photos. The beauty of such a work of art resides in the strong and simple concept rather than the outcome itself (the video is actually very boring).
Jon Rafman On his website Jon Rafman collects and exhibit hundreds of beautiful and stunning photos found in Google Street View. Again the beauty here resides in the concept, the idea of a collection of curated randomness. Moreover there is no authorship, the only choice is editorial. The photographer is a machne and the language is neutral.
Mediengruppe Bitnik Delivery for Mr. Assange is a piece of mail art. What is intereseting to me here is the systematic way the art piece is documented and reported in real time (via Twitter). Also the visual language, dry and functional is interesting in its neutral appearance.
In Grosse fatigue, exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2013, Camille Henrot use a screen recording to tell the story of creation. The video is visually and musically amazing, and manages to show complexity in a fascinating way. This video inspired me for the trailer of Future Landscapes, a video used for the crowd-funding campaign.
Found not taken won the Biennale of Venice 2013. Photographer Edmond Chagas, walked thorought the streets of Lunanda, Angola and collected objects that he decontextualized and photographed. The picture were printed in large format and presented in high stack on the floor in an historical palace in Venice. The visitors of the exhibition could pick up one copy of the photos and create their own collection, miming the action og Chagas.
Why the walk Walking from Turin to Lyon is the way I chose to have a unique perspective on the topic of this research. I will go through an unrepeatable experience that will give me the possibility to end up with an original story, based on a intense personal engagement.
Luigi Ghirri The landcapes photography of Luigi Ghirri reveals the beuty of the everyday view. The perspective is often central, and also the subject is positioned in the center of the image. This gives a quiet and honest feeling to the photos. Ghirri is so skillful that the photos looks spontaneous and natural, making the touch of the artist invisible, yet essential.
Long is probably the more important land artist ever. My interest is directed especially in the way he documents his walks: maps, typography, photography.
This project started with my dissatisfaction on how the media reported the conflict around the new railway Turin-Lyon. Newspapers and TV news often presented the opposition exclusively as a problem of public order. They focused on the episodes of violence in Val di Susa, the valley where the No TAV movement is rooted, and did’t explained the reason of such violence. The economical, environmental and social impact of the railway have been put aside to show the spectacle of the clashes between protesters and police. In the same way, also the two opposed ideological frameworks in which the promoters and the opponents place themselves had very little attention. I believe that this way of reporting on a conflict is misleading because it shows the symptoms (violence) without giving a clue to understand the causes. This is a problem of media at large, whatever the conflict is. The tendency is to show the news that sell, and violence do that pretty well. There are four groups of arguments I have to support my proposal for on-site and personal investigation.
Daniel Eatock I admire the conceptual quality and rigour of many of Daniel Eatock’s work. Ideas lead the process, logic brings to poetry.
As we said, what attracts readers is what get published: spectacle often become the aim of news. There is a problem of autonomy too: news corporation are often (very often in Italy) too linked to specific political and economical groups that strongly influence the editorial choices of newsrooms. Media are not autonomous and independent enough. The third reason is very pragmatic: there are always less journalists on the field. Both newspaper and televisions are facing deep economical troubles since the internet got the control of information. The budget cuts don’t allow to have many journalists on the road, it’s too expensive. The fourth and last reason is time: news must be produced and consumed at high speed. If we consider that the reading habits are changing towards more visual forms, and we take into consideration the previous reflections, we see the need and the chance to an alternative to traditional journalism. In fact a lot of experimentation and innovation is taking place
in the field, but some problems are still unsolved. Journalists should go back to the streets, and if they can’t do so, someone else should do it. There is also the need for a slow and deeper engagement with news, both for who produce them and who consume them. The second point is about the tangibility of the conflict and of the territory. I feel that through the narration of media, whether print or screen based, news become distant and abstract. The walk is a way to turn a neutral and abstract space (what does it mean Turin-Lyon?) into places with their own specific qualities. Along the way, in Italy, on the Alps and in France, I will collect objects related to the conflict, they will be used as carrier of information, to communicate the concreteness of the topic. Concerning information design, through my experience I noticed that many people have difficulties (and little interest) in dealing with pure quantitative data. This kind of information has the beauty of math, it’s logical and precise, but it shares with math also its bad aspect: many people (the majority, I would say) just don’t like it. To get a story across, especially if it’s complex and multifaceted, numbers are not enough: quantitative data must be complemented with qualitative information. A story like the conflict around the TAV is emotional and personal for the people involved and political in its nature: this is what it makes it so interesting to me. The last reason that pushes me towards the work on the road is to take control of the information I design. In the everyday practice, information and graphic designer work with content provided by others. I believe this is generally acceptable, but that there is space for a new approach. We need to gather our own information, to accept that the media are often unreliable and we cannot be really informed about things far from our life. The consequence of these arguments - autonomy, speed, credibility, qualitative and first hand information - is the decision to engage in a on-site exploration. It’s an experiment, to see what happens when a designer goes on the road. The main problem in planning the walk is to understand how the research can be done as a designer and not as a journalist or anthropol-
ogist. I need to find the right balance between planning and improvisation: on the streets I will need to be flexible and open to opportunities. At the same time I must have some systematic methods of collecting and organizing information. In synthesis, the walk is: a research method; a reflection on the state of news and information design; an innovation for design, by borrowing a practice already used by researchers of other fields. There is a bit more: the walk is also a relevant part of the design project, the core of my story about the conflict. It’s a way to attract people to a complex political problem, to give an alternative perspective on it. I will document the walk in real time, through the Facebook page, as anyone would do for their holidays. It will be possible to metaphorically walk with me the line Turin-Lyon in real time. My presence, my actions are part of the project: the designer get out of the studio to dive into a conflictual situation, as an autonomous and detached observer. I become the character of the story, my feet leaving imprints on the ground, drawing a line on the territory between Turin and Lyon.
Be present, but detached. Be consistent with the rules, but flexible. Rules for walking Walk as close as possible to the existing railway line. If you go off the line to see something, after come back on the place where you left and go on form there. When in doubt, choose the less dangerous route. Rules for documenting photo and points on map of: objects and signs related to the conflict electoral billboards your tent in its surroundings, every day photo of: signs with the names of places straight ahead, while walking, every hour collect all the: objects and graphics related to the conflict
one one one one one one one
backpack waterproof backpack cover tent sleeping bag sleeping materass inflatable pillow towel
two pairs of trousers one pair of short trousers one pair of waterproof trousers one wool scarf one hat one pairs of gloves one jumper (with hood) two jumpers two shirts (one wool) three t-shirts one pajama trousers
seven pairs of underwear one pair of long socks three pairs of technical socks four pairs of cotton socks one waterproof poncho one leather jacket one belt one wallet one pair of leather shoes one one one one one one one one one one
Canon camera card reader SD card (16 GB) micro-SD card (32 GB) battery charger camera waterproof case LG smartphone little tripod for smartphone power bank (5200 mAh) camera tripod
one road map one notebook one pencil case three markers one pen two pencils one rubber one pencil sharpener one file folder one copy of Exercice de Style one one one one one one one one
alluminium thermos camp gas stove pan fork spoon plastic cup toothbrush toothpaste tube
Transparency I shared this post on No TAV (6.000 followers) and Pro TAV (3.000 followers) Facebook pages, before going for my investigation.
