The "Palermo Atlas" was announced in the newly reopened Teatro Garibaldi that will be used as a temporary Manifesta 12 office and cultural hub with screenings, talks an cafes in the months before next year's opening.


With his interdisciplinary expertise and complex, but practical thought process, Italian architect and OMA partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli is immersed in cutting-edge design.

Heading up OMA’s urban study of Palermo, Italy, for the upcoming Manifesta 12, Laparelli launched the “Palermo Atlas” last weekend that aims to extend the life of a nomadic art biennial by creating a sustainable platform for social change. Following the premise that there is no one way to define Sicily’s capital city, Laperelli is taking the long view as he often does with clients such as Prada. The urban study is meant to double as a blueprint for Palermo to map out its future and social change long after the art crowd has dispersed. Recruiting an architectural firm like Rem Koolhaas’ OMA was a first for Manifesta, the European Nomadic Biennial, that bows in the capital city in June 2018.

Palermo’s Mayor Leoluca Orlando, Manifesta director Hedwig Fijen and Laparelli spelled out the game plan over the weekend. Striving to expand audiences’ interest beyond contemporary art, the aim is to imagine the future of their city and unlock potential with the help of residents and local grassroots organization. Laparelli said in an interview, “We looked at Palermo as a way to tell the story of a larger region, maybe of Europe and the world as a whole. There are some conditions of Palermo that are in a way representative of specific conflicts related to the current state of globalization. In Palermo, these conflicts are very evident — the simultaneous influence of the refugee crisis and a very intense tourist exploitation.”

In addition to heading up OMA’s role as the Manifesta 12 team for urban studies, Laparelli, an OMA partner who specializes in preservation, scenography and curation, is also pitching in as a creative mediator along with Dutch filmmaker and journalist Bregtje van der Haak; Spanish artist, architect and scholar Andrés Jaque, and Swiss contemporary art curator Mirjam Varadinis. Manifesta’s multidisciplinary team aims to address more issues at once and to try to question the dominant identity of the biennial by inviting people who are not explicitly active. From a more urban standpoint, Manifesta will try in certain areas to reopen the city toward the sea or revitalize some of the numerous abandoned buildings in its center, he said.

His purposeful approach was highlighted orchestrating La Rinascente’s “IR100-Rinascente: Stories of Innovation,” an exhibition rooted in the department store’s century-long creative history that is on view through Sept. 24 at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. As for Prada, he described it as “a very osmotic process. When we work on fashion shows [set design], there is not really a brief that is given to us. We start season-after-season by proposing some initial concepts about the stage sets. Normally, these concepts can be very abstract. They normally refer to a specific idea or to a man or a woman in a specific context. Sometimes we refer to movies, theater or literature and so on,” Laparelli said. “The project really unfolds as a dialogue between us, OMA, and the team led by Miuccia Prada at Prada. In a way, that is a beautiful thing to work with another creative company because in the end the project is really masterminded on two sides, and not a monologue from on side to the other.”

The OMA team does not worry about how the crowd may or may not respond. “The way that people will perceive the project is very useful for us to consider, but it is not a limit in any case. In other words we are not avoiding making any decisions because we are too afraid or concerned that the audience might react critically or not,” Laparelli said.

Intrigued by people or artists who try to map out or represent the crucial conditions of our times, he is even more interested in “those people who are trying to work on their representation or aestheticization of those networks that we depend on but we are not really able to interfere with,” pointing to James Bridle and Trevor Paglan, a geographer/artist whose oeuvre explores networks and security systems as examples. “I’m a big fan of Forensic Architecture, the London-based team of filmmakers, lawyers, architects and other experts solving extremely complex cases in the Middle East and throughout the world through spatial and architectural analogies,”Laparelli said, describing the group’s “fantastic” piece at Kassel 14. The piece focuses on an investigation of the murder of Halit Yozgat, who was killed in Kassel in 2006.

“Constantly in contact” with people who are “very seriously reporting about the refugee crisis,” Laparelli singled out Francesco Bellina and Wolfgang Tillmans as other favorites. “I am much more attracted to people who are really researching conditions on the ground than people who work for galleries or museums,” he added.

Another cause-related effort is the extension of PANDA, which OMA and Bengler debuted at last year’s Oslo Architecture Triennale. The conceptual project, which was imagined as an app, was created “almost like a character,” to offer the service tools for social empowerment, Laparelli said. There have been at least 450 documented cases of unrest — riots, protests, whatever you want to call it — against the sharing economy such as taxi drivers rioting against Uber in 2006 or activists challenging Airbnb. “We developed the space in which the company would operate, not as a counterculture project but as a business project that would also be scalable and therefore more effective. It was all speculation on the impact of the sharing economy.”

Although the intention is to have a chapter two to the project, nothing definitive is currently in the works. One option would be to write the script about a fictional episode about PANDA and the second one would be to actually turn it into a real project.

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