When the editor of Tuscany’s Grapevine magazine asked if I would be interested in writing a story about Lucca Biennale for the September issue, I jumped at the chance to dig deeper and find out more about this event which has long captured my imagination. Every other year for the last ten years – skipping over 2020 for reasons we all know too well – the festival has transformed the city center of Lucca into an open air gallery, showcasing temporary, large-scale outdoor sculptures created by artists from around the world. The juxtaposition of these striking, contemporary works set against the historic architecture is simultaneously playful and thought-provoking. As I soon learned, these outdoor installations may be the festival’s most well-known, and photographed, component, but there’s much more to experience of Lucca Biennale.
On a blistering August afternoon, I walked the site and went behind-the-scenes with artistic director Emiliano Galigani and director Federica Moretti to discuss the challenges and rewards of presenting such an ambitious event in the midst of a continuing global health crisis. As you might imagine, bringing in artists from all over the globe, creating multiple public installations, and presenting a temporary museum of indoor installations is enough to make anyone sweat, even in pre-pandemic times. For this year’s event, the logistics where downright daunting. As Galigani discussed the idea behind the festival’s current theme of Fear & Desire, the two words that kept filling my head were different:
Determination & Resiliency.
The more we talked, the more clear it became that for the 14-member Lucca Biennale team – most of which come from theatre and set design backgrounds – “determination and resiliency” became their personal theme, mantra and inspiration.
After meeting most of the members of this dedicated team and experiencing the indoor installations, I felt the need to tell everyone I encountered and encourage their support and attendance. I told anyone who asked, and some who didn’t. I passed out flyers at yoga class and stuffed them into my neighbors’ mailboxes. And, naturally, I shared images on every social media platform within reach.
I’m not sure why I was surprised by the response, particularly from Lucca’s ever-revolving international community.
Most people seem to know and greatly appreciate the outdoor installations. Yet, beyond that aspect, it becomes a bit fuzzy and mysterious.
Where can I see the work? Are their indoor installations? Are the artists local? Why is everything made of paper? How much are tickets? Isn’t it funded by the government?
As a former artistic director and festival planner, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to reach into people’s busy lives and entice them to devote a bit of their time and money to your cultural event. Literally and figuratively, the barriers to bringing people inside are many. For most of us, it’s not lack of desire, it’s more a matter of accessibility and urgency. “I’ll go tomorrow,” is an all-too-common refrain, particularly in Italy. Domani, sempre domani.
For many years, “Outdoors In” was my personal mantra, as I believed that if we planned and presented art and music outdoors in a manner that was accessible to all, it was like a gateway drug. Before long, those who appreciated the free outdoor offerings would eagerly come inside and truly engage and support the work. While I’m not sure that mindset translates to these strange Covid times, I’m am still determined to try.
So, here goes my plea. If you are in Lucca before September 26, please support this truly visionary public event by purchasing tickets and experiencing the indoor installations. It is extraordinary, trust me. You will be inspired, no way around it.
And, don’t we all need every drop of inspiration we can find in these times?
Here’s what you need to know:
Let’s start at the beginning…
What is Lucca Biennale?
The festival, considered the world’s largest celebration of paper art, design, and architecture, features a range of exhibitions and events spanning over two months. At the heart of the Biennale are one-month artist residencies in which a select group of international artists, chosen from hundreds of applications, are hosted in Lucca to create massive-scale, cardboard sculptures. The sculptures are installed around the city, in the most picturesque squares and pedestrian zones, bringing art and inspiration into the daily life of all.
Why is paper the focus?
Many people are not aware of Lucca’s rich paper production heritage. In the middle of the 16thcentury, the first true paper mill was born here and by the end of the 17thcentury, Lucca boasted 8 full-scale paper mills. By 1971, there were over 200 mills in the province. Today, the area still thrives in production of industrial papers and associated materials.
The history of Lucca is deeply connected to these paper-making traditions as it is with the production of silk.
Who are the artists? Are the local?
Lucca Biennale invites artists from around the world to apply for the residency program and travel to Lucca to work with a team of local artists and makers to bring their artistic vision to life. For this 10th edition, over 600 artists and artistic teams applied and 8 were chosen for the residency program. This year’s artists include:
American artist based in Japan
Work title: Sleep Walker
Work title: The Clouds of Illusion
Work title: Risky Rewards
Work title: unknown
Matteo Raciti, Emanuele Radicchi and Alessio Verdolino
Work title: Hybris
Türker Akmanand Deniz Yılmaz Akman
Work title: In-Between
Work title: Crossing borders
TOMA! Collective – María Dolores del Sol Ontalba & Antonio Nardozzi
work title: forest.
Where can I see indoor installations?
This is the part I hope everyone in Lucca comes to see and experience! In addition to the massive outdoor installations, the festival also creates a temporary museum inside one of the city’s coolest industrial sites – a historic, once-upon-a-time military complex – showcasing installations from dozens of artists from around the world. In addition, the festival presents a range of community art-making workshops, events and performances.
Inside three halls within the complex, you will experience different subjects, styles and techniques. Standouts include a thought-provoking installation immersing the viewer in contradictions inherent in the lives of immigrant farm workers, a stunning work by world-renowned artist Daria Krotova, and couture fashions created in paper.
Perhaps most striking is the pavilion dedicated to this year’s spotlight country Japan. Inside you will find a teahouse composed of delicate papers from Japan along with a remarkable series that features translucent papers and disappearing designs.
How is Lucca Biennale funded?
What does math have to do with the arts? Everything. During our conversations, I was struck by the similarities with festivals I’ve produced in the past with how this event is supported and funding. It’s a razor-thin line between success and failure.
Approximately 30% sponsorships, 30% foundation and community support, with the remaining 40% coming from ticket sales.
For arts events and festivals all over the world, this dynamic is the same: Ticket sales are the life blood.
How can I get involved?
1. VOTE for your favorite outdoor installation.
Which outdoor installation speaks to you? Is it the power of Sebastian Blomqvist’s massive bull near Piazza Santa Maria? Or, perhaps the grace and beauty of the flying angel in Porta dei Borghi from artistic trio Matteo Raciti, Emanuele Radicchi and Alessio Verdolino.
LuBiCa invites fans to vote their H-Art out with one click, here: https://www.luccabiennale.com/en/component/k2/item/494-vote-your-h-art-out
2. BUY TICKETS and enjoy the truly extraordinary indoor installations inside Ex Museo del Fumetto, Lucca.
Lucca Biennale’s 10thedition runs through 26 September. You can view indoor exhibits at Lucca’s Ex Museo del Fumetto. There’s a ticket office on site, daily 10 – 19:00, or you can purchase tickets online. Tickets are around 13 euro, with discounts for those under 30 and over 65.
Be sure to ask at the ticket office for an audio guide in English to learn more about each installation as you walk through the space.
Also remember, you’ll need your Green Pass or equivalent to enter. #maskup
3. REGISTER for a hands-on artmaking workshop, here: https://www.luccabiennale.com/en/component/k2/item/488-workshop
4. DIG deeper.
For more information on the history and future of the event, visit:
Lucca Biennale Official: https://www.luccabiennale.com
You can read my full article for Grapevine here: https://www.luccagrapevine.com