The Street Kids
Emerging artist: Mykolas Juodelė
Residency place: Latitudo Art Projects (Rome, Italy)
Curated by: Giulia Pardini
Our world is a set of rules. But who says we can’t sometimes break or bend them to meet our desires? Mykolas told us we can forget about the rules in photography – it’s a matter of inspiration, engagement, and the places we find ourselves. But we must be totally clear about one aspect that cannot be ignored: respect.
I like to start with this reflection, when I describe these intense and unconventional weeks, where we may have broken some rules, but never the rule of respect.
For this third year of MagiC Carpets, we had a strong desire to return to the Corviale. There was a sense of knowing, at least a little bit, what we would come up against, even though, in the end, one never really knows. We were attracted by the idea of being able to present the Corviale from a different, realistic viewpoint, and persuaded by the idea of involving young people and adults in a photography project.
Mykolas Juodelė, the Lithuanian photographer, won us over immediately with the power of his photos, the depth, the viewpoint free from all construction. We were struck by his attitude as a free person, a lover of travel and company. Our first meetings took place at the beginning of the year, but obviously everything came to a stop shortly after that. During March and April, when the idea of working with people and organising travels seemed very distant, we dreamed and continued to plan our project: our tenacity paid off, because in July, Mykolas was able to come to Rome to start his work.
The point of departure and common theme for the project was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Street Kids. In this text, the writer tells the story of life at the margins in the new Roman suburbs of the 1950s with extreme lucidity and realism. He paid special attention to the young people living in those neighbourhoods who (too) often had no life goals, but lived day to day. Reflecting on life in the outskirts, and having this text as a point of reference in the background, we thought that Mykolas might work with the same searching and profound eye in the Corviale: which does not mean to say that what Pasolini wrote about in the 1950s can still be found in the Corviale of 2020, of course. Instead, the desire was to approach certain issues with lucidity and naturalness, this time recounting not with words, but with the images in black and white.
Initially, when I discussed how to proceed with Mykolas, there was a very present fear of not being able to be in contact with people in the neighbourhood: MagiC Carpets projects, aimed at sociality and inclusion, seek to destroy the social barriers often created between people, but with Covid-19, we were wary of the fear which people might have in regards to interacting with us, afraid of having to respect “social distancing”, a terrible term that packs extremely profound significance into two words. Going beyond that wall of fear and shame is never easy, and is even less so in these times. We feared we wouldn’t be able to relate with people. However, this was not the case. Once again, we received the proof of how essential it is to create a network in the community and help one another.
In our research journey, we came across Laboratorio di Città Corviale (Corviale City Workshop), which played an essential role in helping us building relationships with people. During lockdown we met the head organisers and we all shared the difficulty of wanting to work with the community but not being able to do so. At that time, they were developing a “Progetto delle memorie”, and were searching for a photographer for it. In June, we picked up our conversation where we left off. Mykolas was the link between our two projects, which both aimed to show the life and people of the Corviale. With their project, devised to create a photographic archive of historical memories from the building’s fourth-floor flats, Mykolas was able to visit some of these flats and get to know their residents. The approach used by the photographer respected Laboratorio di Città’s way of working: an attentive, faithful look, without superstructures or authors, that represented the reality of daily, “normal” actions. We encountered this normality working for our MagiC Carpets project in photographing adolescents and others living in the building. This work of relationships and connections was made possible thanks in part to the help of I., who managed to fit us into the social fabric, where we would have otherwise perhaps been disliked or taken as strangers, or simply as too curious. However, even with this help, having to explain our project and its objectives wasn’t easy: I often wondered what I could say and what I should, instead leaving the things unsaid to avoid hurting the sensibilities of others. How could we put into words that we had thought of them as young people living in a difficult area, where it is very easy to get lost? Mykolas and I reflected on this quite a bit: as we worked, we had to deal with a difficult reality, which was even off-putting sometimes. Or maybe it was us, thinking that we had figured everything out when we actually hadn’t asked the right questions and had acted freely, without considering the possible reactions. But why should we have thought, speaking with young people of the same age as us, that we are different? Why underline the gap that most likely exists, but could be put aside to build a relationship based on respect? The photos that Mykolas took of both young and old residents of the Corviale provide us with a faithful portrait of the place and also show us an image of sharing, friendship and community, in a black and white representation that freezes the moment, makes it abstract and lends it an infinite depth.
In the final presentation, we thought we would combine these photographs with sounds recorded at the Corviale: this was not an easy task, because the Serpentone is frighteningly silent. Every so often, you hear music from some flat, a laugh or a child’s cry, or, if you’re lucky, a trap track sung in the amphitheatre. The more time I spend there, the more I realise that this place is a series of contradictions. There is a constant back and forth between full and empty – the overcrowded homes and the deserted corridors, where people pass through only to return home. Between silence and noise – the building is a silent place, perhaps too much so, it holds mysteries and secrets we cannot access, and the only sounds come from the countryside or the radios in the homes. Between light and shadow – behind the Corviale building, there is a wide valley and a wonderful sunset can be seen, but when the sun goes behind the hill, the shadow of this enormous building envelops everything else.
The people living in the Corviale, from the very young to the less so, are aware of the place’s struggles. They know they are often thought of as different, distant. But different from whom, far from what? Who provides the measurement for social judgement, who dictates the rung of the social ladder we look at? Why should we think we have to be on the same level? And what is the highest level? Certainly, the ideal position to see everything from above, not metaphorically but in a physical sense, is from the roof of the Corviale building, where you can sometimes hear the laughter and chatter of its inhabitants.
 The Laboratorio di Città Corviale is a project initiated in 2018 to support the project of the Corviale’s physical transformation, and of the fourth floor in particular, actions and social policies able to support subjects that are directly involved.