L’Aquila Essay #3: The Proposal

As the final phase of Veit Stratmann’s work for our Failure topic, the artist visited from France to present a proposal for the abandoned city of L’Aquila to TPR’s audience. L’Aquila is fascinating because it embodies a cyclical mess of an empty city, regulations, unhappy former residents, and no solution in sight. TPR has been following Veit’s research, which you can read about here:

In response to L’Aquila’s difficult state of being neither here nor there, so to speak, Veit drafted a plan for a “people counter” that would calculate individuals who enter the city. The failure in this, as he stated, is that if it were to be produced with the city’s permission, it would then negate itself as a subversive act- it only works if no one knows it’s there- yet it can’t be done from a practical sense without the city’s permission.

With this in mind, below are images of the city itself and Veit’s proposal:

A People Counter
by Veit Stratmann
Presented at The Project Room
February 6, 2013


Above: The city of L’Aquila

Some premises:

An artistic gesture in L’Aquila cannot be oriented around its potential public reception – for there is no public. It cannot, therefore, be construed as an “artwork”, which draws upon the fact of being out of the ordinary.

This artistic gesture can neither formulate questions nor constitute a proposal because there is no one on the receiving end of such an invitation, nobody to take any questioning into consideration.

An artistic gesture in L’Aquila can only be effective if it is stripped of the privilege of being considered artwork and becomes autonomous, inventing a functional objective in the city (which may or may not be taken into account).

In order to be efficient, an artistic gesture carried out in L’Aquila should be both discrete and plausible within its environment. Its artistic origins should never come into question.

The functionality of such a gesture cannot target an improvement of the situation in L’Aquila because that again would suggest the taking into account of information disseminated by the work by a given public.

An artistic gesture in L’Aquila should integrate the the part of the city that was the most densly populated of the city. In this way, the work can take shape not in the sculptural, self-contained sense but within the materiality of the city itself. In being limited to the materiality of the city itself, the work can be detached from the amorphous societal structure of L’Aquila and avoid becoming “extraordinary”.


Double photoelectric barriers will be installed at each of the 70 entrance points to the core zone of L’Aquila. This was the most densely populated area of the city before the 2009 earthquake. The frequency and the direction in which the infrared beams forming the barriers are interrupted will allow the number of by-passers entering and exiting the city to be counted. The number of people within the given zone will be accounted for at all times.

The photoelectric barriers will be installed at a height of 120 cm (approx. 4 ft.) off the ground to avoid counting wild animals (especially stray dogs, which are extremely numerous in the old city center). With similar logistical reasoning, the barriers will be installed at intervals of 150 cm (approx. 5 ft.) in order to distinguish between people moving in cars and pedestrians. A person on foot cannot span the same distance as a moving car and therefore he can only block one sensor at a time whereas a car can block two simultaneously. Since car circulation in the city center is nearly exclusively that of official vehicles (police or army) carrying two passengers, moving cars will be counted as including 2 people per car.

A display screen indicating the number of people present in the delimitated area in “real time” will be placed in the delimitated zone in the “Gazebo”, a structure made of glass and wood that served as an annex to the “Dolce Vita” bakery. This building is located in front of the old Hotel Sole on the corner of a little square formed by the intersections of Pizzo Doca, San Crisante and Tre Maria streets. The display screen is to be situated on this particular building because of its transparent structure and its familiarity to the public. However the building will not add any symbolic layer to the project. Because the Gazebo is at a significant distance from Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main street of the historic city center, its non-central location serves to diminish the importance of the installation.


Map showing gazebo location there the people counter would be installed

The “People Counter’s” small size and location may thus be perfectly ignored. Furthermore, the display screen and photoelectric barriers the people counters/motion sensors only quantify a marginal aspect of the city. They do not intrinsically modify L’Aquila nor constitute any inherent potential of influencing the current situation there. And in referencing a purely “material” reality, the “People Counter” remains detached from the now shapeless society that surrounds it.

Nothing indicates the origins of the “ People Counter”. It is simply there, without any commentary. This is the only way in which it can avoid taking an “extraordinary” status. Because the information provided by the

“PeopleCounter” remains factual, the installation can slip, without resistance, into the non-system of l’Aquila.

2. Because of the decentralized location of the Gazebo, the “People Counter” can go completely unnoticed and unread. To read the screen, two choices are necessary. A decision to enter the delimited zone and leave the main streets to reach the site of the Gazebo must be made. Then another decision has to be made to stay for some time in front of the display screen, observing the changing numbers. If choice-making can be considered the basis for political action, then reaching the site of the “People Counter” and taking the time to watch the display represent decisions and actions that could result in the first embryonic step towards making political gestures in L’Aquila, creating the seeds of politics itself.

The “People Counter” is neither oriented towards the collectivity nor towards an individual. It simply records the presence of individuals within a given area. Yet, because of its location, each individual who takes the “People Counter” display into consideration automatically constitutes himself as a group member within the designated zone. Each individual who stops to watch the “People Counter” triggers – at least temporarily – the emergence of the nucleus of a society.