A screen-shot of an email that I received the evening before going to Italy for my walk. A week later I met that person in the town of Susa and interviewed him for one hour.
For the ones I will meet on my way: I have to admit that I can’t be neutral, but I can be transparent. Here resides the added value of my project compared to that kind of journalism that present itself as neutral, but it rarely is. My personal opinion tends towards the No TAV arguments. But from now on, during my journey through the conflict, I suspend personal judgement to be a detached observer. I will look, listen and document. It’s a research, it’s done to make discoveries. Neither the Pro TAV nor the No TAV need another activist. My project is not for them, but for all the curious people that want to know about this important topic. I hope the clarity of my position will guarantee me access to both sides of the conflict around the TAV. I hope to meet you during my exploration!
Contact me if you want to listen a voice that is not afraid of the No TAV’s threats.
I asked to the mountains I walked 300 km from Italy to France, two of the founder states of the European Union, following the existing railway, through a social conflict and across the Alps. I got in contact with all the elements that compose my story: infrastructures, social conflict, landscape and Europe. Looking back, is time for some considerations. Here I reflect on the relevance of the walk for the design process and in relation to the design role this project is outlining. While the experience has been very intense and important from the emotional, physical and intellectual points of view, at this point of the project I prefer to keep that part out. On-site investigation is common among anthropologists, documentary makers and photographer, but is very rare among information designers. Journalists as well are going less and less on the roads, for various reasons. The walk allowed me to gather my own information, through photography, mapping, interviews and collection. Once designed, the material and content I found will lead to present a unique and original story, based on a unrepeatable personal experience. I believe that this kind of research increases the value of the information I will deliver. This experience it also proofs how hard it is to gather empirical information. When on the road, either you take one way or the other, either you interview one person or you keep walking because you are behind your schedule. There is no “bookmark this page”, “I will read it later”, “open in another tab”. Decisions must be taken fast and on the spot. Also the tool to document a specific phenomena is a choice. Another problematic issue is living and documenting the experience at the same time. Once something is gone, is gone: space and time are determinant factors. The journey had also moments of frustration, boredom and anxiety. I also failed more than once in the information gathering, but these limits must be accepted. The sources I use are the original ones, the only mediation between them and my audience is me. This is why it’s so important to make my position transparent. I did that through the project’s Facebook page, but also by presenting myself honestly to the people I met along the way. I always presented my self and the purpose of my project in the same way, both to the No TAV and the Pro TAV. Sometimes people were suspicious, but in the end I have the feeling that I gained some respect and sympathy.
I travelled alone, with a 17 kg backpack on my shoulders, not knowing anyone in the places I was visiting. I didn’t know where I would spend the night, and I moved only by feet, with only two exceptions (about 20 km over a 325 km walk). Putting my self in a state of vulnerability made me trustable and harmless in the eyes of others. Both parts involved in the conflict felt they could talk to me. The third part, the mountains, have been in dialogue with me for the entire walk. Along the way I saw, photographed and mapped 273 visual signs of the No TAV movement (flags, graffiti, stickers, etc). 102 of them are in the 5 km around the construction site. Only 7 of the total are in France, where two thirds of the walking took place. This visual and geographical information tells a story by itself. I methodically took a picture of my self, ten steps away from the camera on its tripod, after every hour of walk. This series of images form an analytical portrait of the landscape, in relation to the human scale, along the way I walked. I took short videos documenting my experience in relation to the topic researched, and shared some of them on Youtube and Facebook, as a real time and unedited documentary. The slowness of moving by feet allowed me to deeply engage with the landscape, the elements and the people I met. Without the support of the people, especially in Val Susa, I couldn’t have reached my goal. In fact in Italy I used my tent only once, because there was always somebody of the No TAV offering hospitality. This says something about the effect of a social movement on a region. It also allowed me to enter in very close contact with people and the stories they shared with me about the railway, the conflict and the social movement. I gathered a large amount of content, that need to be designed to be shared and understood. The outcome is the part of the project that will mostly position it in the design context, contributing to define the figure of the information designer as investigator and storyteller.
in twenty images
A three hundred kilometers walk
From the end
After 300 km and two weeks of walking, on the 17th of April I arrive in Lyon.
I keep walking. I’m tired and I count the kilometers that separate me from Lyon.
I’m happy and also proud. At the same time, being in Lyon was never the end of the journey. The end was the journey itself, gathering information and experiencing a deep relation with the landscape and the social conflict in Val Susa.
I talk to the people along the way, in France most of them don’t know about the railway project and about the conflict. Some of them do know, but it’s not an issue here.
Now I have to design the information I gathered.
My investigation is not going very well here, but the landscape is beautiful and I enjoy this temporary lonliness.
The valley is so narrow that the lower part is completely occupied by the road, the highway, the river and the railway that I’m following. The villages are on the sides, my way doesn’t go through them. I walk downhill, descending the Alps. It’s harder than walking uphill, my muscles get inflamed and it’s quite painful.
After walking up the Alps, I take a bus to cross the border between Italy and France, through the Frejus tunnel. The situation in France is different. The Maurienne valley is less inhabited and infrastructured than the Susa valley, and there are only few signs the conflict. Only 7 of the 273 signs I found are in France. It’s interesting, also considering that I walked about 100 km in Italy and 200 in France.
In the Susa valley there was always someone of the No TAV movement that offered me hospitality for the night.
The upper part of the valley has a more natural landscape. This places live thanks to tourism, and the majority of the people here are Pro TAV.
Now that Iâ€™m getting out of the valley and the movement is not so present, I need to sleep in my tent.
There is not a social movement supporting the railway project, the promoters are mainly public and private institutions. Nevertheless, in the valley I meet some people that are positive about the project and they tell me that they feel excluded from the social life and sometimes even threatend by the No TAV movement.
Iâ€™m actually happy to do so, the landscape is my home, Iâ€™m somehow appropriating it.
