Babylon by Joykix and Rossella Moratto at spazioSE...

Babylon by Joykix and Rossella Moratto at spazioSERRA: in conversation with the authors

In 1960, the three members of the Situationist International, Constant Nieuwenhuys, Guy Debord and Asger Jorn, wrote to Willem Sandberg – director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam–to inform him of their decision to cancel the event Die Welt als Labyrinth (The World as a Labyrinth). Inspired by the design for the mega-city New Babylon, Constant would have liked to build a small labyrinth in the halls of the Stedelijk, but limitations placed by the museum’s technicians prevented the use of cardinal gimmicks for the project, aimed at disorienting and displacing the public. “Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to consider and accept any kind of restriction on the planned exhibition” the three concluded in the letter. Sixty years later, this proposal of the Situationist International has something in common with Babylon, the collective structure that traces trajectories on the eight windows of spazioSERRA, the well-known public art project at Milano Lancetti train station. They are united by a tendency toward impossible museology, a use of the display that is open work and the establishment in the exhibition space of a process neither utopian nor dystopian, but, rather, of commoning. We spoke about this with Joykix and Rossella Moratto, authors of Babylon.

Babylon, from an idea by Joykix and Rossella Moratto. By spazioSERRA. Installation view at spazioSERRA, Milano Lancetti station, Milan. Photo Cristiano Rizzo

Alessia Baranello: Babylon, the city of the fertile crescent, was for centuries a body of water in which to project one’s utopian aspirations. Like Herodotus, many did not visit it, yet, on it they modulated their idea of an ideal city. In short, it seems that Babylon always unwinds the imagination of an unlocatable elsewhere. What is your Babylon like?
Joykix/Rossella Moratto: In our opinion the Babylon exhibition project is not so much born to imagine an elsewhere, but rather to encounter the Other. It is a participatory-active place that aspires to create ephemeral communities aggregating around themes that are discussed and shared from time to time. It is a space that we would like to be open to all, especially those who will randomly cross our trajectory. In short, our Babylon is a new Babel where diversity does not generate discord but peaceful cohabitation. In fact, the title of the exhibition, rather than the biblical reference, stems from the suggestion of New Babylon, the city of the situationist Constant, whose nomadic spirit, adaptability, playful attitude, rhizomatic expansion, disorientation and, consequently, surprise, encounter with the other and exchange it ideally shares.

Babylon, from an idea by Joykix and Rossella Moratto. By spazioSERRA. Installation view at spazioSERRA, Milano Lancetti station, Milan. Photo Cristiano Rizzo

The supporting structure of the exhibition is a modular grid, expanding horizontally and vertically, to occupy, with arms and shelves, almost entirely spaceSERRA. Where and how did this structure come into being?
The modular grid of Babylon was born on the occasion of the exhibition In accumulo o in sospeso ma in equilibrio (In accumulation or in suspension but in balance) in the context of Studi Festival (2017), already with the purpose of making different works and artistic attitudes dialogue, and was repurposed and expanded in the same year at the Bandera Foundation. Later, for the exhibition-event CORPOACORPOACORPO at COX 18 Social Center (Milan, 2019), it was transformed into a kind of theatrical machine. Later, we presented it again at Walk-In Studio 2020 by declining it to the theme of CsO, the Body without Organs by Artaudian and, later, Deleuze and Guattari. Compared to previous experiences, at spazioSERRA we wanted to develop, through the grid, a space that is not only expositive but habitable and traversable.

In fact, the installative-performative works selected for transposition in the SERRA not only bind to the grid, likewise, they discuss, scale, expand and, in some cases, destroy it.
Babylon thrives on the freedom of its participants. The ten artists involved in the group show are very diverse in terms of poetics and technique and the works do not have a single theme, but they critically reason about the issues of our time, the ones that emerged during common pre-show discussions, such as environment, sustainability, identity, and living. We also planned multiple activations of the structure, involving realities outside the strictly artistic environment, far from the sector institutions, including performances and live music, but also lectures, meetings and workshops.

Babylon, from an idea by Joykix and Rossella Moratto. By spazioSERRA. Installation view at spazioSERRA, Milano Lancetti station, Milan. Photo Cristiano Rizzo

The structure of Babylon seems to hint at some mythical experiments in Italian postwar museum design, Franco Albini among all. But also BBPR with Monumento dei Caduti at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan. And again, Frederick Kiesler’s environments. What were the suggestions that led to the creation of this exhibition machine?
Formally, it was a matter of reinterpreting the modernist idea of the replicable module, between standardization and democratization, adapting it to a more fluid, situated and participatory condition. Dimensionally, too, the grid modules have dimensions of 60 x 60cm, a measure related to the standard of living.

In contemporary times, the modernist “grid” has offered itself to more than one criticism. Rosalind Krauss, for example, discusses the extent to which the use of grids, straight lines and modules has contributed to isolating art works in a space of display “other” than life, to endowing them with their own laws and systems, so distant from material ones, as to render them unjudgeable and inaccessible. Yet in so many other cases, as in Constant’s aforementioned New Babylon, the grid has served as a site for rethinking the world. How does your experience stand in relation to these two antipodes?
Babylon is intended first and foremost to be an experiment of commoning, brought into the format of an installation. The idea is to accommodate and bring together differences – even potentially conflicting ones – by seeking common ground, which in this case – metaphorically and concretely – is represented by the grid structure, whose design depends on the needs of the individual works and the surrounding space. To reiterate this intention, there are elements within the structure that invite people to inhabit and use it. This stems from a need that is concretely opposite to the one you cite: Babylon definitely brings the works closer to the space of life because, as in life, it is the result of continuous negotiations. Potentially the framework-grid could be a homogenizing display, but, here, it encourages the cohabitation of the differences. It makes them coexist without structuring them. Rather, in part, it makes itself structured, welcoming what contaminates it, giving rise to an ever-evolving construction.

Babylon, from an idea by Joykix and Rossella Moratto. By spazioSERRA. Installation view at spazioSERRA, Milano Lancetti station, Milan. Photo Cristiano Rizzo

You talked about commoning. The reference is to one of the texts that inspired the exhibition, Common Space. The City as Commons (2016). In this volume, Greek architect Stavros Stavrides challenges the assumption that contemporary cities are now reduced to extensions of financial capitalism, with common spaces and working-class neighborhoods giving way to large verticalized offices. Stavros’ thesis is that there remain “possibilities of resistance” in the city context. Is Babylon one such possibility?
Babylon is an experiment that has no predictable outcome. Being an ongoing project and in intention collective, is an open challenge. We live in a historical moment dominated by Narcissus and contemporary art is an extremely individualistic and competitive field. It is complex for emerging artists to overcome custom and reshape the aspiration, or rather, the compulsion for individual visibility through collective practices. There is disaccustomedness to working together and distrust of experimenting with different operation modes, but many have been able to grasp the potential inherent in Babylon, triggering long-term, collectively activating processes that it would be desirable if they could survive the exhibition.

Alessia Baranello


exhibition project from an idea by Joykix and Rossella Moratto
with the participation of Roberto Casti, Marco Cesari, Lucrezia Costa, Francesco Fossati, Joykix, Lorenzo Lunghi, Rebecca Mari, Matteo Urbani, Danilo Vuolo / Compostpunk, Vincenzo Zancana and activations Agenzia X, Scuola Nomade, WURMKOS
curated by spazioSERRA
critical text by Deborah Maggiolo e Piermario De Angelis
stazione Lancetti del Passante ferroviario, Milano
Finissage: Friday, Oct. 27, 7 p.m., Unknown, performance by  Danilo Vuolo//Compostpunk


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