The Worlds of Primo Levi: Brave Clarity

Design: Progetto per allestimento mostra itinerante “I mondi di primo Levi. Una strenua chiarezza” - 22 Gennaio – 6 Aprile 2015
Client: Centro Internazionale di studi Primo Levi
Curators: Fabio Levi, Peppino Ortoleva
Set-up design: Gianfranco Cavaglià in collaborazione con /with Anna Rita Bertorello
Graphic design and sound: ARSMEDIA – Silvio D’Alò
Production Office Coordinator: Silvio d’Alò
Graphic design and editing : Gian Nicola Maestro, Cristina Leone, Gian Carlo Cagliero
Computer graphics: Renzo Pierantoni, Juan Carlos Gnocchini
Office Coordinator : Roberta Mori
Design for the “Carbonio” part: Yosuke Taki
Coordination of the Exhibition Design: Anna Rita Bertorello
Set-up: Puntozero srl
Location: Corte Medievale, palazzo Madama – Torino (prima sede espositiva)
Photos: su cortese concessione / Courtesy of the Studio Cavaglià, Immagini inaugurazione di /by Alessandro Talarico
The Exhibition The meaning of an exhibition about Primo Levi is not to use other words to tell what the great author so expertly told us with his. It is to use the art of his Faussone – the main character in Chiave a stella -, the mounting, bringing together different languages (of artistic works, […]

The Exhibition

The meaning of an exhibition about Primo Levi is not to use other words to tell what the great author so expertly told us with his. It is to use the art of his Faussone – the main character in Chiave a stella -, the mounting, bringing together different languages (of artistic works, videos, documents, and words, including those that arrive clear and unmistakable from the author’s own voice), to lead the visitor on a journey to discover Levi’s many worlds and circumnavigate them. It is to discover the coherence that binds these numerous apparently distinct, literary adventures. It means entering the author’s study, to visit his world that is at the centre of all others, the very personal world of one of the greats of 20th century culture[1].

The venue

The exhibition is in the Medieval Courtyard of Palazzo Madama, a prestigious site which testifies the various construction phases of the building since Roman times until today (the Roman city gate, the medieval arcaded courtyard, the corridors and the current museum). In the late 19th century the Medieval Courtyard was the topic of studies and digs by Alfredo D’Andrade in order to restore the Palazzo for the National Turin Expo in 1884.
The timeline of the renovation works in the walls is highlighted in the lower parts of the Hall, where they are left visible or with areas of rear-lit or directly visible areas of flooring, to be seen but not used.

Preparation project

The first phase in the project was to remove, if possible, the previous fittings that had broken up the space of the Medieval Courtyard around the vaults. The good state of conservation meant the original space was recovered, bordered by walls rich with the stratification of the works performed over the centuries.

A sign from outside

A rail goods wagon dating back to the early 20th century placed in front of Palazzo Madama (in Piazza Castello in Turin), where we see the title of the exhibition “The Worlds of Primo Levi”, and it immediately calls our attention to the question of deportation, but that is not the only theme in the exhibition.

Very few of us remember the old rail goods wagons, but this one reminds us of their effective use to transport people, animals and things. To see its physical size, and consider the number of people squashed inside, and understand how it was closed on the outside, “leaded” with those inside being unable to move even, gives tangible form to the message Levi testifies in his writings.

The fittings

Setting aside any idea for a scenographic fitting, the exhibition of this author is focused on equipment for reading and writing, referring to his places of work, the pluteus, the Laurenziana Library: separate areas for studying and writing, within a large space, which is the main feature of the architectural project: use a portion of a large space: an increasingly rare experience.
The fitting project grew together with the organization project for the museum, in a reciprocal and on-going relationship.
The project was pursued on the reading stand and its support, so it can be dismantled and carried (limited weight and size), flexible in the meaning of aggregation depending on which story is proposed along the guided tour for the visitors from the entrance to the exit.
Visitors follow the itinerary to interpret Levi’s work, developing many of the suggestions that are given.
The layout has areas for use by groups (schoolchildren); an area for more individual use and separated from the Medieval Courtyard in Palazzo Madama is planned for Auschwitz: a bordered itinerary where visitors discover short phrases, only Levi’s words, purposely excluding all images.   

A travelling exhibition

While remembering that there is never just one answer to a question, or just one project proposal to a request: the specification of “travelling exhibition” has, in a way, led to metal as an area where reversibility, assembly and dismantling can be effectively performed without signs of wear, for as many repeats of the exhibition as possible.
In developing the project, integrated with direct laboratory tests, it was gradually organized to reach a final system including all its parts following a logic that recalls “Meccano”.
The vertical supporting elements are identified in the double industrial production stairways, and are motivated for various reasons: use what already exists and is tested (reuse), focus on costs and remember that aluminium weighs about one third of iron. Consequently aluminium was chosen for the majority of the elements in the fittings.
The first location controls in some of the future potential sites for the exhibition, led to reducing the heights with respect to Palazzo Madama, consequently scaling them down as required.
The specific nature of Levi as a study of the substances and their transformation, enabled us to suggest to the client that the imperfections due to lack of finish should be accepted (uniformity of surfaces) and to accept any damage that might occur while it is being dismantled and reassembled, as signs that can occur as the exhibition is repeated. Any oxidation that might appear on the aluminium and the few iron parts, can integrate and add to the message that he, chemist and writer, uses to transform matter.
The nature of the material surfaces becomes part of the message and any alterations just enrich the tale.

Marina Cescon
Acciaio Arte Architettura 61