Le Petit Jeu

An interview with Milan-based curator, Michele D'Aurizio


Founded in 2011 as a contemporary art space, Gasconade, today, is a Milan-based collective of young artists, curators and critics. Over the past few months they have been meeting at Bocconi University, working collectively towards a novel that will recount, among other things, Milan’s contemporary art scene. Gasconade is a hybrid format that has evolved over the years. Its objective is clear: to make sense of Milan, or rather to experience the city to its fullest, to understand it and to squeeze out and absorb all it has to give.

Interviewing Michele D’Aurizio, Gasconade’s curator, I realized that my questions began to incorporate pirate terms. And this is in fact how I envision this group: as a crew of genius pirates (the name Gasconade, in fact, derives from the word guascone, a term that refers to someone who is adventurous, fearless and daring– a swagger) navigating in full sail towards the horizon.

But let us stay ashore and turn to the interview.

Clara Mazzoleni: What moved you from the Abruzzo region, where you grew up, to become a student in Milan, and then to very quickly evolve into one of the city’s most active young curators, a magnet for Milanese artistic energies?
Michele D’Aurizio:
My parents brought me up idolizing Milan. We traveled here regularly, often during the Salone del Mobile, Milan’s design fair, because we all saw my future in architecture or design. And indeed, I studied industrial design at the Politecnico in Milan, which I didn’t particularly like — the Politecnico, that is. At a certain moment, I came to fear that  my creativity had withered in this restrictive educational environment, which aimed to wed creativity with industry. For years and years, I had felt rather ‘special,’ and now suddenly I was being remodeled into a ‘project technician.’ So that’s when I decided that art seemed like a freer territory and moved to the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (NABA).

That’s where you studied to become a curator. How did you move from theory to practice?
While I was at NABA I worked for a few Milan-based magazines, first Mousse and then Kaleidoscope. Paradoxically, as my familiarity with the international art scene grew through my work at the magazines, my interest in local art ripened, especially in that of my peers. As a result, I founded Gasconade, which between 2011 and 2014 hosted exhibitions of emergent Milanese artists as well as international artists of the same generation. At Gasconade, my vision of curating began with a militant commitment to local art, which today has been enriched by a sort of empathy towards the artists with whom I collaborate. They’re like family to me.

Today, the space no longer exists. It has evolved into a new kind of platform, or rather into a writing workshop: weekly, I meet with artist friends, critics and curators, all of which orbited around the space. Together, we are writing a novel about us, about the Gasconade experience, and about Milan.

At Gasconade, my vision of curating began with a militant commitment to local art, which today has been enriched by a sort of empathy towards the artists with whom I collaborate.

I participated in the public gatherings organized at Bocconi and I listened to you read a few texts. Milan is captured through its tics/repetitions and its metamorphoses. The chaotic and efficient Milan of the morning, the sensual–yet no less crazed–Milan of the evening, and many other hidden Milans that are invisible to most people. And then there are the art shows, there’s the money, the sex, the parties, the music, work, as well as returning to the provinces, family life and the advantages that come with adopting the role of a young artist today. Will ‘Le Petit Jeu’ be the title of the novel or is that just how you like to define what you are doing?
‘Le Petit Jeu’ is our working title. The expression doesn’t reference the endeavor of writing a novel; rather, it is about using one’s wits to navigate the art world — or rather, the ingenuity it takes to navigate and secure a place within the art world. Essentially, this is what we did with Gasconade. The space’s program was entirely financed by renting out my studio apartment on Airbnb, which meant I crashed with my artist friends.

A product of team-work.
It had to be. But this experience was not a grosse fatigue, because in a certain sense we had already internalized its eventual failure. And so it was more of a divertissement. A game of Risk. It was our answer to what Corrado Levi in the ‘80s called “the giant slalom.” While sports-metaphors have never been relevant to us, what we share with that vision is a desire to investigate the reasons behind art-making in the midst of all the nonsense that surrounds us. Therefore, if you ask yourself what it is, at the end of the day, that all that striving for a place has given you, the answer is a ‘us.’ Essentially, the novel wants to do this: to illustrate how, against the backdrop of a project space, a community was born.

A community of people in Milan, even though some sections of ‘Le Petit Jeu’ take place elsewhere: an artist returns to his hometown; another one goes on a trip; it spans all of Italy from the industrial North to Sicily. These intervals convey the image of a city that is lively and vibrant, a nucleus from which to leave as well as to return. If you were to draw a map of “your Milan,” which places and neighborhoods would you highlight?
The space that housed Gasconade was in Porta Venezia, which is the neighborhood I live in today, and where several artist friends live. In the past, several members of the group lived in Dergano, which is perhaps the other great arena of our community’s everyday life. One of my best friends is from QT8; and this neighborhood also has a role in our story. If Dergano was the site of production at the periphery, and Porta Venezia the ‘exhibition space’ at the center, then QT8 was something else all together — a utopian project, which became for us, even just for an afternoon, our Monte Verità. All that is to say that even just five years ago, we believed that the space could not be anywhere except in the city center. We were young and still reading the city according to that kind of Modernist schema, which was maybe a bit provincial. Now that Milan is once again a focal point in the global art world, the dichotomy between center and periphery has lost its meaning.

