From Brierfield to Biella

Earlier this month, Paul and Rauf travelled to Biella in Northern Italy to be mentors on a socially distanced artist residency programme Unidee residency programs at Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, exploring embedded practice in a post pandemic world.


From one mill complex to another, Paul and Rauf presented on the longterm working relationship between In-Situ and Building Bridges Pendle and had conversations around embedded practice in Pendle from an arts and community engagement point of view and provided mentoring for residents on UNIDEE 2020: Embedded Arts in a Post-pandemic Future residency. Over the next few posts we will hear a bit about their experiences.


Cittadellarte is a woollen mill turned social art foundation set up by artist Michelangelo Pistoletto in 1994. Pisteletto is known as one of the major representative of the Arte Povera movement in Italy. His practice, as a painter, action and object artist and art theorist, considers the unification of art and everyday life. This programme was run by In-Situ Associate Andy Abbott who completed a residency at Cittadelarte in 2006 and which had a big impact on his research and practice.



The Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto is a unique place, a huge old wool mill complex, with artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s vision for the Foundation running right through it, from the spaces, its programmes of learning and exhibitions and even to its furniture design.


A size akin to Dean Clough in Halifax and much, much bigger than Brierfield Mill. Michelangelo Pistoletto has an artistic vision that leads it all as a centre of social engagement and social practice.


The mill itself is the artwork. It is a really interesting model within a small place like Biella. In many ways, Biella and Brierfield are towns with similar industrial backgrounds and it was useful to consider how the two towns are responding to the current challenges they both face.



Meeting the participants on the Unidee residency programs and the staff at the Foundation was a real pleasure, all were very welcoming and appreciative of us coming over. For the week we had a role as mentors, sharing the story and the dynamic between myself (Paul) at In-Situ, and Rauf at Building Bridges Pendle in terms of how we've been working together, and developing a collaborative practice over many years.


It's been quite an informal, relaxed process having conversations with participants from all over the world and many different backgrounds. There was this genuine interaction between us learning from them about what they're doing and us sharing about our individual practices and collaborative, embedded, durational approaches in Brierfield and Nelson.


Some conversations ended up lasting four hours as it was a very rich discussion, exploring ethics, how participants get involved, where there's any potential exploitation, how projects can shift and grow in the time that you're doing it, how the artists can be perceived within engagement and all the interesting and challenging dynamics between the work and how people are connected to it and connect with it.



Biella is a very similar place to Pendle in the sense of it's got a strong industrial heritage. There were hundreds and hundreds of woollen mills in Biella. The migration history for that workforce is very different to here.


In Pendle we've had migrant workers from Pakistan arriving to work, in Biella the history is much more about residents from the south of Italy moving to the north to work. And obviously when that work has come to an end, they then move back home. So, it's a very different effect on the communities here in terms of what now is left and what is going on. After Rauf raised a question about asylum seekers in Biella, the team arranged a trip to PaceFuturo Onlus.


We were able to understand more around the the asylum seeker and refugee experience that's happening in Italy and meeting an organisation that does some very coalface work within that within those communities. It was fascinating to understand the political dimension within Italy, particularly the new right politics, that's come in here and how that is having a massive impact on how migrants and asylum seekers are treated here.



In-Situ and Building Bridges Pendle have been working closely together since we worked together on Shapes of Water, Sounds of Hope with artist Suzanne Lacy, in collaboration with Super Slow Way


The legacy of this work is this crossover between our organisations of artistic and community working and bringing together a wealth of approaches, perspectives and forging our own interdisciplinary approach to real issues in Pendle.

Just having time outside of what we are normally doing was great. We've never spent this much time together to talk about the work that we do, and also between getting excited about ideas and some of our current work in Nelson.

There was so much for us to take from our time in Biella around the development of a programme that can support that the crossover between an art practice and a community practice.


There is much more we can do that could that could take us forward over the next few years, we feel that we’re currently just scratching the surface, and it's exciting to be able to work on that now.