This radical conflict split the valley in two. Some Pro TAV politicians received envelops with bullets or found Molotov bottles in front of their house door, and the No TAV movement had three of its meeting points set on fire during the night in the last years.
Walking beyond the construction site I arrive where the No TAV â€œsummer campâ€? was situated in summer 2013. On the flor there is a sign saying: Turin-Lyon Useless Devastating Totally at our expenses. The railway has a budgeted cost of 20-25 billions Euro, divided between France, Italy and the European Union. In Italy the final cost of large infrastructures is in average 3 times of the budgeted cost.
Around the construction site I find many tear gas bullets and this tear gas grenade. The police and the activists clashed many times in this woods, itâ€™s a battlefield. The movement perceives the police as a repressive and anti-democratic presence that militarized their valley. While the No TAV movement is generally peaceful, it justifies the sabotage of machines as a tool of resistance.
I find a spot from where both the construction site and the landscape around it are visible.
I finally find the path to get closer to the site. There are three lines of metal fences protecting it.
The site is fenced and under militar control, due to actions of disturbance and damage by No TAV activists. Also the area around the site is cosed. The farmers that have their fields there have to show their ID docments to enter.
They are digging an explorative tunnel, that will become a service exit to the 57 km tunnel that will be dug between Italy and France. It will be one of the longest railway tunnels in the world. The No TAV movement questions its usefulness and its cost. Many people of the valley is also concerned about the presence of uranium and asbestos in those mountains.
I’m happy to walk off the road, looking for the construction site in the woods near Chiomonte. It’s slow and hard to move by feet, I’m exposed to the landscape, to the elements (and to the cars, when I am on the road). The backpack is heavy, about 17 kg. But I feel so free.
I take a deviation to see this No TAV meeting point. It’s the biggest and the more important to the activists. In 2005 the No TAV were occupying the land to avoid the beginning of some works for the railway. Early in the morning the police entered the occupied area and beated the activists, among which there were even some local politicians. This event radicalized the conflict, strenghtened the movement and united the activists.
This is one of the houses that will be demolished to make space to the railway. The banner reads â€œHere sentenced to death by the TAVâ€?.
I walk past a No TAV event, a luch made to raise money to pay the laywers for the many trials that the activists are going through.
The signs of the No TAV movement are part of the landscape. There are graffiti, flags, stickers and large banners. I found a total of 273 signs, 102 of which are around the construction site in Chiomonte, in the upper part of the Susa valley.
The No TAV movement is very various in its composition: environmentalists associations, common citizens and families, local politicians, activists from social centers, anarchists, catholics, intellectuals and so on. It includes three generations, from granparents to teenagers.
One evening I stop by one of the No TAV meeting points.
I decided to walk following the existing railway, in order to have a predetermined path.
In the beginning these places were a way to control the territory, now people meet there very often, and the railway is only one of the topics discussed. They became small social centers, where personal relations born and grow.
The railway is used only at the 20% of its capacity. The No TAV movement sees this as the proof that building a new railway is useless. The promoters argue that the railway is old and unefficient, this is why is not used and there is the need for a new one.
In many years, the movement went much beyond just opposing the railway project: it became part of peopleâ€™s everyday life, it created a shared identity and a sense of belonging.
I walk out of Turin into Val di Susa, a valley in the Italian Alps on the border with France, where I see many of these flags.
The European Union is one of the promoters of the new railway that should connect Italy and France.
They represent a large and very rooted movement called No TAV (No Treno AltĂ VelocitĂ - No High Speed Train). The movement questions the economical, environmental and social sustainability of the railway project.
The railway is part of a larger network of infrastructures designed to improve and uniform transportation in Europe. The Turin-Lyon railway project is twenty years old, but very little has been built so far.
In Turin I find many stencils asking for freedom for the No TAV activists. Four of them have been arrested in November 2013, and are waiting for the trial that will start in May. They are charged of terrorism, for burning a machine in a construction site of the railway.
I start my walk in Turin, the 4th of April 2014. The aim is to get to Lyon by feet, a 300 km walk from Italy to France across the Alps. I want to do a first person investigation and gather my own information about the social conflict around the consruction of a new high speed railway.
The information and the material gathered during the walk are edited and designed to be presented in a video-based installation. The choice for one medium is due to achieve consistency among the very different and rich elements that compose the story. Through video projection I aim to achieve a multilayered linear narration, where photography, video, typography, maps and audio can work together to engage the audience in a complex narrative. The video installation will last between 15 and 20 minutes, and then loop. The information will be organized to reconstruct the findings I did between Turin an Lyon. A map will show the geographical space; the interviews and the videos I took of myself walking and talking will be focused on the railway project and the social conflict; an animation will show all the signs of the No TAV movement that I photographed; another GIF animation will be dedicated to the landscape and the walk; landscape photography and some quotes from the interviews will appear now and then. Images will appear sequentially, some of them just for few seconds, while other will stay. The video installation has to work as a process of discovery, slowly revealing more elements needed to understand the whole picture. This could be done in two ways, either by telling the story from the end to the beginning, or by starting with an ambiguous statement or a question in order to trigger curiosity. In the first case the walk would be described starting with my arrival in Lyon, to then go backwards. The second option would reveal the information as I experienced it, hopefully creating a sense of identification between the audience and me.
Investigator and storyteller
This project aimed to outline a professional figure in between design and journalism. By using methods form both the disciplines, the information designer can propose an alternative to traditional journalism. While I write this, the project is not yet concluded and it hasnâ€™t been presented. I cannot therefore claim any kind of success. Nevertheless, the process has proved that there is indeed a potential in the direction taken. The next step is a reality check, to see peopleâ€™s response, and then a deeper research to define the context of such project. A journalism convention? An art or cultural institution? A public space? Another aspect that still need to be clarified is the economical sustainability of the profession. In simple words: is there anybody willing to pay for this kind of research and design? Should it be self-initiated and financed? This project is also a reflection on information itself: if we are information designers, we must ask ourselves some questions. Where does the information we design come from? Who gathered it and how? How many intermediations there are between the original source and the final receiver? The practice I developed this year questions these issues and proposes a possible approach. The focus of my research has never been design as a form-related problem; rather, I investigated sources, gathering methods and an unmediated relation with empirical information.