Yeah, it’s enough to think of the Prada Foundation in Largo Isarco.
And not just that. Some artist and curator friends have opened project spaces ‘far’ from the center — I am thinking of Armada in the Bovisa area and Fanta Spazio in NoLo — not necessarily with the intention of re-drawing the map of artistic production in the city, but rather in order to find great spaces. Naturally, these phenomena contribute to urban narratives: NoLo is a ‘creative’ neighborhood because it is still relatively cheap; the area south of Porta Romana station, where the Prada Foundation set up its headquarters, is conventionally the first industrial periphery to have been subjected to conversions. But Milan is such a small city…

It’s true! I returned to Milan after living in Rome for two years and now it feels so tiny.
It is small. And it is driven by the creative industry. Not to say that it is only inhabited by fashion designers, industrial designers, graphic designers, architects and artists…In the full blown neo-capitalist era we live in, one must also consider copywriters, PRs and PTs. These people want apartments, supermarkets, bars and restaurants catered to their professions and lifestyles. The processes of gentrification come hand-in-hand with Milan’s urban growth.

It’s inevitable: the so-called creative class is growing and most of these people earn very little. So they move to neighborhoods with cheap rent.
Exactly, before denouncing the processes of gentrification, it is necessary to question the productive layout of the city. It is worth observing, for example, that the social transformation taking place in a neighborhood like NoLo is certainly taking a toll on the working classes that live there, but also important to note that another proletariat generated by the creative industry has been added to it — people like me, my artist friends, and the majority of the people I know in Milan.

What you have just outlined is the map of Milan during the day: where people live, work and exhibit. What about the city by night? Thanks to its power of attraction, Porta Venezia continues to be the X, the place where the treasure is buried. The content of the chest, however, might be changing: it is no longer so much the galleries of the area that attract the creative community, as much as it is the bars (I am thinking of the Picchio, Love) and their respective sidewalks. They all gather there before the evening takes off. And then?
Night life is more difficult for me to describe. I have never been able to figure out its patterns, except that what’s in one’s pocket seems to determine what people do. Therefore people go to Love or Bar Basso depending on their budget — depending whether it contains nine or thirty euros. That’s why the night is pretty solitary. For example, one of the chapters in ‘Le Petit Jeu’ recounts how last year we organized a night at Plastic every month. I always thought it was important to explore the dance floor as a potential catalyst for community building.

‘Le Petit Jeu’ is about using one’s wits to navigate the art world — or rather, the ingenuity it takes to navigate and secure a place within the art world.

I remember that chapter … there was a beautiful description of the music. And how did it go?
It was a flop: our artist friends did not come. There are many reasons for this: Plastic is an expensive club; it’s a gay club; it’s pretty far so you need to take a taxi or Uber … and there is also the fact that, maybe, our artist friends are not that interested in clubbing.

Does it interest you?
Yes, more and more. In fact, I began to experience those nights in the club with a different community, a group that would meet, week after week, briefly, on the dance floor: people about whom I know nothing, whose names I don’t know, who I probably wouldn’t recognize on the street, and yet, with whom I can nonetheless say I have shared some emotions. These encounters have a radical meaning for me, because they are both totally contingent and generic and yet possess a high quotient of empathy.

Speaking of encounters: so far we have mapped out community spaces. Are there places  you like to go alone?
To tell the truth, I don’t like to experience the city alone. I am unable to enjoy sitting at a café absorbed in my thoughts. I can’t even go to the cinema unless I am in the company of another person. If I have to be alone, I’m alone at home… I travel a lot for work on my own. And I have learned to savor those hours of solitude because traveling always brings out heavy thoughts. So they become occasions for me to search myself.

So there is a place!
Well, if I really have to identify one place where I enjoy being by myself most, it’s the Malpensa Airport. For me it is a quintessentially Milanese place because, deep down, it’s where one participates in the exaltation of Ettore Sottsass’s irony: the awkwardness and the lapidary nature of Italian postmodern design coupled with extreme functionality. Every time, I become fixated with a detail on the floor of the departure terminal: the place where two granite surfaces, of different shades of grey, are diagonally ‘penetrated’ by a reddish granite strip. These ‘moments’ that mock the very idea of the project are purely Milanese. Indeed, they belonged to Sottsass. Now they belong to Prada.


Translated by Chiara Siravo.