Com’è piccola Milano, Peep Hole, Milano

Com’è piccola Milano, Peep Hole, Milano, 2011

Milan: 18 March 1978. Fausto Tinelli and Lorenzo “Iaio” Iannucci, their hands thrust in their pockets, are chatting as they walk down Via Mancinelli, on their way to eat a plate of Fausto’s mother’s risotto. But there’s a man holding a bag with a gun in it. He shoots eight times: Iaio dies instantly, Fausto a few minutes later. Why? Who killed them?

They were two boys who were “generically” left-wing, who were regulars at the Leoncavallo Social Centre; Iaio was involved in the house squatting movement and Fausto was collaborating on a white paper on heroin.

There are two theories: one – put forward immediately – had to do with the information on local heroin pushing that Fausto was gathering for the white paper published by the Leoncavallo centre. Perhaps Fausto had uncovered something he wasn’t supposed to and was thus killed along with his friend Iaio. The other is far more convoluted and has to do with the Red Brigades (BR). On 1 October 1978, a few months after the boys were murdered, the Carabinieri forces raided a BR hideout, arrested several of the group’s leading members and discovered some of the letters written by Aldo Moro, killed on 9 May of that year, during his kidnapping. It was a very significant lair: it was here that a new search conducted 12 years later – in 1990 – turned up another set of important papers, also part of Moro’s writings, in which the statesman referred to Operation Gladio. That lair was at number 8, Via Monte Nevoso. Fausto lived at number 9, across the street. He slept on a sofa bed by a window that was less than 10 metres from that of the terrorists: 8.80 metres, to be exact. What a small town Milan is (Com’è piccola Milano).

The space of less than 10 metres holds intrigues and events that recount the mysteries of an entire nation, spanning 12 years and extending to our own era. Indeed, this past 24 February it was announced that the trial for the young men’s murder would be reopened on the suspicion that the secret service was behind their death.

This trifling distance is transformed into a symbol: the symbol of an absurd convergence of facts and events that are seemingly unrelated yet are completely entwined.

In Da 8 a 9 Francesco Arena takes this figure – 8.80 metres – as his starting point and mixes it with an extremely personal element such as his weight, creating a bronze sculpture measuring that precise length and that exact weight.

Through a simple gesture such as that of extending one’s body a given distance, the artist offers us two possible paths. On the one hand, he has created a paradoxical self-portrait, in which the physical element is transformed into a universal unit of measure to touch and unite two places: this led to the choice of the form that alludes to the platinum-iridium prototype metre preserved in Sevrès, Paris, a copy of which is at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan. On the other hand, the work is an equally paradoxical monument (hence the choice of bronze, a noble material used for monumental sculpture) commemorating these events, evoking a distance that ideally encapsulates the entire country and all of these years.

The sculpture is also the heart of the performance trentasei sovrapposizioni di Licia Pinelli su Dino Buzzati that temporarily activates the work. Two voices interweave, stirring chronicle and literary fiction, in a narrative that overlaps with a short story by Dino Buzzati the list of deaths of politically motivated killings in Milan, from October 1962 to March 2003.

Dates, chronicle and personal facts are also part of Senza Titolo, a calendar of 1978 in which the artist scored specific dates interposing four chips of stone. Three fragments of slate opens the agenda in the dates which concerns the case of Fausto and Iaio (March 16, the day of the kidnapping of Aldo Moro, 18 March, the day of the killing of Fausto and Iaio, October 1, the day of the irruption into the lair of BR), while a sliver of white onyx open the pages on the artist’s date of birth (June 19), which occurred in the same year.

Milan: 15 December 1969. A man flies from a window, his arms outstretched, his neck extended and his legs behind him: he truly looks like he’s soaring. But instead he falls. That man is Giuseppe Pinelli, a railway worker and anarchic activist stopped by the police during the investigation of the Piazza Fontana bombing of 12 December.

He has been at police headquarters for three days; the validity of his provisional arrest expired 24 hours ago but he is still there. He has been locked in a room measuring approximately 4 by 4.5 metres on the fourth floor of the building in Via Fatebenefratelli, together with superintendent Luigi Calabresi, three brigadieri and a carabinieri officer. At a certain point during the questioning, Calabresi leaves the room to take the transcript of Pinelli’s interrogation to his boss and just moments later Pinelli falls from the window into the street.

What happened? How did Giuseppe Pinelli die? According to initial disclosures he committed suicide. He was a key suspect, his alibi had fallen apart and he felt that everything was lost. Two days later, however, it was discovered that he had absolutely nothing to do with the bombing. In 1975, the ruling in the subsequent trial for his death stated that Giuseppe Pinelli died of “active malaise”. He was tired, stressed, hadn’t slept and had been interrogated until just a minute earlier. He went to the window to get a breath of fresh air, but instead of stepping back he leaned forward, his body tipped over the railing and he fell to his death. It is a ruling that has convinced very few people. Many questions remain regarding the death of the railway worker Giuseppe Pinelli, along with contradictions to unravel and a number of strange events later leading to the killing of police superintendent Calabresi and ultimately involving Rome, the Veneto region and the secret service.

Today Pinelli’s death is commemorated by two plaques in Piazza Fontana, directly across from the one dedicated to the victims of the bombing, because Pinelli – cleared of the charge – has gone down in history as the 18th victim of the attack. The first one was installed by anarchists in the Seventies and reads: “To Giuseppe Pinelli, railway worker and anarchist, an innocent man killed at the police headquarters of Milan on 16-12-1969. The students and democrats of Milan”. One night in March 2006 the city government headed by Albertini decided to replace this unauthorized plaque with an “official” one bearing the following words under the symbol of the Municipality of Milan: “To Giuseppe Pinelli, railway worker and anarchist, an innocent man who died tragically at the police headquarters of Milan on 15-12-1969”.

Following a heated controversy, the anarchists of Ponte della Ghisolfa reinstalled the old plaque. Today, five years later, both plaques are still there, one next to the other, showing off their differences. In addition to the date of Pinelli’s death – 16 December according to the Milanese students and democrats, but the 15th according to the Municipality of Milan – the key difference lies in the words “innocent man killed” versus “innocent man who died tragically”.

Just three metres of space and very few words encompass the full distance between two opposite visions and the uncertainties surrounding a story that has never been clarified. What a small town Milan is (Com’è piccola Milano).

In occhio destro occhio sinistro, Arena concentrates on the inconsistency between the two plaques, on that “distance” – not just physical but also political – that separates them. He created two 1:1 copies using the same materials and the same fonts, but engraved only the two divergent phrases in the same position as the original ones.

The two plaques have been mounted on the wall so that the phrase in each one is exactly at the artist’s eye level. Arena, who with this work has concluded his cycle revolving around Pinelli, which he commenced in 2009, has once again created a self-portrait through “something else”. His gaze becomes the filter through which to read or, rather, reread an event that was transformed from private to public.

It is as if history, the one we know and that touches all of us directly, were something accomplishable only on a personal level (one’s weight as a unit of measure, one’s height as the horizon through which to reconsider a given event) and as if one’s own story could only be resolved through a more general and necessarily collective history.