The public art project developed by Parsec in collaboration with Andrea Gianfanti for the space in front of the entrance to the Department of Business Sciences at the University of Bologna – located at 34 Via Capo di Lucca – intends to investigate, through different creative solutions, how the narrative of public space changes according to the different ways in which it interacts with urban surfaces.

The intention of the project is to listen, evaluate and understand – by means of ethnographic observation and analysis – the relationship created between the interventions presented and the different possible forms of creative interaction. 
Thus, the artistic interventions that will be realised aim at a constructive dialogue with all those who feel the need to express themselves within that space. The project proposes a genuine dialogue between the public space and the people who cross it, creating a dynamic device that stimulates continuous and active participation together with a reflection on the different images. Therefore, the aim is not to erase or limit previous forms of street art because they are less worthy than the ones proposed, but to become active participants. We therefore propose a site-specific public art intervention that opens an interesting dialogue on the perception, reaction and re-manipulation of images today. We reflect on three types of images that are different but equally present in our everyday lives: the cuteness of the post-internet era, the anthropocentric representation of climate change and the search, through play, for parallel realities.

1. The cuteness of the post-internet era
Different implications of the cuteness in images

The first action involves the installation of kittens’ pictures. Tim Berners-Lee himself, creator of the World Wide Web, when asked what an unexpected use of the Internet was, replied with this word: ‘kittens’. Especially thanks to social networks, memes, stickers and emoji’s, cats, like other animals, are images that we are often subjected to in our daily lives and that cause us a temporary sense of comfort and lightness that fits in well with the anxiety and constant worries we are constantly subjected to.

Cuteness, as it was recently defined by the philosopher Simon May in his book The power of cute (Princeton University Press, 2019, translated in Italian Carino! Il potere inquietante delle cose adorabili, by Luiss University Press, 2021), is a ubiquitous element in the post-internet era, and its everyday prevalence is accentuated by its apparent innocence. Because of its aesthetic flexibility, the cute can easily mix with the grotesque and the disturbing, making its manifestations often destabilising.

Claire Catterall, curator of the CUTE exhibition on this theme at Somerset House in London in 2019, states: 

Cuteness is undoubtedly the most prominent aesthetic of our time. […] As it saturates our digitally mediated age, tenderness nurtures and propels us in ways that suggest there is more to it than its adorable and seemingly innocuous exterior might imply. Morally ambiguous and sometimes paradoxical, its power lies not only in its ability to challenge the norm, but to transform it.

The aim of this action is therefore to reflect on the various implications of cuteness, observing the interaction that kitten images can suggest.
The cuteness of contemporary imagery originates directly from the Japanese Kawaii culture, which achieved worldwide fame in the 1990s thanks to manga and anime. In Japan, Kawaii has taken on an identity and revolutionary role, opposing conservative social norms. In spite of its more subversive component, cuteness is easily exploited by the neo-liberal system, since its power lies in the pleasantness of the superficial message it proposes: make everything better, more beautiful, funnier and cuter. The images proposed, however, are often superficial and anaesthetising, thus expressing the power of systemic control linked today to the digital image. Cute is thus not only presented as a consumer aesthetic, but possesses multiple potentials – both practical and theoretical – useful for addressing fundamental issues in our constantly unstable society.

2. The anthropocentric representation of climate change
Aesthetisation of the Anthropocene: how the problem of pollution in the Po Valley becomes an abstraction.

The second work is an abstract image derived from satellite photographs of what is actually the largest abstract landscape in Italy: the Po Valley. 

The landscape of the Po Valley today presents vegetation consisting mainly of cereals, plants for animal feed, which are mainly intensively reared, and fruit trees. It is a landscape in which herbaceous vegetation prevails over tree vegetation, resembling a kind of ‘cereal steppe’, a man-made environment, very different from the pre-existing natural one. During its expansion, dense forests consisting of trees of different species formed on the plain. With the economic and social upswing of the area, a definitive deforestation began, accompanied by a massive and incessant building up of the land. By the 19th century, nothing remained of the old forest and the landscape was now artificial, not too dissimilar from what we see today. Today, very few remnants of the original forest cover remain: what you see is the largest artificial landscape in Italy. 