Anderson C.W., Bell Emily, Shirky Clay Post Industrial Journalism. Tow Center fo Digital Journalism Bauman, Zigmunt Liquid modernity, Polity pr, 2000 Calia, Claudio Dossier TAV, Beccogiallo, 2012 Della Porta, Donatella, Piazza, Gianni Le ragioni del No, Feltrinelli , Milano, 2008 Farinelli, Franco L’invenzione della terra, Sellerio, Palermo, 2007
Settis, Salvatore Paesaggio, Costituzione, Cemento, Einaudi, Torino, 2012 Virano Mario Introduction, in Quaderno 8 (Analisi Costi-benefici), Osservatorio sullaTorinoLione, 2011 Vossoughian, Nader. Otto Neurath The Language of the Global Polis, Nai Uitgevers Publishers, Rotterdam Žižek, Slavoj Violence, Picador, 2012 Zaagman, Jozua. (Edited by Lommee, Freek) From here to there, reality mappings, Onomatopee, EIndhoven, 2012
Farinelli, Franco La crisi della ragione cartografica, Einaudi, Torino, 2009 Franchi, Francesco Designing News, Die Gestalten Verlag, 2013 O’Rourke, Karen Walking and mapping, The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2013 Pepino, Livio, Revelli, Marco Non solo un treno, edizini Gruppo Abele, Torino, 2012
Being the case study of my research (the conflict around the TAV) twenty years old and ongoing, I needed to learn the history and to be costantly updated on current event. I saved 121 online bookmarks on the TAV and No TAV, from Italian news (La Stampa, La Repubblica, Il Fatto Quotidiano, Internazionale, Servizio Pubblico), No TAV websites and Facebook pages (notav.info, presidioeuropa.net), Pro TAV website and facebook pages (transpadana.org, transalpine.com).
A report from Val di Susa Seven days in the Alps with the No TAV activists, one of oldest Italian social movements fighting for their territory, the landscape and the common good. A story from a camp in Chiomonte, Val di Susa, August 2013.
On my way I leave Padua directed to Val Susa at the peak of the Italian turistic season, but fortunately I’m not travelling as a tourist. My steps are uncertain while I’m getting on the train; I’m moving on my own, heading a place where I don’t know what and who I’ll find. A Freccia Bianca train will bring me to Turin, where a smaller and slower train will take me to Chiomonte: the No TAV camp is just out the village. The camp moved there from Susa, a bigger town down the valley, few weeks earlier, when the rumor of the arrival of the mole (a big machine) started spreading among the protesters. This fact raised the level of tension in the valley: the explorative tunnel will soon start digging its way into the base of the Massiccio dell’Ambin. This is not the 57 km tunnel that will be excavated between Bussoleno and St. Jean de Maurienne. At the moment the few things I know about the TAV and the valley don’t have any visual form. All I’m aware of are some big and abstract numbers, some facts reported by the news and little more that I’ve been reading in the last weeks. I’m looking for a dip in a rough reality, but at the a same time I’m wondering wether I’m a good swimmer. On the 27th of June 2011 the police evacuated the camp/ checkpoint situated in the woods and known as Presidio della Maddalena or Libera Repubblica della Maddalena. The construction site had to be opened, and the presence of the protester couldn’t be accepted anymore. A violent clash could occur in the next days as well. At the train station’s news stand in Padua I bought a copy of Internazionale, a leftist magazine that weekly translates articles form all over the world; what I hold in my hands is a special summer edition dedicated to the subject of travel. The editorial by Alain de Botton titled Generation curious makes a good point: “Nowadays, our phones — and through them, the boundless mind of the web — have made factual knowledge ubiquitous and unhelpfully overwhelming. What we need isn’t ever more facts, but experiences that are curated in accordance with our own inner needs.” My need is to escape abstraction and representation, and embrace the unmediated multiplicity and straightforwardness of reality. In fact I can’t keep my eyes on the article: they wander between the magazine’s semi-glossy paper to the Japanese middle-age couple in front of me, to the flat north-Italian
landscape. I made a mistake: I’m sitting on the left side of the train, looking south. On the other side the Alps and the Garda Lake offer a better view. I reach Turin with a thirty minutes delay, and I have more than one hour to spend in the station. I’ve never been here, I go to the bookstore and buy a David Foster Wallace book, Brief interviews with hideous men. Though short book. It will serve to escape from the reality where I escaped summer boredom and stillness. It’s good to have a way out; stories are my favorite way out. In Chiomonte the temperature is slightly colder than in Turin. We are 750 meters above the sea level, on the right side of the river Dora Riparia, on the darker and colder slope of the valley, 60 km east from Turin. What I ignore is the only thing I really need to know: the location of the camp. A young backpacker walks out the station, I ask him. He arrives from Spain, his name is Juan, and of course he’s a No TAV activist. He leads me through the village, in silence. Just few words to make me notice the large fountains and the chilly water that comes out of them. He has been here before. We avoid the main road, he doesn’t want to have his document checked by the police. I feel like a kid, and once we get to the camp I become even more disoriented. There are just few people, the place is dusty and calm. We leave our backpacks on the ground and say hello. Nobody looks interested in our arrival; they are cleaning up the place: it’s Saturday and there will be a barbecue that night, people from the valley will come. There are tents here and there, between the trees. The river flows on gray rounded rocks. The central part is composed by a large, one-floor wooden construction, three campers and a long gazebo used as dining room. I don’t know what to do. Should I introduce my self? Should I help? Or just find a spot and assemble my tent? At the moment Juan is my only point of reference, and he looks like he knows where he is. Perceiving my confusion he tells me to follow the path in the woods and find a quiet place where to place the tent. Coming back to the gazebo I sit with Juan whe talks to an elderly lady, her name is Cristina. — You are a pacifist, aren’t you Juan? — I don’t like violence, but if you are a nonviolent then you have to be there, in the first line, when the conflicts begin, otherwise you are just talking.
— All the revolutions in history have been violent, though. Against the violence of the capital we can respond only with violence. She says this sweetly. The conversation goes on. I like Cristina’s wrinkled smile, she looks like she has been through a lot in her life. There is nothing in her voice that remind me of some anti-capitalist fanatics that repeat always the same memorized slogans as they were revealed truths. She understands what she’s talking about. Just one hour later the place is very crowded. A big fire provides the ambers for the grills where meat and veggies are roasting. A dish costs 3 euros, and bottles of wine go from hand to hand. I wait in the line to get my food. Somehow I start talking with a woman, she’s waiting beside me. Maria, from Sardinia; very particular accent. She has been thinking wether to come to the No TAV camping or to join the No MUOS (Mobile User Objective System) movement in Niscemi, Sicily. She’s an architect but she doesn’t have commissions. Because going to Sicily is more expensive she decided to come to Val di Susa. I sit on the grass with her and some other folks from Rome. After a while there is a call to join a meeting. I grab a glass of grappa and sit in one of the first lines. A group of activist of the Brigate di Solidarietà Attiva are presenting the activities of their volunteers. A masculine woman, about 25 years old, takes the stage. She looks tough, but she really doesn’t want to speak in the microphone; I share that feeling. A white cloth is hanging behind here and a projected slideshow starts: photos of tents and collapsed buildings. Some of us are sitting on chairs and benches, but the most are on the ground. The Brigate di Solidarietà Attiva is an association active mainly after natural disasters. Altough of a similar kind, their activity differs much from the official Protezione Civile. The Brigate promotes a bottom-up self-organization that aims to make people affected by earthquakes or floods more autonomous and active in the post-trauma period. Listening to the report of their activities in Emilia (a region stroke with an earthquake in 2012) I am deeply impressed by the generosity and the energy these volunteers put in their efforts. People from the audience ask questions, other women present different projects of the Association. It’s intense, but the atmosphere is relaxed. I go to bed early. From the tent I can hear the river flowing. I hear some noises and a voice. — Kim… Kim? Are you awake? It’s Juan, the Spanish.
