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Envisaging L'Aquila
edited by Alessandro Coppola

Terraproject – New Towns

Caption. Lorenzo Francesconi, inhabitant of Cassignano. On the background the falling church of Cassignano.

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TerraProject is a collective of Italian documentary photographers founded in Florence in 2006. Its founding members are Michele Borzoni, Simone Donati, Pietro Paolini and Rocco Rorandelli.

In New Towns, TerraProject have explored four Italian new towns, built in the aftermath of major catastrophes: Conza della Campania, hit by an earthquake in 1980; Gibellina, hit by an earthquake in 1968; Vajont, destroyed by a dam collapse in 1963; and Sarno, partially destroyed by a landslide in 1998.

The new towns explored in this project were built chiefly to resettle displaced local population. The New Towns project was launched in 2009, just after L’Aquila earthquake, when the by-then Prime Minister Berlusconi announced that a series of new settlements would have been built to relocate the population hit by the earthquake.

The powerful images by TerraProject, featuring both landscape and portraits, capture that particularly unsettled feeling of a territory that has undergone a major break point in its becoming. In between and old environment now in ruins and new buildings without an identity, a sense of catastrophe still looms large. For all major accident is a test for the social fabric of a community, as well as a test for the local and national political system.

Italy is a country where real estate has played an abnormal role in economic development. It is consequently not surprising that in quite a few cases, the special emergency regulations passed after a catastrophic event and concerning rebuilding activities, have been ruthlessly exploited to boost the real estate sector, feeding a whole circuit of speculation, leaving behind a landscape of quick-and-dirty reconstruction, of barracks and tent cities, of sometimes overblown, sometime only sketched and abandoned concrete structures.

Before this cynic design stands the human element, the displaced inhabitant, whose experienced and living trauma emerges from TerraProject’s images as a veritable testimony of dignity. There is no miserableness whatsoever in this representation, rather, it seems, an admonition about keeping it real when it comes to take into account what really matters before major, whether natural or human-caused, catastrophes, and when it ultimately comes to not simply respond to them, but also to redress their heritage at a human scale.

If territory always entails forms of attachment and intimacy with places, then the accident can be conceived of as a form of violent estrangement. If so, what Georg Simmel used to write about the stranger could be applied also to the uniquely dramatic case of native inhabitants forcefully removed from their territory: “distance means that he, who is close by, is far, and strangeness means that he, who also is far, is actually near … The stranger is close to us, insofar as we feel between him and ourselves common features of a national, social, occupational, or generally human, nature. He is far from us, insofar as these common features extend beyond him or us, and connect us only because they connect a great many people”. Those people – we should begin to familiarize ourselves with this idea – are nonetheless us.

More information about at TerraProject : http://www.terraproject.net/

Special thanks to Mariasole Ariot for making the connection with TerraProject

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