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The Scandal of The Imagination
The postwar transition from dictatorship to democratic rule in Italy was complex, ambivalent and often contradictory. After twenty years of Fascist rule, the Italian society struggled to reinvent itself. It took however decades before the country could begin to address structural continuities: the permanence of fundamental aspects of the Fascist penal code and family law, as well as the reintegration into the post-war administration of a large number of Fascist bureaucrats who had not undergone trial or had been cleared by the general amnesty of 1946. The tensions generated by these continuities emboldened the social and labor protests of the 1950s and 1960s but remained otherwise unaddressed in the public discourse.
Artists anticipated themes, struggles, and aspirations by many decades. While the new democratic institutions proclaimed broad freedom of expression for artists, powerful undercurrents in the political parties, civil society, and the Church were wary of the potentially revolutionary charge of unbound artistic endeavors. Many who had participated in the Resistance elected to renounce political activities and devote themselves to their creative calling.
In 1947 Aldo Braibanti, a young philosopher and poet, who had fought Nazi-Fascism, survived torture and actively participated in the liberation of Florence, gathered around himself a like-minded group of artists, and formed the prototype of artistic commune in a tower (Torrione Farnese) located in the small town of Castell’Arquato, near Piacenza in Northern Italy.
Braibanti, together with the composer Sylvano Bussotti, and visual artists Roberto G. Salvadori, Fiorenzo Giorgi, and local youths, lived and worked in the tower, giving life to one of Italy’s first open art laboratory. The tower became a center of artistic experimentation of all sort of production, from pottery and poetry to readings, theater and cinema. Works created by Braibanti and his collaborators at Torrione Farnese were exhibited at the Triennale of Milan in 1951 and presented at avant-garde galleries throughout Europe and the US. Under Braibanti’s leadership, informal classes and studio time was offered to anyone who wished to participate. In the six years at the tower, Braibanti devoted himself to poetry, play writing, and screenplays, studying insects’s social behavior, creating artificial ant hills, and writing groundbreaking essays on ecology.
The commune at Castell’Arquato clashed with die-hard fascist and right-wing Catholics who viewed it and its charismatic leader Aldo Braibanti as amoral, anarchic, and atheist. They were particularly disturbed by allegedly free and deviant sexual behavior. Eventually, under pressure from conservative forces, the Municipality of Castell’Arquato evicted the artists from the tower, and the commune came to a forced end.
The short-lived artistic commune’s legacy lived on in its founders’ remarkable careers: Sylvano Bussotti went on to become one of Italy’s major 20th century composers, Renzo Bussotti, Roberto Salvadori and Fiorenzo Giorgi all had important careers in the visual arts.
Aldo Braibanti moved to Rome in 1962, founding an experimental theater laboratory, much in line with the Living Theater’s pioneering work and Grotowski’s Theatre Laboratorium. Among his early actors was the legendary Carmelo Bene. Yet even in Rome, Braibanti was targeted by the same neo-Fascist and Catholic forces that had shut down the commune. Spearheaded by the family of a young man who had fallen in love with Braibanti and had chosen to follow him to Rome, accusations of homosexuality, amorality, and “soul kidnaping” lead to Braibanti’s arrest in 1968. Indicted for “plagiarism of the mind,” a medieval concept used as repressive tool in the fascist legal code, Braibanti was tried for “enslaving the mind of another man for his evil purposes.” The trial caused international uproar. Intellectuals, including Alberto Moravia, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Umberto Eco, Cesare Musatti, Elsa Morante attended the trial and wrote protest letters. Yet Braibanti —who refused to defend himself— was condemned and served his sentence in prison.
After prison, Braibanti resumed his artistic career far from the limelight. His collected poems were published in 2003, preceded by a collection of essays and interviews. He died in Fiorenzuola in 2014. In recent years interest in his work has continued to grow. Tributes to him have been produced by theater companies, musicians, and scholars. In 2019 the documentary Il Caso Braibanti by Carmen Giardina and Massimiliano was well-received by the public and critics. In 2021-22, the filmmaker Gianni Amelio will direct a fiction film on Aldo Braibanti."}