XNL Piacenza Contemporanea

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XNL, A NEW CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS

Located in the heart of Piacenza, XNL Piacenza Contemporanea is a cultural centre devoted entirely to contemporary art, based in the Ex-Enel building belonging to the Fondazione di Piacenza e Vigevano.

XNL is the acronym for the term “Ex-Enel”, the name the historic building took on in the years following its decommissioning by the national electricity board and its acquisition by the Fondazione in the early 2000s. Having been built in 1907 to house a cardboard-box factory and a lithographic print works, it was partially renovated in 1919, when the whole complex passed into the hands of the Federazione italiana dei Consorzi Agrari, which was founded in Piacenza. The renovations gave the building its current appearance, thanks to the designs of an engineer and architect from Reggio Emilia, Guido Tirelli, who was also responsible for other highly recognisable Neo-Renaissance buildings in Emilia-Romagna, and to the work of a number of highly popular painters of the time, such as the Piacenza native Luciano Ricchetti. It is Ricchetti’s allegories we can admire, now that they have been cleaned, in the building’s grand staircase.

 

The headquarters of the Federazione Consorzi moved to Rome in the 1930s, and the building was taken over by the Società elettrica Brioschi, then by the Società Elettrica Emiliana, which was later absorbed into ENEL following the nationalisation of electricity services in the early 1960s. The building on Via Santa Franca remained the company’s administrative headquarters until the late 1990s, when it was acquired by an investment fund. Finally, at the beginning of the 21st century, it came under the ownership of the Fondazione di Piacenza e Vigevano.

This sequence is important: manufacturing establishment; farmers’ cooperative; and then national electricity board: three transitions that reflect the vocations of Piacenza itself, which at one point was industrial, at another agricultural and agro-industrial, and finally, after World War II, became one of the main energy centres in Italy. Have the arts become the city’s new vocation, then? That is not an easy claim to make, and yet the opening of our Centre is likely to have a positive impact beyond the borders of our province. Indeed, the surrounding provinces that lack similar amenities aim to be part of our catchment area, including Lodi, Pavia, Alessandria, Cremona and even further beyond, towards Emilia. That the building’s purpose should be cultural – and primarily for exhibitions – was never in doubt among the administrators who took over the management of the Fondazione. It was necessary, however, to decide on the specific nature of this “container”. For that reason, its purpose and its public use were the subject of reflection and debate until 2015, when a national convention held at the Fondazione’s offices came up with a number of interpretations about the uses and qualities germane to a centre for contemporary arts and culture in Italy. The restoration work on a functional level was therefore planned with the centre’s polyvalent purpose in mind; in other words, it aimed at providing different spaces corresponding to different forms of artistic expression: exhibition spaces, convention and screening spaces, spaces for concerts and theatre activities. This multidisciplinary and multilinguistic – one might almost say holistic – vision of contemporary culture, whose existence is fed by innumerable and different factors that are difficult to keep separate for long, provided the inspiration for the renovation project overseen by the Milan Polytechnic’s Mantua campus, and put into effect – also on an academic level – in close collaboration with the Soprintendenza ai Beni artistici e architettonici di Parma e Piacenza. From a certain point onwards the worksite changed form, since the plan for mounting the inaugural exhibition was obliged to develop organically in conjunction with the completion of the architectural renovations. This was achieved by devising fixed rather than short-lived measures, thanks to the services of Studio Michele De Lucchi from Milan.

We must not forget that such an interdisciplinary purpose, one might say, also responds to a need to concentrate our forces: the XNL, in fact, is at the centre of a quadrilateral that covers the Teatro Municipale, the Teatro dei Filodrammatici, the Conservatorio G. Nicolini and the Galleria Ricci Oddi; to its south is the Santa Chiara complex – which is currently being considered for use as artists’ residences and active cultural associations, among others – and the former church of Sant’Agostino, which is now a privately managed art exhibition site. In short, it is a sort of cultural-service district, of which the XNL represents the “contemporary hub”, in the sense of a depository of the late 20th century and the present day.

The creation of the XNL marks the conclusion of a long and difficult journey that began in the early 1980s – when the possibility of a “polyvalent cultural centre” first began to be envisaged – and that has seen unexpected halts, changes of programme, resuscitations of designs and further interruptions, in a rollercoaster ride of enthusiasm and disappointment. We are nonetheless aware that the realisation of a project that took such a long time to bear fruit does not represent so much a point of arrival, but rather the threshold of a new departure: we must be adept – and so must those who will come after us – in filling this prestigious new “container” with wide-ranging and unexpected interests from the thousands that the contemporary world offers us; and it will be vital for the Centre to involve young people and the scholastic and educational spheres. Explaining contemporary reality will be indispensable in order to allow everyone to get to grips with the phenomena and languages of our times. Nor should we neglect the principle of all public cultural services, which must, by their very nature, lead to the enrichment of individuals, of their fund of knowledge and above all of their critical-thinking abilities.

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EDUCATIONAL AREA, PIANO -1

Esplorazioni [Explorations]

EXHIBITION AREA, PIANO 0

Complicità [Complicity]
Domestiche alterazioni [Domestic alterations]
Enigma [Enigma]
L’altro visto da sé [The Ecstasy of Communication]

EXHIBITION AREA, PIANO 1

Esplorazioni [Explorations]
Rovesciare il mondo [Overturn the world]
Controllare il caos [Controlling chaos]
Enigma [Enigma]
L’altro visto da sé [The Ecstasy of Communication]

AUDITORIUM, PIANO 2

Esplorazioni [Explorations]
Rovesciare il mondo [Overturn the world]

GALLERIA D’ARTE MODERNA RICCI ODDI

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