He told me before he didn’t have a tent. I welcome him inside, move my stuff, and we both fall asleep. I wake up and he’s gone, but his stuff is there.
Grapes and police I walk towards the camp, my eyes trying to get used to the strong light. People are moving here and there, I’m confused. Juan wants to go for a walk in the forest around the construction site. We try to form a group, but people are slow and we decide to leave on our own. Juan really doesn’t want to meet the policemen. I wonder if he has something to hide. He might have received a foglio di via, a document delivered by the police, and that limit a person’s access to a certain area. Anyway, I don’t ask, and follow him in silence. The site is east, but we walk west, up the river, looking for a place to cross it avoiding the patrolled bridge. The edge of the river is made of slimy and unstable ground. I try to cross walking on some big rocks, but the flow is too strong in that point. Juan walks in a flatter part, where the water flows gently. My feet sink in the grayish mud up to the knee, it becomes difficult to move. The water reaches my belly, and it’s frozen. We cross and climb the margin. We are in the forest. I take some picture of the highway, one hundred meters over our heads. After a twenty minutes walk we are on the main street, we cross it and we take a barely visible path that goes uphill, through the vineyards. We move furtively, I don’t know actually why. The vineyards lines are parallel to the street that lead from the big metal fence near the No TAV camp to the building site. The street is about eighty meters under us, and there are two military jeeps moving slowly. One stops, and two men in mimetic uniform come out of it. They saw us. We crouch on the ground, and look through the leaves. The militaries are inspecting the hills with a binnacle: they know we are somewhere, but don’t know the exact point. It’s midday and the August sun beat on us. I start thinking. Hiding is the sign of an irregular intention. After what feels like an eternity, I suggest to Juan to keep walking ignoring the police. They are still looking through that big binnacle. They go back on the jeep. We sprint, keeping hour heads down, and we turn left deciding to go up the mountain.
We are in the zona rossa, the red area. This means that we are not welcome, but we know the most probably the guards are inside the yard and will not come into the forest. We hear some voices, and before we can even move, eight people show up from around some huge rocks. They are friends. They left the camp after us, but walked the easy way, being seen by the police. I understand Juan was a little bit too paranoid. Among the new mates there is Maria. There are three Spanish guys from Saragoza, two older men from the valley, Laura, a woman from Rome, and a young girl from Turin. We walk in line following a path, destination the camp Clarea. This is another “check-point” of the No TAV movement, situated in the forest, at the edge of the red zone. To say zona rossa has a creepy effect on me. The first time I heard these words I was thirteen, in 2001. The G8, the meeting of the world economic powers, was held in Genoa. The city was divided into areas, and for each of them a color code was assigned (green, yellow, red). The center was heavily militarized, and the zona rossa was made completely unaccessible with big metal fences. Antagonist movements were arriving from all over Europe, some of them considered very dangerous, the so called Black Block. They were terrible days for the protesters, for the city and the whole country. On the 20th of July a young protester, Carlo Giuliani (23), was killed by a gunshot by a policeman, Mario Placanica (21) during a violent conflict in Piazza Alimonda. I remember watching the news on TV, and being completely confused. Was that real? How could it be real? I didn’t understand. The G8 meeting went on until the 22nd July. Four days of blood. Four days of alienated politicians confined in their crystal palace. Proven abuses by the police on unarmed people. Hundreds of arrests and injuries. “The most serious suspension of democratic rights in a Western country after the Second World War” has been the comment of Amnesty International. The idea that the institutional power needed and could draw red zones to
limit people access to an area is absurd; and in this woods the definition of a red zone seems unrealistic: here nature reigns. But just few minutes later these thoughts, there it is. The construction site. The metal fences hidden by the bushes. Some small buildings. Some police trucks. I can’t see much, there are too many trees and we are walking fast. If the police catch us here we could spend the entire day with them for “security reasons”. We walk through massive rocks and find our path to the creek Clarea. I start feeling more comfortable, less excluded from he group. When we arrive to the camp situated on the creek it’s lunch time, and a bunch of men are chatting around the fire. There are about six tents and ten people. I have a look around, then we all start cooking. Naively, I take some pictures with my cel phone, but soon a man asks me, quite roughly, to stop. I’m sorry, and another guy, seeing my discomfort, smiles to me and tell me that I should ask before taking photos. The police came to visit the camp this morning, checked everybody’s documents and filmed the place. Coming back to our camp we stop under a stunning waterfall and we have a swim in the chilly water. Then we keep walking and get actually quite lost. We walk by huge, thick metal nets used to prevent avalanches. In the end I find a good spot from where to take a clear photo of the construction site. When we arrive to our camp, people are getting on their car to go to Vernetto, a fraction of Bussoleno where another No TAV check-point is. There is a general assembly tonight. I find a lift with some people I don’t know. In the car we are five: the driver and his wife are about forty years old and they come from Brescia. They spend their holidays in Val di Susa, helping the protest. He’s an ultras (supporter) of the Atalanta football team. In the next days I’ll meet some other people like him, that link foot-
ball to political activism. I find it strange, but in the end football is a effective way to gather people’s enthusiasm around something common. The other two guys in the car are from Turin, Francesco and Mario, about 28 years old, both unemployed. The assembly is about the strategies for the weeks coming. What to do, who is doing what, and how to maximize the results. After a couple of hours we go for a pizza in Bussoleno. On the wall of the pizzeria La Credenza there is a big wallpainting. It’s a quote from Il quarto stato by Pellizza da Volpedo and represents the various souls of the No TAV movement, marching together in defense of the valley. The restaurant is crowded but the atmosphere is relaxed, and I’m getting use to the spontaneity of these people. It’s easy to talk to someone. We are here for the same reason, there are not so many of the social conventions we are used to in our everyday life; everything is more direct.
