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THE DIVINE COMEDY-Museum of Technology & 2oth Century Art At Rifredi Florence

Part 2 Project 2003
Jacques Dahan
Kingston University Kingston | UK
In my project I have been investigating the relationship between art and technology, considering the ruins of 19th and 20th century industrial technology as being the subconscious or guilty conscience of the modern city exposed to us by artists.

Firstly, Aldwych train station in London is the 'underground' to urban life and appropriately the setting for new art forms and events informed by new technologies. My proposed exhibition space is for the display of digital film, light installation and new media. It implies that as one form of technology dies it makes space for another, which can inhabit the same physical territory and the same site in our psyche.

Secondly, the tunnels of the defunct Galileo lens factory in the Rifredi suburb of Florence express the violence of modern optics. Having pre-existed as the shooting ranges for killing machines made on the site, the gallery is a way to explore the relationship between art and violence and repression. The building allows an encounter with these deep subterranean forces that are mysterious and haunting. On the surface the building presents the image of a ghost town modertade by the fruit trees and gardens, spaces for recreation and pleasure which still however suggest a sinister underworld. It evokes a similar sensation to that created in the first scene of Blue Velvet by David lynch, where the view of someone cutting the grass of a suburban garden slowly focuses-in on the grass and the savagery of the natural world and insect kingdom below the tranquil surface.

Villas situated on the edges of cities traditionally housed art in an intense relationship with cultivated natural settings. Architecture decays and ruins in a theatrical manner. Distinctions between artifice and pragmatics are questioned, and my project responds to the history of Florentine villas and gardens, and also to its literary landscape. Dante's Paradise and the Inferno are evoked in this populist setting for festive and daily life. My city landscape and the galleries below are designed to be instructive and didactic like utopian stories. My project is designed to provoke comments and use and mis-use both from the curators, artist visitors and the general public. It is also a meditation upon the capacity of art and culture to repair damage and to make us laugh.

Jacques Dahan

As well as his design excellence, his dissertation, an enquiry into the political uses of town planning in his native Israel, is also submitted to RIBA student prizes.

He approaches design with a similar seriousness and his art gallery in Florence is inspired by the relationship artists had with technology in the 20th century. His study of the disused Aldwych tube station and its current creative misuse as art space informed his investigation into the pathology of Rifredi. The place of technology in the landscapes of De Chirico inspired also a sense of the recent past which haunts the exchange between architects, artists and cities such as Bilbao and Liverpool, where galleries hope to revive and redeem dead industrial buildings. The site is a live proposition for a gallery of contemporary and modern art in the 19th century industrial new town of Florence. A derelict optics warehouse is awaiting funding for conversion into art space, and he attended consultation meetings between the local residents, architects and curators who are attempting together to make the development relevant not only as a tourist's attraction, but also a vital space for art and for locals. This experience led him to consider the function of the memory of the building locally and the connections between industry and trade unionism as well as the influence of technology upon 20th century art and politics, especially the Italian context of Futurism, fascism and arte povera, etc.

His design proposal re-uses basements which were designed as firing ranges for the testing of the factory's lenses, as site specific galleries which artists would be commissioned to work in. The temporary and permanent collections co-exist within a sunken topography of darkened rooms, illuminated with artificial light from deep triangulated concrete waffle slab ceilings. This subterranean world sits beneath and sometimes pops up onto a public piazza, which provides spaces for the adjoining university buildings to inhabit casually as well as for trade and domestic life to commingle. The large piazza is shaded from midday sun by a cluster of deciduous trees creating a pleasant venue for lunch, and in other parts is planted with grasses and herbs making an evening garden. The looming towers provide access to the various parts of the arts complex-the theatre and galleries and library are all interconnected below ground but appear as enigmatic figures grouped around the piazza. The sense of mystery and the complex oddness that they evoke, refers not only to the secret spaces within and under the ground, but also to the tradition of ruination, which pervades artistic and architectural visions of decrepitude and history. From Piranesi to Tarkovsky via De Chirico, strangely ambivalent scales of comprehension and identity characterize artists' visions of the cities. The strangeness of artworks and their uneasy relationship with everyday experiences is here exaggerated and made slightly sinister and mock comic, faux-tragic. Post-modern ideas about the necropolis, and the close-by buildings by Gregotti, are taken less than seriously and the pomposity of much Italian urbanism is made less overbearing through humour.

Through increasingly detailed models he discovered the potential of technology and design to bring to appearance spaces of charge and tension. Spaces which resonate with the art he placed into them. His architecture is emphatic and catalytic and engages all the senses.

For a profoundly talented form-maker, he is also a proper critic, interested in the connections between things. He is ambitious enough to take on the true architect's job in unearthing connections and revealing meanings in artifacts, tangible in spatial experiences. His project culminated with an end-of-year exhibition, which he curated at Aldwych station. Architecture and art and critics and friends danced away 'til dawn in the disused ticket hall and scared the rats down on the stairs below.

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