20 years after the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy—an event which many consider to be the peak of the worldwide anti-globalization movement, which famously resulted in brutal acts of police violence, the torture of over 250 people, and the death of activist Carlo Giuliani—Antigora investigates how the urban and technological landscape of the city has evolved since then. In this film, accompanying interview, and billboard, Vegezzi moves through various direct action groups during the 2021 anniversary events, allowing for a study of how urbanism and architecture intersected with the tragic and unresolved events that occurred between the 20th and the 22nd of July, 2001.
Commissioned by Kaleidoscope Magazine / Spazio Maiocchi
Billboard comprised of photographs by Jules Spinatsch, from the series Temporary Discomfort Chapter I, Oppidum, Genoa 2001. Curated by Sean Vegezzi.
Antigora, 2021 – 6 channel video (00:12:52)
SEAN VEGEZZI in conversation with ROBERTO BOTTAZZI. Roberto Bottazzi is an architect, researcher, and educator based in London. His research analyses the impact of digital technologies on architecture and urbanism.
SEAN VEGEZZI: In your essay Glimpses of an Urbanism To Come, you said that witnessing how the smart city concept was being tested in 2001 G8 in Genoa was a massive reality check for urbanists and architects who were engaging with rather self-referential discussions.
ROBERTO BOTTAZZI: Well, Genoa G8 happened during the same decade of the introduction of computers in architecture. While architecture became interested in itself and the formal possibility that computation can unfold, much different use of technologies developed at the urban scale. These two directions come into a clear and sharp conflict in Genoa in 2001. You have the combination of very advanced technologies like mobile communication, scrambling devices, or satellite communication with incredibly primitive urban elements preventing the open use of the city, such as barbed wires, containers, and high fences.
SV: What was the political climate pre-G8?
RB: The ’90s were a moment of reconfiguration. I don’t want to sound too emphatic, but the symbolic lead up starts with the fall of the Berlin wall. In the ’90s a whole new economic system begins to erode the notion of the nation state and create what was then termed globalization. But from the other side, the side of the people that went to Genoa asking for a better world, there was also a very interesting reconfiguration of politics which was no longer bound to old schemes of left and right. For instance, in Genoa is one of the best events to see a real kind of cross sections of cultures and demographics coming together for a common cause. I think I said this in one of the papers I wrote, that you had a range from anarchists to nuns, all together. People called “No Global” wanted a completely global world but not one driven by inequalities. There was such a diverse community of different cultures that the label No Global is just a misrepresentation. What leads to Genoa is ten years of building up these two camps.
SV: Can you tell me about the technological landscape in 2001?
RB: Two things are important to remember. One is the usage of the proto-social network Indymedia, and the other is that devices to take pictures were already very popular. I think that this is the new element that changed how events are organized and documented. The trials arising from police attacks and torture could not have taken place without this huge archive of images and footages. In terms of urbanism in Genoa we see the deployment of a heterogeneous mix of technologies to organize the summit. They range from highly sophisticated ones such use of satellite communications to basic ones such tall fences. Not only did it contradict the efficient, pacifying image accompanying the introduction of technologies in cities architects had imagined, but it also showed an emergent urbanism in which technology could network, hold together all sorts of different objects.
SV: Were there any criticisms you had in your mind at the time?
RB: The redesign of the city appeared ridiculous. Unreasonable amounts of money were used for useless things. Moreover, these eight human beings might’ve represented the largest portion of wealth on Earth, but they only covered a small geographical area and were homogeneous in their world’s view. So the budget, of course, but the criticism was towards the format itself.
SV: What did you mean when you said that the 21st century related to urbanism started on July 20th, 2001?
RB: The 2001 G8 sets the tone for the urbanism that will come afterward. And it does so by showing the power of the implementation of digital technologies in cities.
SV: Can you recollect any strategy used to secure the G8?
RB: Perhaps the most important was the creation of the “red zone”, an area in which it was not possible for anyone but the delegates to enter. All the inhabitants in this zone were forcefully evacuated during the summit. This was the first time in the history of the Italian republic that a public space was not accessible to citizens. Then, there was the yellow zone, where it was possible to enter, but civil rights were limited. The Schengen treaty was suspended, so legally, Genoa was in a strange territory with no clear jurisdictional status. It is the first instance of a practice that has become very common within the European community. Such measures can render the built environment into a palimpsest.
SV: What makes Genoa difficult to secure versus another city?
