he ruins of a landmark industrial building in Rome have become home to an art project that casts an unflattering light on the Italian capital’s patchy record of urban regeneration.
Sections of the abandoned shell of the Mira Lanza, a former soap factory, now house a collection of works by Seth, a French street artist who camped illegally on the rubbish-strewn site for two months last year.
Looked after by a group of Roma migrants, who are living inside the ruins, the paintings and installations created from the on-site debris are already starting to decay.
And that is the point, according to Stefano Antonelli, a director of 999Contemporary, the not-for-profit organisation behind the initiative.
Piled-up books, which initially appeared to provide a seat for a boy painted on to the brick walls of the listed 19th-century building, have fallen over and now lie encrusted in mud on the soggy floor.
The paintwork on what was a recreation of an empty swimming pool has been mostly washed away by rain.
“This is the destiny of these works,” said Antonelli.
“This place has been abandoned since the factory closed in 1957. Since I was a little boy there have been plans to turn it into a museum, student accommodation, something.
“But nothing has ever come of it. So now, we are asking the question: what is the destiny of the Mira Lanza going to be?”
hat such a prime site – located a short walk from the trendy downtown neighbourhood of Testaccio and only a few miles from the ancient heart of Rome – should have been left undeveloped for 60 years would be unthinkable in most comparable cities.
That it has been appears to be down to a combination of Rome’s chronically weak urban planning – seen most notably in its underdeveloped transport network – and some unfortunate twists of fate.
The books were brought to the site when plans to develop it as an offshoot of a drama college were at an advanced stage.
But those plans and most of the books went up in smoke when the building was ravaged by a fire that broke out after hundreds of squatters were forcibly evicted in 2014.In an area the squatters used as a latrine, Seth has painted a crouching boy with his head emerging into the light, a work entitled Lux in Tenebris (Light in Darkness) in homage to its evolution.
“To clear the space we literally had to shovel out piles of shit – it is not what you usually associate with curating a contemporary art exhibition,” said Antonelli.
Another wall has paintings of migrants crammed on to boats bound for Italy’s southern shores. The colourful images create an impression similar to a run of stained glass windows in a church.
In the aftermath of the 2014 fire, Antonelli’s organisation made a proposal to clean up the site, make it safe and stage a pilot exhibition to demonstrate its potential.
With a budget of €50,000 (£43,000), plus the cost of employing an architect for 50 days, that vision won the backing of Rome’s former mayor Ignazio Marino. But when he was forced to resign on the day the accord was due to be signed, it was back to square one.
Fifteen months later, the collective is hoping to persuade his successor, Virginia Raggi, to sign up. But with her administration beset by more pressing issues, a resolution on Mira Lanza’s fate does not look imminent.