REcall – European Conflict Archaeological Landscape Reappropriation

The links between war, memory, identity and politics have increased significantly over the past years. The desire to remember has grown particularly around major anniversaries of the First and Second World Wars (Carr,  2010), steering a wave of interest toward war traces disseminated in European cities and landscapes. Linked as they are to unpleasant memories, they represent a patrimony that is difficult to manage. However, we believe them to have the potential to resonate beyond their local contexts and work toward the construction of a collective identity on a European scale (Postiglione/Bassanelli, 2011). On the strength of this account, our project proposes the development of sustainable and innovative practices for reuse, valorisation and communication of the XXth Century European Conflict Heritage considered as Cultural Landscape.Each conflict has left its own legacy. Ruins, rubbles, but also entire buildings and infrastructures mark the European territory, reminding us of a past that most people would rather forget (Tzalmona, 2010).  We believe that by confronting ourselves with this traumatic patrimony we could exploit its potential for identity and memory construction dynamics. It is in fact indubitable that war memory and national identity are inscribed in the landscape through heritage (Carr, 2010). Therefore, if we want to open our patrimony to new meaningful narrations, we must face today’s process of historicization of XXth century conflict remains in a conscious way.Our proposal embodies this aim as it waves memory and imagination together: we believe in Action (reuse and reappropriation) as a therapy to overcome the never-healed trauma of difficult heritage (Postiglione/Bassanelli, 2011). In our approach, the military ideology of boundary and control attached to war remains takes on a different meaning through a process of resamantization. By turning borders into occasions of exchange, we open our heritage to the reality of the current European territory, where national boundaries disappear and permeability is both geographical and political. Indeed,  “borders are not just dividing lines [any more], places where differences assert themselves; they can also be places of exchanges and enrichment, places where plural identities are formed” (Warschawksi, 2000). The Conflict Heritage becomes evidence for a recent history that has changed the power relations among European countries. In this context, it is therefore clear that the great challenge of XXIst century museography will be centred on the reappropriation of our tangible and intangible patrimony to integrate the past in our life and encourage intergenerational exchange (Postiglione/Bassanelli, 2011). This is what our envisioned interaction between cultural heritage and contemporary art/design forms aims at.Finally, being “Europeanness” the result of an encounter among many identities and cultures, our proposal also recognizes intercultural dialogue as fundamental to keep the multifaceted identity of Europe alive. This is the reason why the outlook of the research goes beyond local, regional or even national interests: only by developing synergies at European level a transnational network will be created that will have the potential to share narratives of places unified by a common yet differentiated historical memory.The strength of the project extends beyond the timeliness of its contents, as it establishes innovative investigation praxes for contemporary cultural researches. The project proposes a “research by design” approach that joins a merely cognitive activity (the traditional theoretical research) and a purely operational one (the design practice). The purpose of such unconventional approach is that of knowing what “doing” means by doing (Postiglione 2011; Snyder 1984; Van Ouwerkerk 2001). A “thinking laboratory” is thus established with no pre-established method: each author defines the scope of his/her practice independently.Far from being merely experimental in itself, the practice-based approach is particularly suited to the research issue at stake. In fact, the project isn’t only an instrument of knowledge, conservation and valorisation of difficult traces diffused on the territory. More importantly, it opens up a new propositional perspective capable of turning the painful heritage of WWI and WWII into a resource for European identity construction.

In order to succeed in this intent, the programme resorts to two methodological principlesmultidisciplinarity and complementarity. The combination of these factors defines a meta-cultural model that aims at integrating contributions from different disciplines in the field of Humanities. On that account, the research will benefit from the conjoined action of a Consortium of six Partners: POLIMI (IT, acting as co-ordinator), NTNU (N) UNEW (GB), AAU (DK), Falstad Centre (N) and Museo Diffuso della Resistenza (IT). The Consortium‘s fields of expertise respectively cover museography, archaeology, fine arts, architecture, human rights and world war history – disciplines in which all institutes have already performed high quality multidisciplinary work. Two considerations fall from the analysis of the Consortium’s nature.On a strategic note, the Consortium is built on the complementarity of the specialties involved, rather than on the criterion of a homogeneous geographical distribution. This structure ensures the converging of different perspectives in a network of excellences. In order to maximize this goal, the network will be extended to an Associated Partner – Museum of Romsdal (N), Ergan Foundation (N), Snark – Space Making (IT) and Lettera22 (IT).

On a methodological note, instead, the specialties converging in the Consortium ensure the high level of creativity and originality of the outcomes. By involving archaeology, in fact, an unconventional interpretative lens is added to the design oriented practices of art and architecture. Thanks to this multifaceted composition, the Consortium shall be able to bring out unvoiced questions and stimulate enriched narratives for European identity construction.

In order to exploit the potential of the multidisciplinary approach and of the “research by design” methodology, the programme will be implemented through two international Workshops open to young practitioners with different educational backgrounds. The workshops will produce operative proposals for the reappropriation of the WWII bunkers of the Atlantik Wall in Norway and of the WWI trenches of Linea Cadorna in Northeast Italy. The workshops, whose participants will be selected through a Call for Proposals, will be organized in Norway and in Italy to allow field visits, and they will be followed by a post-production phase and an intensive closing week.

With respect to the objectives of the project, our workshop formula represents a factor of innovation in itself, since it stems from two consolidated practices in the art/design field and turns them into something new. On one hand, it partakes of the international design competition formula like “Europan” (, where individual participants develop their project autonomously. On the other, it is also similar to the “artist in residence” programmes like the German “European Kunsthalle” (, where young artists are invited to work in a hosting structure. While these practices generally demand solely individual participation, by integrating the two our formula offers an unprecedented combination of factors: individual elaboration of the theme in the Call for Proposals submission, multidisciplinary cooperation through project teams comprising one architect, one archaeologist, one artist and one museography expert each, and tutoring guidance through the presence of experts on site. Such innovative formula will implement the cooperational attitude and the practical outputs of “AiR” – a Culture Programme funded from the European Commission that proposes mobility workshops and training programs for artists on artist-in-residence opportunities (

Beyond its immediate outcomes, our formula will also engender by-products of great consequences. On one hand, by exploiting the potential of today’s digital community, it will encourage a combination of physical (workshops) and digital (post-production) collaboration that will make long-distance and cross-cultural cooperations feasible and sustainable. On the other, the ensemble of travelling exhibition, catalogue and macro/micro synergies will steer a momentum of collective consciousness on Conflict Heritage, whose communication campaign will be boosted by the use of web communication platforms (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Issuu etc.) both in the Call for Proposals and in the final dissemination phases.