Two tunnels, five centuries The camp is getting crowded. This is why in the morning assembly we decide to have a group walk from Ramats, on the other slope of the valley to the red zone, so that all the new people can see the construction site and have an idea of the geography of the place. Ramats is a small village at one thousand meters of altitude, we get there by car. We use six cars, about thirty people. In Ramats we leave the cars and we wait for some people that lost their way. From there we can see the Quattro Denti (the Four Teeth) a group of massive stones that stand out against the sky at two thousand meters of altitude. I learn about a burrow that was dug in that area many, many years before the invention of the train. Apparently since the 12th century the people from the valley dug a tunnel to bring water from the north slope of the mountain, more humid and snowy, to the south slope where grapes are cultivated. It is in fact an aqueduct, and for that it’s still used. The work was completed between the years 1526 and 1533 by the hands of just one man, Colombano Romean, that advanced with an average of twenty centimeters per day in the calcareous stone. The burrow is about eighty centimeters wide and two meters high. Today the tunnel, known as Gran Pertus or Traforo Romean, is four hundred and thirty three meters long and between
May and October it’s possible to walk through it. The difference between this work of mining and the fifty seven km Base Tunnel planned for the high speed train couldn’t be more revealing. The Gran Pertus was dug under request of the people of Cels and Ramats, and used to quench the thirst of those villages and their fields. Moreover, Colombano Romean, was alone, aged between fifty and fifty five, and used candles to light his way. I also ask myself why some ventures raise our admiration while others are perceived as violation of nature, as man hubris.
the rocks are too fast and a small one hit a woman right in the middle of her forehead. She doesn’t faint, but in such a large group panic grows rapidly. After some minutes of rest we decide to move on to reach the top. When there we realize the woman is fine, although angry and scared. Later she will go to the hospital, and coming back six hours later with four stitches.
We move in line on a small path, the trees protecting us from the August sun. The guy before me has a shabby look. He would be call in Italian, in a quite disparaging way, a punkabestia (punk-beast or something like that). He’s Spanish, but he arrived the day before from France driving an old van, with two German women. They all live together in a camp north of Nantes, in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, where the building a big international airport it’s planned. They are part of the opposition movement that fight against the construction of this new big work. We walk down to the Clarea camp, and after talking and exchanging the latest news with the comrades (i compagni), how they are called, we walk towards the site. Entering the red zone I ask to one of the “leaders” of the camp how we can know when we are entering the red zone. In response he asks me if I though to find a sign communicating that. We are just not supposed to be here, so lets move. We have to climb a mule track. It was the old path used by shepherds and people of the mountain. The path goes zigzag up the mountain and is made of low walls of flat dry stones. These stone walls didn’t received any maintenance in the last fifty years, so the whole thing is very unstable. We are thirty and many of us are not experienced with mountain trekking. The amazing ingenuity that made this beautiful stone walls is not enough, and some rocks start falling and rolling down. Somebody put the foot on the wrong spot, probably trying to go straight up the mountain instead of following the winding path, and a big rock falls on my hip. I bend, cover my head and shout to advice people behind me. But
Walking by the site, we stay in silence. Then, going through the vineyards parallel to the street that goes from the site to the fence near the camp, we are seen by some man in mimetic uniform. My fellows start swearing at them. “Is Afghanistan too dangerous?! Why aren’t you there?!” are the provocative questions addressed to the militaries. I want to take photos, but I don’t want to risk to have my camera confiscated. I talk about it with Laura, the photographer, she agrees with me and tells me about some experiences she had. The policemen are filming us. The rest of the day is spent for organizational activities, because “this is not a normal camp, where someone offers a service and somebody else consumes it. Everything here is self-organized.” This means that the place must be kept clean, and we have to buy and cook food for about thirty/forty people. After eating everybody washes his or her dish. Somebody light up a big fire, and stories songs words smoke wine fill our mouths. I go to my tent early, I need some time by myself.
Coffee, wine and philosophy The day before we planned to have breakfast on the street right in front of the entry of the site, and block the entrance for a couple of hours. It’s not such a big or effective act, but I guess is part of the strategy of the No TAV movement. If trucks cannot get into the site from that entrance they will need to drive one hour more and pay the highway fee (6 euros). This is both a “psychological” and practical pressure: the individual worker feels the conflict of working against the will of the local people and the companies lose time and money. This struggle went on for so many years now, the two parts trying to exhaust each other even on little, everyday issues. After some twenty minutes of breakfast a small truck arrives. We ask the driver to turn and go to the other entrance. There is no intimidation or violence at all. The man in the truck light up a cigarette and we chat for about fifteen minutes. “Ho da campà” he’s says in a southern Italian accent, “I have to make a living”. It’s a good point, nobody denies it. Anyway,
he smiles at us, and leave without any big tension. For all the time of the breakfast some policemen have been observing us from a high ground on the left side of the fence, ten meters above us. One of the aim of the camp, and of this breakfast, is to keep the policemen busy all the time, to make them move late at night and early in the morning, to create these absurd situations in which they have to stare at sleepy people drinking coffee, in their pajamas. This kind of pressure is aimed to make policemen reluctant to come to Val Susa. Every day the debate during the assembly makes me understand more about the people I have around. There is a great will to take shared decision, to have an open and democratic discussion. A lot of words are spent, in fact, to establish a good format for the debate itself: avoiding one to one discussions, having the most of the people expressing opinions but not talking over each other’s voice; well, just like any other assembly. A big topic is the level of violence that the camp can address to the construction site. The main opinion is that the camp shouldn’t develop violent strategies and if someone wants to undertake some boycott acts they should do it on individual basis. “The camp is a strategic place, and we don’t want to lose it because someone wants to cut a net or something like that.” In fact the camp is a meeting point for the people of the valley and a very good spot to host activists from other parts of Italy. For the week I’ve been in Val Susa, no sabotages or clashes occurred. A “philosophical happy hour” is planned for that evening. Philosopher and European deputy Gianni Vattimo will give a lecture in front of the fences. Around 7 PM we bring benches and chair and arrange them on the street. Some people from the villages around start arriving, but not many of them. Before starting talking Vattimo asks for a glass of wine, “how can the truth be said without wine?!” he jokes. It’s not a proper lecture but a discussion, with questions and remarks about the role of Europe, of social movements as promoters of conflicts, about the link between contemplative philosophies and respect towards the authority. Vattimo introduces Heidegger’s idea of life as project and that fascinates me. To avoid feeling powerless and overwhelmed. For sure the No TAV activists proved, along many years of conflict, to know very well this lesson and in fact Vattimo’s is thanking them for what they do.
