Urban Bodies and Human Spaces: Questioning the Possibilities of Resignifying Neighbourhood Places Through Performing Arts in Florence 

Gloria Calderone | Architect and PhD Researcher in Urban and Regional Planning, Department of Architecture, University of Florence, Italy

This work explores the relationship between the body in performing arts, public spaces and urban life, through a case study in the Isolotto district in Florence. Here, a contemporary dance festival, Cantieri Culturali Firenze, has been taking place for five years between June and July, thanks to the choreographer Virgilio Sieni’s Accademia sull’Arte del Gesto (Academy on the Art of Gesture). Cantieri Culturali consists of events (artist residencies, site specific performances, public meetings) and participatory workshops open to all citizens, and everything happens in the public spaces around the neighborhood.

The aim is to see if and how the involved residents’ perception of public spaces – meanings and values attributed to them – changed due to the possibility for their bodies to experience the city in a more immersive and less functional way; and also, to understand if similar projects might represent a tool for regenerating urban spaces and strengthening the sense of community. We gauged this by observing the interaction between performing arts and modes of inhabiting everyday places and by interviewing citizens who attended the events in the roles of performers, co-producers, volunteers and random spectators.

The investigation adopts an ethnographic approach for exploring the trajectories of residential and performative living, searching for intersections. Specifically, we used participant observation, life stories, recordings, free and semi-structured interviews to deepen several questions. Among them, what effects do bodily art-mediated dialogues between inhabitants and their community’s public spaces generate, in terms of sensory and haptic experiences of living – somatic, relational and spatial? What impacts does that have on modifying their feeling of belonging to the neighborhood? As a result of this process, what changed for residents: in their ways of using public spaces, in their aesthetic interpretation of these spaces, and in how they took care of them?

These questions intersect with a broader reflection on what “poetically man dwells” (F. Hölderlin), which is the leitmotif behind Cantieri Culturali. Some artistic workshops, especially those which involved residents’ participation, serve as examples to reflect on this notion.