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Excavating New Futures: The Cairano 7x Experience

Excavating New Futures: The Cairano 7x Experience

Laura E. Ruberto (July 4, 2009)
Cairano 7x Poster
Cairano 7x

An ambitious week-long event in a small village in the province of Avellino crossed many boundaries and suggested many new possibilities.



I’ve written before on i-italy about Cairano and the area of Alta Irpinia—it’s a part of Italy familiar to me first because my father was born and raised in Cairano, second because I worked on a six-month ethnographic research project in the area a few years ago.


June 22-28, 2009 the hilltop town held its first Cairano 7x: Paesi/Paesaggi/Paesologia
encounter, seven days of music, theater, academic lectures, readings, archeology and architecture tours and educational projects, photography, film, local/(slow) food tastings, and lots of inspiring conversation and creative exchange.

Most who know anything about Cairano were surprised to learn that such an event was being organized here—even I, with my U.S.-Italian American Studies background and personal connection to the place,was skeptical, especially when I saw the impressive lineup of particpants (internationally recognized architects, archeologists, cultural studies professors, writers, photojournalists, musicians, and artists—including the likes of Mario Dondero, Fabrizio Caròla, Mauro Minervino, Ian Chambers, Lidia Curti, Franco Arminio, and others noted below ).

Cairano, a village of fewer than 400, is the smallest village in landlocked Alta Irpinia, in the province of Avellino. That the village sits on a curvacious mountaintop, about 750 meters above sea level, also makes it one of the most visually striking Irpinia villages. In the area, many folks know Cairano by name—and indeed even orient themselves according to its position overlooking the Ofanto River and Conza della Campania—but few ever have a reason to visit.

And yet people came. And although fraught with glitches, as any large, first-time event would be, Cairano 7x was a big success. It was an occassion for a variety of people—both from the area and well beyond—to participate in a series of encounters (for lack of a better word) that encouraged reflection, both in theoretical and practical terms, on the possibilities for an economically depressed and culturally rich space such as Irpinia. Much of the week was devoted to considering forward-thinking ways to address sustainable and creative development, initiatives that could benefit the existing population, the land, and the history of Irpinia itself.

The population spike transformed the feel of the town, as did some remarkable physical changes. For example, the Albero Vagabondo, an installation made by Giovanni Spiniello from found garbage, took root for the week with help from local children. Indeed, ecology, space, biodiversity, and a general green sensibility formed an important thread in the week’s program.
And not all the physical changes were fleeting. A brick cupola, designed and constructed by a group of architects and engineers, sprouted up over the course of the week. (Well, it wasn’t finished, but plans are in place to complete it soon.) The cupola evokes Cairano’s geographical hump and offers striking views of the vast fields below, known as Il Formicoso, an area of the countryside the government plans to make into a garbage dump (to the great worry of many in the area).
Cairano 7x at the Formicoso

Building the cupola, early in the week
One concern of some of the organizers and participants—many of whom first came together as the Comunità Provvisoria—was how to connect the participants coming from outside Cairano with the Cairanesi. There were a number of exchanges and activities that seemed particularly successful in making such connections.

The Giardino in movimento (quickly nicknamed the Giardino nelle grotte)—led in part by Mario Festa and others of the group + a SUD—is a public garden created by reclaming a few unused cellars built into the sides of the hillside and abandoned from emigration and/or the 1980 earthquake. Part of the garden was a space improvisationally called the Museo provvisorio, a wonderful display of found objects excavated under the guidance of local archeologists, including Elda Martino. Both projects illustrate the creative ways individuals who came from outside of Cairano connected with the village itself and the people who reside in it.
Archeological Display at the Giardino
(poor quality photo, mea culpa)

By the end of the week the Giardino had become a meeting place, not just for the 7x participants but for the entire village—best illustrated, for me at least, by the closing performance by Vinicio Capossela. The performance was announced only locally (and very quietly at that). Capossela, whose family comes from nearby Calitri and Andretta, had been in town for the most of the week’s events and had read earlier in the week from his recently published  In clandestinità. But Sunday evening, shortly after sunset, he read from an unpublished piece about Cairano (il paese dei coppoloni, as he fondly reminded us all) and vicinity. Then he sang interpretations of traditional folk songs, starting with a few inspired by Matteo Salvatore, and all of which evoke the area’s history of emigration, labor disputes, and uniquely southern joy and malaise.

Another exchange between locals and outsiders that I found particularly fruitful was the performance/conceptual art piece by Alessandra Cianelli and Cinzia Sarto. Their piece, “De-riva/Shoes” started with the inter-twining the idea of movement, space, and women’s lives. They entered the village wearing smocks they had imprinted with the map of the town and they then went around Cairano throughout the week asking women for old pieces of fabric. From these pieces they sewed a kind of quilt, the center being a piece of white cotton with the map of the town drawn on it. Cianelli and Sarto also used found objects—especially old shoes and a discarded bed—to create a short video inspired by their conversations with Cairanese women. (The four-minute video will be available to view online shortly.)
 One of the smocks with Cairano map imprinted on it
(on display outside of one of the reclaimed cellars)

There were many other significant events, readings, screenings, performances, conversations, and personal and public exchanges. I’ve left a lot out—including my own presentation of a soon-to-be published memoir by my Cairanese grandmother about Cairano and her emigration to the U.S. But it would be impossble, and in any case very dull reading, to list everyone here. It’s also consistent with the open-ended meridionale spirit of the event to leave things unsaid, unfinished, indeed, as free-flowing as the tarantelle played by Cairanese Zi’ Carminuccio through-out the week.

Visit the Cairano 7x webpage for photos, videos, blogs, etc. And look out for next year’s Cairano 7x. Antonella Zarrilli's video of Cairano 7x offers a good sense of the feel and style of the week's events.
(Although I am leaving many people out, I would like to acknowledge the work of some of the main organizers of the event, listed here alphabetically: Franco Arminio, Luca Battista, Luigi D’Angelis, Agostino della Gatta, Antonio Luongo, Elda Martino, and Angelo Verderosa. The event was also supported in great part by Franco Dragone, the Pro Loco of Cairano, other individuals and entities, and countless volunteer hours.)


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