When the lecture ends the battitura (beating) starts. The activists pick some small stones form the ground and hit the metal fence rhythmically, all together. This creates a deafening noise that sounds like a war song. It’s getting dark and from inside the fence they light up three huge and powerful beacons directed towards us. We cannot see anything that’s happening behind the fence but they can clearly see and film us. After twenty minutes we leave singing all together La Val Susa paura non ne ha – the Val Susa is not afraid.
A space of belonging It’s Wednesday, tonight is La notte dei fuochi (The night of fires) that precedes Ferragosto, a national festivity from the pagan and then Christian tradition. The No TAV camp will celebrate by lighting a big fire nearby the fence of the construction site, at the crossing of Via Ramats and Via Avanà. After a short morning assembly we go to the forest to collect wood. We are about twenty people, wearing gloves and carrying big trunks from the forest to the area in front of the camp. The temperature is fresh under the trees but the sun is getting high in the sky and it burns us and makes us tired quite quickly. Anyway we go on, with some breaks, the entire morning; it feels good, it’s a team work, people that don’t really know each other working together; we discuss how to take big fallen trees down the a very steep hill. When a mate arrives from the village bringing a power saw everything become easier. Collecting wood is also a way to clean the underbrushes; I learn that it’s quite good for the plants because they have more space and light. At 1 PM there is a lunch break. Like everyday a group of about six people have taken care of looking for food in local markets and shops. The people from the valley are generous and most of the time they give us stuff for free. The meal is usually a big pasta or rice with veggies and a mix salad. There are many vegetarians at the camp. For the few people who want meat there is a side option. We all stand in line, hungry to death after four hours of hard work, with a dish in one hand and a contribution of about one or two euros for the food. The money is collected in small glass jar, nobody actually checks whether you pay or not, or how much money you put in. The quantity of food is always just right to feed everybody we are all satisfied and grateful to the cooks. The afternoon goes the same as the morning but on a slower rhythm. I take a break from carrying wood and sit with a guy who is doing the look-
out post on the street. He’s from Turin, but he knows very well Trieste, my home town, because his girlfriend is from there. It turns out that we some acquaintances in common. He asks me with which group I came. It makes me feel bad somehow. I came alone, I don’t have a big group of activists or compagni on my back. It was so obvious for him that everybody at the camp is part of a social center of some kind, that it made me feel ashamed of never have been really active politically or socially. Anyway, I tell him that I came alone, because I was curious to see with my own eyes.
really direct the water jet towards us, it’s just a threat. During the assembly we decided that there wouldn’t be any stone throwing, and nothing like that happens. The battitura is a symbolic act, a way to say that we don’t recognize the authority of the enclosure. However, the metal fence carries the signs of many beatings witnessing two years – since the site opened in that location – of resistance.
In the end we manage to have the biggest mass of wood I ever seen. At 8 pm the pile is ready: a six meters high cone of trunks and sticks. It’s getting dark, and we light the fire. It takes a while to start burning properly. Fortunately is not windy at all, otherwise it would be very risky because of the dry underbrush and grass around the fire; just to be sure we have a fire extinguisher at hand. A lot of people gather around the fire, but at a certain distance because it really burns. We look at the fire, and there is a long silence full of wonder for the power and beauty of such a primordial element. It’s always a surprise to see a fire burning and looking at things in its light. This fire is not just for enjoyment, though. It’s a message of strength directed both to the police behind the fence and the activists themselves. They shine a light on our faces because theyare proud of what we are doing and not scared of being seen, photographed and filmed by the police. It’s a declaration of presence on that place. The fire overcome the artificial power of the police’s beacons pointed to us; the fire is warm and its light spreads in all directions, defining a space of belonging. We all move in front of the fence for a longer lasting battitura. After a while, we realize the fence is open! That’s very confusing: if they left it open on purpose it’s a quite direct provocation. They give us the possibility to get into the site. It’s a clear invitation to physical clash; and it’s also a way to test our intentions. On the other hand, if they just forgot to close the fence, it proves that these police are very unprofessional. They are standing in line thirty meters behind the fence looking at us in silence. Nodoby of us try to get in. More military jeeps are coming down the hill to enlarge the number of policemen. They are sick of standing there and decide to activate a hydrant to scare us and make us leave. In the end they don’t
We are informed, aren’t we? The entire morning is spent in assembly. We all sit around, about forty people, under the big plastic tarpaulin. Someone brought newspapers from the village. The front pages are dedicated to the massacres in Egypt, hundreds of dead. La Repubblica, a center-left newspaper close to the Democratic Party, gives some space to the Notte dei Fuochi in Val Susa. They refer to what happen: “after some hours of assault to the site, the No Tav activists went back to their tents” and highlights the little number of participants to the event. I can’t consider what happened the night before being an assault, not even an aggression. We were about one hundred people, direct witnesses of a symbolic action. On the other side, some five hundred thousands of Repubblica’s readers will learn about a violent assault. The distortion of such a simple news strikes me. The very image we have of the world is given by medias: most of what we know (politics, economy, conflicts, etc) is mediated by very skilled and manipulative storytellers. Also La Stampa, national newspaper from Turin, refers to the story, pointing out the little number of protester taking part to La notte dei fuochi. Hower, La Stampa doesn’t talk about any assault. The Italian public opinion, already focused on other subjects like he economic crisis, must be very confused about the whole No TAV issue. For many years the movement has been completely pacifist; the clashes with the police started in 2005 when a construction site in Susa was supposed to open. Since then the national media depicted the movement as open to infiltration of violent insurrectionary anarchists and black-blocks. The topic is complex. A distinction between violence towards objects and towards people should be introduced. Sabotage has been part of (some people of) the movement’s strategies. During manifestations, land occupations or sit-ins on the streets, the No TAV usually employed non-violent, passive tactics. It’s also true that some clashes looked like (through the eye of a camera, as I saw them) organized guerrilla. It’s hard for me to take a position. I think that the category of violence, as the medias and the institutions use it, is manipulative tool. Is it not violence to submit the interest of a
community to the private interest of an economic and politic elite? Is it not violence to use public resources to enrich few banks, foundations, committees? Is it not violence the destruction of hectares of forest, the militarization of a valley, the occupation of an archeological site? Is it not violence the use of chemical weapons, such as the inglorious CS tear gas? Is the use of physical resistance, sabotage and damage, justified by these more subtle and accepted violences? We also know, from the facts of Genova 2001, that the Italian police sometimes loses control. This mean that the police violence is both a consequence of bad organization that brings to complicated situations, and also of the deliberate will, by some police groups, especially the ones linked to extreme right movements, to engage in repressive, violent actions. During the assembly, reading the newspapers, we smile, incredulous. For the last eight years, the most of the public debate treated the No TAV as a problem of social security. The construction of the railway, with its economical, political, legal and environmental background was intentionally, strategically ignored. As we know, in the mass society, only what is told by the media is true. If something doesn’t appear, it doesn’t exist. This is why we have to recognize the need for first-person investigation and experience. After six days in Chiomonte, living in this parallel reality, away from the internet, television and newspapers, I feel how unreal our common life is: always projected somewhere else from where we are. A journalist from Israel is visiting the camp. He writes for a quite followed blog called +972. He’s here with some Italian friends and they asked him to give a lecture about the history of Israel and the conflict with Palestinians. When coming to contemporary issue, after a historical introduction, the debate becomes more intense. Some critical questions are raised, most of the people are definitely pro-Palestine. Anyway, two solid hours are spent in discussing, and I’m hit by the level of awareness among the activists. I rarely heard such a detailed analysis of the conflict on a Italian TV talkshow or news. New people arrive to the camp everyday, and some other people leaves. I feel more comfortable in socializing now, so I can learn more. The Tav is supposed to cross north Italy (Turin-Milan is already completed) and now some new construction sites are opening between Milan and Venice. At the end of August a No TAV camp will open in Rovereto, Trentino. Some people from there just arrived, and I walk with them to the village to buy cigarettes. They are part of an animalism movement and they brought
some printed material about a meeting there will be soon about vegetarianism. I like how this camp hosts a wide range of different people, how a community can be rich and diverse but unite on some specific issues. The day ends watching a documentary, Diventare selvaggi (Becoming Wild), about the shepherd’s lost traditions on the Alps.
