Contemporary Art in a Historical Town: a New Biennale Aims at Bridging Tradition & Reimagining The Future

In Fabriano, Beauty Councillor Maura Nataloni sets the stage for Intrecci (Entanglements), the inaugural edition of Fabriano Contemporanea, the town’s new international contemporary art show. “This is an exhibition that will surprise everyone, promote change and contribute to the rebirth of the city,” Nataloni declares at the press conference, immediately sparking a discussion on whether contemporary art suits a town with a century-old cultural legacy. 

Located in the Marche region, the 31,000-strong town of Fabriano has a rich historical and artistic heritage. Its medieval center hosts an extraordinary collection of civic and religious buildings that stand out even more against the backdrop of the Apennine mountains. Historically known for paper manufacturing and later machinery production, the town has faced industrial decline in recent decades and is now pivoting towards the creative industry for economic revival, being part of the UNESCO Creative City Network since 2013. 

Under the direction of Chiara Zampetti Egidi, a Berlin-based art curator and author, Entanglements features works by international and Italian contemporary artists across two museum exhibitions and six solo projects, including various street installations that involve local communities collaborating with artists in the production process. “Art is both an experience and a way of having fun,” says Ms Zampetti Egidi, emphasizing the event’s excitement for both local residents and participating artists. According to Zampetti, Fabriano provides artists with unique spaces that inspire different ideas.

Entanglements, the title of this first edition, derives from the connection between residents and artists, as well as between the historical and the contemporary. Zampetti dismisses notions of a contemporary-classical divide in Fabriano, asserting that "contemporary arises from tradition."

Left, Luca Buvoli's installation at the 15th-century Loggiato San Francesco. Right, resident participating in site installations |  Photos Giorgio Benni

The exhibitions showcase remarkable contemporary art not commonly found off the beaten art track, outside of major art world capitals. The site-specific projects are a refreshing and fun part of the Biennale. London-based artist Be Andr’s Ora (Now) uses shop windows to display words from Fabriano residents on their personal perceptions of the city. The project repurposes 15 vacant shops providing an alternative use for a prime location resource. Interestingly, it has also prompted some owners to transform them into spontaneous art galleries and wine shops overnight. Judging by the speed in which the project has managed to trigger new actions, Now by Andr (b. 1978, Oslo) might be considered one of the fastest urban regeneration precursors in recent history. 


Be Andr, Now (Chiuso e Aperto), (2023) at Piazza del Comune | Photo Be Andr

Creatively Together, an installation by Fabriano residents with the Inside Out Project by French artist JR (b. 1983, Paris), celebrates the transformative power of creativity in building connections through 86 portraits displayed in a historical theater's cloister. The process of organizing the action, creating photos, and displaying the posters in the cloister, involves the participants coming together, strengthening their relationships. The project has brought many visitors to the cloister excited to spot familiar faces among the portraits.


JR Inside Out Project action, Creatively Together, (2023) at Teatro Gentile  | Photo Giorgio Benni for Fabriano Contemporanea

Luca Buvoli, a NYC-based multimedia artist (b. 1963, Italy), presents Flags & Flipbook (Astrodoubt Floating in Gravitational Waves), a site-specific installation within the Loggiato San Francesco, dating back to 1450. The installation, exploring the nuances of motion and time, hangs a series of flags from the arcade’s tie bars, depicting the sequential movement of an astronaut floating in space. The flipbook shows the stroboscopic sequence. However, the arcade provides a more fun way to experience the sequence by running beneath the flags, a suggestion from Buvoli himself who shared how thrilled he is to portray time theory in a Renaissance setting. 


Luca Buvoli, Flags (Astrodoubt Floating in Gravitational Waves), (2020-23) at Loggiato San Francesco | Photo Luca Buvoli

Buvoli explores his fascination with time through the Space Doubt Expedition Project, initiated in 2009 with NASA scientists. The project features Astrodoubt, a fictitious astronaut, and the 2022 video A Brief History of Time (Under Covid) –in 7 Lessons, showcased at Entanglements. This animated compilation, conceived and executed entirely by Buvoli, navigates complex scientific, philosophical, and religious ideas around the notion of time in a comic-like way. Combining colourful handmade drawings and graphics, the 13-minute video spans several years of research and creation. This effort does not get lost on the viewer. It provides a highly enjoyable and moving experience, as Mr Buvoli skillfully conveys the basics of science through visual stories.


Luca Buvoli, A Brief History of Time (Under Covid) – in 7 Lessons, (2022) at Palazzo del Podesta | Video screenshot

The show ambitiously includes Fabriano's historic buildings, such as the recently restored Montini Cinema, to show The Neon Hieroglyph, a hypnotic 20-minute video by Turner-Prize awardee Tai Shani (b. 1976 London). 


Tai Shani, The Neon Hieroglyph, (2021) at Montini Cinema | Photo Giorgio Benni for Fabriano Contemporanea

The iconic Palazzo del Podestà, a medieval building initially serving as the ruler’s office, hosts the exhibition Through the Unfolding Glass curated by Anne-Sophie Dinant. This exhibition explores various realities through the use of the camera and showcases works from artists such as Susanne Bürner (b. 1970, Ellwangen/Jagst), Mimosa Echard (b. 1986, Alès), Haris Epaminonda, Jochen Lempert, Jonas Mekas, Jean Painlevé, James Richards, Alice Theobald, and Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Remscheid).


Left Mimosa Echard, Narcisse 4 (2021) | Right Susanne Bürner, Charlotte Series (2023)

Wolfgang Tillmans, Congo Night (a) (2018)

Wolfgang Tillmans, Sao Paulo (2012)

The Biennale also features the exhibition Take It Easy, Baby. The Collector’s Lifestyle, curated by Matteo Boetti. Adding artworks from his own collection to the outstanding Guelfo collection, Boetti, son of Italian conceptual artist Alighiero e Boetti, shares first hand stories from the Italian 20th-century art scene. Through his perspective, the exhibition offers insights into the network of relationships that unfold when art becomes an integral part of one's life.


Felice Levini, Untitled (2018-2021) at Museo Guelfo

It is precisely this “network of relationships” brought forward by Boetti that this Biennale aspires to strengthen in Fabriano. By tapping into art to breathe new life into the historic setting, blending tradition and innovation, and encouraging residents to engage with their town in new and inspiring ways, the town not only transforms but also lays the foundation for a renewed sense of community. Entanglements answers the lingering question: classical or contemporary –art transcends time, becoming a bridge to a vibrant, reimagined future.

For visitors, Fabriano Contemporanea provides an enjoyable art experience, certainly due to the quality of the art and the beauty of the setting, but also because there doesn't seem to be mass tourism in Fabriano and art can be enjoyed quietly. A luxury long gone elsewhere. 


Fabriano Contemporanea, #1 Intrecci (Entanglements) | 8 September 2023 - 3 February 2024 | Fabriano (Marche), Italy

Featured Artists
by PS unless stated otherwise. Cover picture Now (Io Tu, Io Noi, Qui), 2023 by Be Andr. Photo credit Giorgio Benni, courtesy of Fabriano Contemporanea.


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