RB: Its geography, I would say, as it puts a lot of constraints. There could have been other Italian cities that would have been easier to organize the summit in. The city population almost doubled for three days, and the kind of Genoa’s narrow streets are designed for a population that was much smaller, so they started devising security measures to fix a problem that they created themselves.
But there is also another thing. Security measures were suddenly increased shortly before the opening of the summit making some of the plans already agreed redundant and increasing tension. There are precedents for these kinds of actions that have dotted Italy’s recent history. So, it’s a possibility that the unreasonably tight measures in the red zone were taken to make the climate around the summit so extreme that things could have gone wrong much more easily. And therefore, the police could have had a free pass to reestablish order and put an end to the movement organized under the banner of the Genoa Social Forum.
SV: You have said that aerial views are misleading and fail to capture the element of novelty in the G8.
RB: The aerial view is the traditional perspective through which the city is planned. It is often seen as an omni-reaching gaze which privileges physical aspects of cities.
SV: In the G8, the idea was to keep people from the inside from getting too near the port, whereas historically, you were always trying to prevent the city from being sacked via the port. This relates to the September 11th 2001 attacks, as both 2001 G8 and September 11th made the idea of the nation-state dissolve, but for different reasons. The September 11th attacks in 2001 made it so the threat was no longer a Russia, North Korea, China-type entity. It was an internal threat. But let’s imagine September 11th 2001 did not happen, and the movement we saw come to a head in Genoa continued onward. I feel we were already headed in the direction of changing what public space was, and certain powers began securing spaces on a scale never seen before. Not because of terrorists, but because of a social movement.
RB: I think the trends we saw, in terms of spying and scrambling of signals, were going to happen anyway. I don’t think that these events had a substantial effect in radically changing the directions we were traveling. I think it might have happened differently. There is always an excuse to fuel a narrative that you want to push.
SV: 2001 G8 reverted Genoa to a medieval city in many ways with regards to urbanism, but there was also a deployment of medieval rhetoric, and mentions of medieval tools. The police expressed a fear of people using catapults to launch either fish or manure at G8 party members. It fed the narrative very well for police because they could say, “These people are crazy, we need defenses.”
RB: I don’t think that people converged on Genoa to destroy it. And there is plenty of photographic evidence that shows so-called Black Blocs—the most violent and extreme group of protestors—devastating the city and then running towards the police and disappearing behind its line of defense, removing balaclavas, and joining it. It’s very important to understand the collaboration between different police departments and governments inside and outside the EU.
SV: The most striking image to me is the shipping containers along the coast. It is so medieval yet so contemporary to use the very things that move 90% of the global economy to defend against the people criticizing its expansion. It is brilliant in a way that feels evil, using the spoils of ‘flag of convenience’ labor to keep people away from the agora.
RB: Yeah. The image of this double tier of shipping containers dividing the city from the coast is one of the most memorable images of the whole event.
SV: You used Foucault’s analysis of 18th-century epidemics in urban spaces as a framework. Can you speak about how it relates to the G8?
RB: To understand the relationship between diseases and urbanism, Foucault puts forward two paradigms. The first is the leper, when the infected body is taken out of the city and isolated. Second is the plague, when the body needs to be confined, and the model is no longer one of removal but one of isolation and monitoring. In Genoa, through digital technologies monitoring bodies, we have the model of the plague. And at the same time, you have the red zone, which is the total removal of anything. So there is a mix of these two paradigms.
SV: Can you talk to me about how spaces can be recoded through law?
RB: Law is a powerful, invisible, and effective mechanism. It may not directly change the actual physical organization of space but can have a much deeper impact. Within the context of the G8 summit, the law immediately changes how the city could be used, from the banning of hanging clothes, to the curtailing of civil rights when expressing your opinions in the public space. The suspension of the Schengen treaty recoded the status of the individual body without any physical transformation.
SV: If the threshold for law is government-defined legality, do you think we fall short of our potential to expose abuses of power and injustice?
RB: Well, probably if the issue is to expose inequality or injustice, we can still find ways to express our opinion and deliver an account of events not necessarily curtailed by changes in the laws. But it depends on what we are prepared to expose. I suppose I still want to have an optimistic view that our ability to expose injustice is still there. It’s still possible to circulate our views.
Special thanks to Riccardo Scanu, Piazza Carlo Giuliani, Roberto Bottazzi, Mark Covell, Repubblica Nomade, Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali (C.A.L.P.), Amnesty International Italia, Cristiano, Marco Delucchi, Jakab Orsos, Laura Poitras & Yoni Golijov, Nan Goldin, Jules Spinatsch.