Bridging the distance It’s friday, this afternoon I’ll leave to camp heading Turin. The morning assembly is focused on very pragmatical aspects of the life at the camp. The next two weeks are expected to be the more crowded with new people arriving, and everything is pretty disorganized. We make a list of to-do things and discuss them in detail. The area of the assembly is very dusty, because of the thin sand on the ground. We decide to move the gravel from in front of the “bar” to the yard between the caravans. This will keep the spot cleaner. Another important issue is to set up a serious information point, where the new people can learn about the rules and activity of the camp and leave proposals or informative material. Finally, we must build a bridge to cross the Dora. We know that if the police break into the camp they will probably do it by night or early in the morning, entering by the main entrance on the street. This would probably cause a lot of panic in the camp, so we need to have exit strategies if something like that occur. I definitely want to be part of the construction of the bridge, even if I will have to leave before is finished. We have the luck to have among us a young Italo-Egyptian woman that just came back from Egypt, where in the last days hundreds of people lost their lifes is the streets. It has been a massacre. She refers about the current situation giving some information about the political background. It’s very different to hear this story from the mouth of a peer, instead that from the TV. The situation in Egypt is very complex, and it’s almost impossible to shed light on each aspect. However the direct experience of this young woman helps us to emphatize with the Egyptian people. What I find more interesting, though, is how my fellows talk about the Egyptian activists. They are fratelli, brothers. Their struggle is our struggle; some of the people present at the meeting has been in Egypt in the last two years, not for holiday, but for observing and participating. Even if the reasons of the fight are different, there is a shared passion. I hear talking about i compagni egiziani, i compagni turchi e i compagni greci (the fellows in Egypt, Turkey and Greece). Is it really like that? Is there a wide family of people actually in contact with each other, sharing the same ideals and struggles? I’m
puzzled, but at the same time very fascinated. Something is going on, the conflict is raising and we cannot turn our heads anymore. We have to look. Europe, North Africa and Middle East are shaked by a push for change. It’s time to build the bridge, the one across the Dora, not across the Mediterranean. With other three guys we go down to the stream Dora and we have a look around trying to understand what is the best spot to place the bridge. Either we position it where the stream is narrower but the water faster or where it’s wider and the water slower. Anyway we will need long and solid tree trunks and the forest is plenty of fallen trees. The banks are full of stones, some big and some small. We can use them to build a solid base where to place the trunks. We go to look for pallets and wood planks. We find a lot of stuff beside a old chicken coop. We carry them to the banks, and take away all the rusty nails. We take our trousers away and cross the Dora. The chilly water reach our belly. The other side the forest hasn’t been explored to look for wood yet, so we know we will find some good building material. We find a very long pine tree fallen onto another pine nearby it. The trunk didn’t break because of the fall, instead its roots went up and now they are popping out the ground a little bit. This means that the trunk is not completely dry yet, and it’s still strong. We decide to take it down from there, but we have barely any material. The diameter of the trunk is about thirty centimeters. We start to cut it with a pruning hook, with no big success. We have to pull it down: one of us climbs it and tie a rope at six meter of height, then he comes back down and we start pulling all together. It barely moves. In a way we are happy: it means that is a very heavy and strong trunk and the bridge will last. We go on working, until it moves and we feel we can take it down, but then we are called for lunch. We come back to the camp and it almost looks like a different place. Everything has found is own place, the info-point tent is full of maps and brochures, the gravel defines the center of the camp and block the dust to fly with the wind, the paths around the tents are clean. Everybody is happy to take a break after a morning
of work under the sun. In my last hours at the camp I start feeling sad to leave. More and more people arrived in the last days and the situation was getting more exciting. I pack my stuff, dismantle my tent, have a shower and wear my last clean clothes. I shake hands with some friends, hug some of them and tell them good luck. I hope I’ll be here next summer. At the train station I meet Juan. — Si parte insieme e si torna insieme! I tell him. “We leave together and come back together” is a motto of the movement that revealed itself true.
Future Landscapes is a research about the construction of the New High Speed Railway Turin-Lyon and the No TAV (No Train) social movement. The research is based on a three hundred kilometers walk from Turin to Lyon across the Alps. FL looks at the social-political conflict caused by the railway project and proposes its own interpretation. While doing so, the project questions the role of design: can a designer gather empirical information and share it as a unique story? Can this help in making a complex topic visible and understandable? The conflict around the TAV involves all kinds of environmental, political, social and economical aspects. Its local dimension doesnâ€™t make it a local problem, on the contrary, itâ€™s very much linked to global issues that concern all of us: control of the territory and modification of the landscape; concept and practice of democracy, progress, and common good; top-down and bottom-up construction of Europe.
Design Academy Eindhoven 2013-2014 Information Design Master Joost Grootens Frans Bevers Simon Davies Nikki Gonnissen Sanne Jansen Arthur Roeloffzen Gert Staal
Information design as investigation and storytelling. A research in between design and journalism on the social-political conflict around th...
Published on Oct 28, 2014
Information design as investigation and storytelling. A research in between design and journalism on the social-political conflict around th...