‘Impossible to live like this: Italy’s Po Valley affected by some of the worst air pollution in Europe’: this was the headline of an article in The Guardian introducing a study according to which the local population, particularly the people of Cremona, claim that life is becoming unbearable due to pollution caused by industry, cars and farm animal waste.
Thus, a ‘dragon of fog’ emerges above the Po Valley in the image of the Sentinel-3 satellite of the European Copernicus programme captured on Monday 29 January 2024. The image shows the sea of fog taking on this curious shape, with the ‘eye’ on Milan generated by the city’s heat island and the whitewashed Alps. 

As anthropologist Tim Ingold writes:

 The significance of the image of the globe in the language of contemporary environmental debate is problematic precisely because it renders the world as an object of contemplation detached from the realm of lived experience.

The intention of this action is therefore to question the visual culture of landscape and climate crisis today, and the detachment that may result from its very mode of representation. Dragons of fog, as well as coloured patches resulting from the processing of a large volume of data, are today the most common visual representations of the consequences of deforestation, intensive farming, monocultures, massive industrialisation, land and water pollution, and ultimately climate change. The intervention suggests paying attention to the only figurative details of this abstract landscape: the Google Maps markers, which only identify farms, factories, cereals, gas pumps, and gastronomic tourism. 

Art historian T.J. Demos, reflecting on the use of photography and images today, asks:

How can we convert slow-moving, long-lasting disasters into images and narratives? How can we turn these long emergencies into stories dramatic enough to arouse public feeling?

The term Anthropocene derives from the Greek ‘anthropos,’ meaning ‘man’ or ‘human being,’ indicating, in a way that can be described as simplistic, that it is all human activities that are responsible for this new geological epoch. However, the activities represented by these images are not really ‘human’ in the general sense, but are mainly those of industry. The rhetoric of the Anthropocene thus often universalises responsibility, allowing the state and corporate complex to avoid being held responsible for the various impacts of climate change. 

We therefore question how this mechanism of disavowal works, proposing two satellite images of our territory, but suggesting a possibility of interaction through specific placeholders, critically revisited, to highlight the impact of the main authors of the proposed image. 

3. Public art and community: how play can subvert space
The search, through play, for parallel realities

The third intervention was commissioned to the Mexican artist Tiz Creel who, by proposing three different wall games, intends to activate public space by stimulating the creation of new imaginaries and parallel realities. Starting from traditional elements of our visual culture linked to games, the artist proposes their transformation and subversion, revisiting them with iconic images of the city of Bologna. Life is like a gioco dell’oca –  game of the goose -, there is a time to throw and one to pick up, time becomes an illusion and fiction creates a new reality. 

For Creel, anyone can play at any time. The intention is precisely to create a utopian community that, through the transformation of play, can re-appropriate space – what if we took time to look at each other, to be together, to make community? 

Play is, in fact, one of the characteristics of all of Tiz Creel’s work. She sees it as the foundation of learning, creativity, discovery, self-expression and constructive problem-solving. Play is not only about achieving a specific goal, but also about enjoying the process and learning from it. Plato himself defined play as a metaphor for the life of individuals, and Aristotle saw it as connected to virtue, being free, self-sufficient and not constituted by a specific necessity, as is the case with work.

Play, according to Creel, helps us pursue a higher interest in the things around us: when we play, we fully engage with life and its contents to discover the deeper truths in ordinary things.

All three interventions with the multiple interactions that took place have been constantly observed, documented and will make up a publication that will be presented at the end of the project and that will recount the dialogue that took place, with all its facets. 

Photo credits: Adrian Lungu /