Milan’s empty billboards portrayed by Giovanni Hänninen

Halfway between architectural photography and social investigation, Giovanni Hänninen’s new work on the blank advertisement billboards in Milan will be hosted by Arch Week Marathon.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and neither two nor three of them probably do. But in the case of Coronavirus (net of private and personal — if not public and international — questionable initiatives), in the last few days there are also encouraging signals. End even if only time will give us definite answers, the so­–called “phase two” is going on with the best possible omens, and we are rather already asking ourselves what will remain of this long lockdown.

Photography, always a support for the memory, has the hard task of documenting not to forget. But if one of the most iconic and representative imagery typologies for this historic moment is for sure the one of deserted cities, how should photography deal with this topic without repeating itself, avoiding to add new to old images without saying anything relevant?

Giovanni Hänninen tries in his own way, with a work that is both personal and universal. The first thing that strikes in the classical and rigorous frames of “The missing piece” is obviously the whitewashed–like billboards where the advertisement campaigns usually stand: rendered useless by the lack of eyes meant to endure it, advertisement communication has shut its mouth, subtracting visual noise to an already wonderfully silent Milan. Knowing that the city is not still but rather in pause, Hänninen sees this missing piece as «a metaphor for the times we’re living in» and, again in his own words, «the search for the billboards across the whole city becomes an excuse to story–tell the life during this momentous emergency».

But the presence of scant living beings draws attention at a second glance: as in a new humanism, they are tools of measure not only for the city but for this emergency itself. And, so, for this momentous time.

Like the first swallows of the season, they tell about a city that is always moving or slowly starting to move again, but they are also witnesses to a very recent past, actually still present, «a memory for the future, a way to remember this pause even when life in our cities will be frantic again». In complementarity, the blank billboards represent a “space available” for new ideas, a metaphor for the hope that this time will give birth to a new way of living and experiencing cities and architecture.

Incidentally, it’s quite fun how many companies and corporations that use to bomb us with the images of their products, haven’t seen this moment as a chance for those exact images, filmed with drones and returned into the global system of information via the news, to become a perpetual memory for their customers in a potentially endless (and very inexpensive) advertisement loop.

Thanks to its brilliant combination of architectural photography and social–urban reportage, The missing piece will find a space of fruition as a host of the Arch Week Marathon set for this Saturday, April 16th, from 11 am to 1 pm and from 3 pm to 7 pm: with such relators as Petra Blaisse, Peter Eisenman, Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Patrik Schumacher e Kazuyo Sejima, the marathon, that will be enriched by speeches about reconstruction in post–war Milan (with professors of PoLiMi) and testimonies by city–makers active in the neighborhoods of the city (curated by Fondazione G. Feltrinelli), will digitally stand in for the usual week of events that was planned as always in Milan, and will be broadcasted on the Facebook pages of Milano Arch Week and Triennale Milano and on the YouTube channel of Triennale Milano.

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