On May 5, Torre GalFa (empty since 1997) became the site of the Europe’s largest occupation: ‘Macao’.

Submitted by StrugglesInItaly on May 23, 2012

Torre GalFa is a 31-story high-rise built in the 1950s. It stands in the middle of Milan, at the intersection of via Galvani and via Fara. On May 5, the building (empty since 1997) became the site of the Europe’s largest occupation: ‘Macao’. Far from being an isolated case, this occupation belongs to a network, comprising Cinema Palazzo and Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome, Sale Docks in Venice, Teatro Coppola in Catania, L’Asilo della Creatività e della Conoscenza in Naples, and Teatro Garibaldi Aperto in Palermo. Like the aforementioned occupations, Macao was intended to provide a space for cultural expression, as well as an answer to the heavy budget cuts that all governments have been imposing on cultural activities over the past 10 years, which have meant fewer spaces, decreased activity and a precarious job market for arts and culture workers (the Valle Theatre is a great example of these issues). The difference with the other cases is that Torre GalFa was not a dismissed theatre or a cinema before the occupation; on the contrary, it was a symbol of the business core of Milan. Indeed, its symbolism can be seen in the emptiness of the tower before the occupation, where everything had been ripped out, pipework, furnishings and insulation; all that remained were the concrete pillars and the huge windows.

The former owner of the building is the insurance company Fondiaria SAI, whose honorary president is Salvatore Ligresti, one of Italy’s best-known building-traders. This could explain the quick reaction of the police. It might also be worth pointing out that the general director of Fondiaria SAI, Piergiorgio Peluso, is the son of the Minister of Domestic Affairs, Annamaria Cancellieri. On May 15, after ten days of occupation, the police cleared out the building. The occupiers remained in the square in front of the tower where a crowded assembly took place in order to decide the future of Macao. Over a thousand people took part in the assembly, including celebrities such as Nobel Laureate Dario Fo.

In the afternoon, even the Mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Pisapia went to the assembly, where he promised that the city council would provide a new space at a dismissed factory. However, his promise sounds vague and uncertain, since the times of the operation were not specified. As of May 16, Macao is still occupying the same square.

On the 18th, an assembly with Boeri, Milan’s Councilor for Culture, took part in a dismissed factory where Macao declined the offer. On the 19th, the Palazzo Citterio became the new home for Macao. Palazzo Citterio is a 300-year-old building bought by the Italian state in 1972. Unlike the nearby Palazzo Brera, which became a national gallery, Palazzo Citterio has been abandoned for 28 years. In 2010, a Paul McCarthy exibition, promoted by the Trussardi Foundation, took place there. The exibition was held in the concrete basement, built in the ‘80s.

The head of the Fine Art Board, Alberto Artioli, reported the crime to police. La Repubblica also claims that a new project, approved a few weeks ago, allocated 23 billion for the “Great Brera Project”, which includes Palazzo Citterio.

“This occupation, said councillor Boeri, is the son of an old way of making politcs, which looks to block projects that are meant for everybody, maybe because they are afraid of not being involved” («Questa occupazione mi sembra figlia di un vecchio modo di far politica, che porta a bloccare un progetto che riguarda tutti forse perché si ha timore di non essere coinvolti»).

Once again the reaction of police forces came quickly, in the early morning of May the 22nd Palazzo Citterio was cleared, once again Macao has to find a home, but this time no one expects them to accept the place Pisapia offered.

It’s important to notice that with his limited action Macao didn’t just want to have a space to perform, but focused everybodys attention on some great contraddictions:

* The principle of private ownership as a right to private waste of resources, a principle more valuable than creativity, arts or citizens will.
* The principle of public ownership, that should be submitted to citizens will, but in fact is treated just like private ownership, that means a public good can be wasted.
* The principle that unpredicted or illegal acts, as respectful as they can be, when they focus on contradictions, must be treated as problems of public order.
* The principle that unless anyone notice anything, the things can be left as they are, undone.

More sources here.