Davide Quadrio: curator, producer, cultural powerhouse and founder of Arthub

June 2, 2023
Working between Shanghai and Europe for over 25 years, Davide offers a distinct view on culture worldwide as founder of Arthub.

“ We’re going to need to rethink the language about what it means to be together. ”

In Asia, they knew what it was like to be in shock, caused by something that you don’t understand. I was in Shanghai at the time that Asia was hit by SARS. So when this pandemic hit, there were protocols already in place. You could see that through the incredible way that this problem was tackled by Taiwan, Korea, even Hong Kong or Singapore. They’ve been spotless. As the virus spread from China to Europe and the US, you could see the confusion here. They always feel superior in front of something coming from a country that is ‘exotic’. I feel that this is a powerful sign of how racist Europe and the States are in the sense of feeling that you cannot be touched by situations that don’t belong to you. I found it interesting how people reacted in Italy. We realised we needed radical changes in life to protect ourselves.

Everybody responded in a generous way. I feel honoured that we actually take care of each other. Even in big cities like Milan, the neighbourhood works as a protector. This is something that we value a lot in Italian culture, the obsession with family. But it’s also this sense of being reciprocal to help each other, to really be there when there is a need. The global feeling of being all together, but yet so separated. We’ve made mistakes in having the obsession about globalisation as an economic target and not as a social and cultural experience and values.

“I feel that the role of the provinces, the countryside, smaller communities that have been the place for incredibly radical experiences will come back.”

There’s going to be incredible call for the locality. My strong feeling is that art needs to become more radical, in the sense that a lot of the bullshit that we are used to, a lot of this flowery moving around the world is going to stop, and I include myself in that!  For me, there is this strong feeling that locality versus globality will be about the precious, sensual, almost spiritual presence and experience of the art.

“I like to think that instead of building buildings, finally, you’re going to put money into content.”

So what is going to be shown in the museum? How can you connect to the audience in the museum? And how can they interact in a space and what is the ‘new concept’ of the cultural place? Why do you need to build a building? What does that mean for the experience, and how are you going to become more participatory, not only through the physicality of the experience, but also through what we can use in terms of new technologies?

This period of time is very meaningful for creative people. This abrupt stop has made us face what we’ve achieved so far and also where we’re going. What it means in terms of the relationships that you’ve built, and the projects that you’re thinking of, but also the responsibility of these projects. In a way I found it beautiful to know that the virus actually brings us back to our own responsibilities as a cultural actor or producer. In terms of why you’re doing what you’re doing, how we can actually develop further.

We need to rethink the language about what it means to be together. It’s an amazing opportunity. And I’m sure that the evil forces will try to get back to the way it was. Because it was working without working, everybody was somehow accustomed to it, to the point where we couldn’t see anything else possible outside that box. And it’s terrifying. I saw a documentary by Fabrizio Terranova, on the American philosopher, Donna Haraway. What was powerful about what she was saying is re-imagining, going beyond what you think are given facts and structures. And what this moment has revealed is that the globalized world doesn’t work. And I think this will interfere with society in a powerful way. Because that kind of disrupted, deconstructed imagination is pertinent to creative people.  It’s most absurd to say, the virus separates us, yet at same time, it creates this calling back to the locality: the family as an enlarged family. There was discussion around the second phase of opening — ironically because the government used the word, ‘Congiunti’ — a rarely used word in Italian that means people related by blood — which ensued conversations around who’s a family now?

I feel that the role of the provinces, the countryside, smaller communities that have been the place for incredibly radical experiences will come back. The future has been based on small communities of radical people that change the cultural world so many times before. But we are in another phase with this incredible opportunity. We are in a technological world, which enable us to reimagine how creative clusters will work, and disseminate their ideas and work. It’s extremely exciting. Because this is going to be based on a very different sort of economy, but also a different dynamic around how you meet other creative people. Somehow it’s not going to go back but it’s going to go beyond urban places.

“I like to think that instead of building buildings, finally, you’re going to put money into content”.

That is always what is lacking, and that’s going to be so important for institutional museums in particular to rethink the centrality of the space and also their responsibilities. Imagine, you don’t need to specify cultural spaces any more. I find it beautiful, for instance, that we’re going to go back to having drive-in cinemas!

The new concept of the nomad identity has been talked about so much but it’s always been a different approach to the Real Academy. I’ve been reading this book on the new Nomad identity by feminist philosopher, Rosi Bridotti. She talks about how it’s a psychological attitude — you are always in a nomadic progressive development. You can only be defined by whatever you’ve been in your history, and what you are now. And so, this progressive tension generates a nomadic spirit. And of course living in different places and speaking many languages heightens your awareness that your identity is transient. Transferring this idea into cultural places and cities in the world, what becomes apparent is that this kind of anthropological change makes a very important community, of transnational people who appreciate the local. It’s not about travelling, but it’s about staying.

