What Story Does Milan's Street Art Scene Tell Us?

Editorial Feature

By Google Arts & Culture

Dog (2000/2012) by PaoRainlab

Rainlab’s Giancarlo Pace on the impact street art has all over the city 

Rainlab is a cultural non-profit organization based in Milan, Italy. Its projects center around arts, new media, and social innovation and it often puts on exhibitions, street art tours, and much more. The organization’s overall ethos of investigating contemporary issues, unseen connections, and new interactions between art and society has allowed it to work on an array of projects, including joining up forces with Google Arts & Culture. In 2016, for instance Rainlab published a digital collection on Google Arts & Culture, and captured 150 works of Street Art from the city of Milan.

Rainlab is headed up by Giancarlo Pace and over the years he has become a champion of Milan’s vibrant street art. Believing that street art is like a constant conversation between the city, the artists, and the public, here he explains his definition of the art form and the role it plays in urban regeneration.

Dog by Pao (From the collection of Rainlab)

How can we define Street Art?

Before talking about street art, I’d talk about art, which is already difficult to define and impossible to objectify. From my personal point of view, art is communication; it is the transmission of a voluntary message from a subject to another, through a sign. Street art, in this definition, fits as a context attribution to the artistic message, but rather this dialogue takes place in the streets, public, and free space.

How is street art perceived in the context of a city such as Milan?

Milan has always been a city open to diversity, both for its cosmopolitan nature and for having been the target of consistent migratory flows in the last century. This mixed identity couldn’t be a better place for unconventional art forms. Therefore, while at first it was met with a bit of diffidence, with growing interest street art has started to be accepted all over the city. In any case, some paradoxes are still there, such as when the artistic expression clashes with the principles of private property and public good. In this sense I think the public administrations are working towards opening the dialogue that, when achieved, can only bring great results for both parties.

Untitled (2010 - 2015) by ZedzRainlab

Untitled by Zedz (From the collection of Rainlab)

Pac-Man (2015 - 2015) by PaoRainlab

Pac-Man by Pao (From the collection of Rainlab)

What do you feel is the role of street art in urban regeneration? Can you think of an example of a street art project that impacted the city?

The examples of urban regeneration thanks to street art are many. Just think about the Raval in Barcelona, or the Kalsa neighborhood in Palermo, where the re-appropriation of the space as a public wall of communication has given impulse to true cultural city revolutions. An example closer to home, is the case of the area between via Padova and viale Monza in Milan, an area where the warmth of the population clashes with the greyness of the buildings brought up too fast in the 50s. The presence of an elevated railway, as in many other Italian and European cities, meant the area around it was left abandoned and overgrown.

Below the railway there is a pedestrian passageway that connects two big areas of the north-west of the city. This passageway was rarely used by the inhabitants of the two areas but since 2016, various initiatives between Municipality, sponsors, and artists, have brought the area back to life, especially with the creation of LoopFest (a street art festival). The festival, has brought people back to the area and has seen adjacent spaces open with new shops, providing a better quality of life for the neighborhood.

Partisan women (2013 - 2013) by FrodeRainlab

Partisan woman by Frode (From the collection of Rainlab)

Atlas (2010 - 2014) by Clet AbrahamRainlab

Atlas by Clet Abraham (From the collection of Rainlab)

What do you feel is the political and societal importance of Street Art in Milan today?

Street art, unlike other artistic forms, has the advantage of being free. It doesn’t have to follow the taste or expectations of art critics or the public, it doesn’t have to be high-end, and doesn’t fear judgment. For these reasons it is a genuine form of art, and as such it has the ability to be direct and disruptive towards mass culture, without becoming banal.

For me, street art conquered an expressive form and created a means of communication, which is difficult to do. The art form has stimulated the imaginations and the ideas of those who want to take part and interact with it. You can always start a conversation about street art even with someone who feels like they don’t know anything about the art world – this doesn’t always happen when you talk about Michelangelo or Canova.

What fascinates me is this democratic perception of street art, this idea that anybody can confront themselves with it and over time I hope that this kind of dialogue can be applied to all kinds of art, erasing the concept that only the elite can talk about it. Street art can help to give back a political and social role to art that for too long has not been recognised.

Arnold (2015 - 2015) by ZibeRainlab

Arnold by Zibe (From the collection of Rainlab)

Torakiki (2013 - 2013) by PaoRainlab

Torakiki by Pao (From the collection of Rainlab)

What role does Street Art play on requalification projects and on citizens in general?

Some years ago we filmed a short documentary on street art perception from the citizens’ point of view. During filming, by talking with the artists, we learned that the population is much more open to dialogue of what street art can be, and that many times we take past opinions at face value, despite the reality that they’re not as widely believed today. For example, the requalification of the abandoned and downtrodden areas through street art is not only seen as an acceptable solution but almost as a natural evolution of them, channeling the desire of free expression from one side and the necessity of an aesthetic revolution on the other. Of course, this does not mean that street art has to be only applied to help save damaged walls, but I like to imagine the city as a notebook where artists’ hands fill the empty spaces between buildings with signs and messages that give a new meaning to the urban fabric.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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