What’s going to draw creative practitioners to places is not the concept of people or place but of audiences. It’s more about thinking in smaller clusters, but with a very specific offer to that cluster. It’s more about disseminated experiences in smaller communities, which of course can also become bigger right? I have trouble thinking about this idea of ‘big audiences’, because they consume more. One of the troubles is how to quantify what a successful exhibition, concert, cultural happening is? This idea of quantification needs to be critically discussed, because if the creation becomes a really small experience — you know a dancer dancing three metres away from you is not like seeing the same thing on the screen. If you have valuable content online you can have a different way of thinking about who’s going to watch that, or who’s going to be entitled to it? What is going to be the value of artwork anymore? Then you don’t need this specific place for content anymore. That content is broken into an idea, that becomes shareable.

So, it means that the whole world in some ways becomes much more of a canvas for that content. Whereas, at the moment it’s much more specified in terms of its format. It gives justice to the stupidity of definitions that we’ve been taught and have been somehow contained.

Some of the work that I’m interested in doing makes me ‘complicated.’ Because it’s much easier for a developer to say that ‘art is entertainment’, or ‘art is investment’ or ‘the thing we need put in a development because otherwise how else can we attract people? But it’s done in a very mechanical way. It’s born from this idea of creative industries. It was built in the 90’s and is absurd. Because it simplified creativity, in making it objectified, so it makes it miserable. Businessmen understand the value of art through a very simple equation. ‘I spend less to obtain the more ‘public’ more audience, more consumers.’ Just an example. City Life is a new district in Milan with three skyscrapers. And there was supposed to be a Museum there, the first museum of contemporary art in Milan. It was compulsory because the developer obtained the ground with a discount so he has to give back something to the city. So, the place where the museum should be is still there. It’s not built. Instead it was decided to make a Sculptural Park. All the politicians say ‘Look at that, how advanced we are because the artwork is outside the museum.’ The project that was supposed to be a museum with all the social, cultural and educational benefits it brings, now becomes another commercial project. And then the artwork is completely nonsensical, put there in a way by the developer that uses it as props. That is not going to work anymore. There is space now to think in a broader sense.

“ Now, design, like art, is becoming a synonym of decoration, or a happening or event or entertainment. The radicality of that needs to be brought back.”

Architects should rethink their responsibility for what they’ve been doing. They are being exploited. This idea of monumentality, the moments to power. If you look at architecture or even industrial design, before the 70s in Italy, it was such a political statement. There were so many objects that we grew up with that are now iconic objects, but they were for everybody. It was this cultural, educational sophistication that was related to designing something democratic. Now, design, like art, is becoming a synonym of decoration, or a happening or event or entertainment. The radicality of that needs to be brought back.

I missed the freedom to mix and match in a completely crazy way, the nonchalance of doing things. Asia has been amazing at doing that. What I always felt when I was coming back to Europe for projects when I was living in China, was the lack of vibrancy that I found in Europe. In Asia, there is a very clear gap between the political level of things and the sociocultural level of things. What you can do underneath the political structure has been extremely powerful, challenging, free as well, to make experiences that have been very difficult to do in other places. Europe is going through a profound crisis in terms of values of democracy. What I find disturbing at the moment is the feeling that people don’t even see what they have.  We’ve been living for the last 60 years with incredible education, leisure, freedom of speech, incredible health care. It’s a privilege and it’s something that you need to cherish.

There’s a superficial idea of what the other is. At the end of the day it’s about ignorance. It’s very difficult to understand in Western countries as it goes against our white supremacy DNA, that is really about protecting your privilege despite anything else. This idea needs to collapse, the idea of an unfair globalised economic system that is not sustainable from so many points of view. Including from our point of view. Because democracies in the West are in a very fragile position. And I don’t say that from a negative perspective. When I talk to my daughters and their friends they think global in a proper way. For them it’s not about Italy, UK, US or China. They only think about the sustainability of this planet.

It’s about being closer and yet at the same time being able to expand your world. I think that the virus created this strange new perception of things. Look at the UK’s Prime Minister who was denying the virus. And then when he got sick was taken care of by two immigrants. And again, it’s becoming so personal.

“The key is to trust each other. To build small communities that are expanding the notion of family, and embracing friendship and kinship.”

But of course the evil is still there. And the evil doesn’t want the world to change.

Find out more at arthubasia.org

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