'Terremoto: Utopia, memory, and the unfinished in Sicily’

David Williams

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This article details the destruction of the original town of Gibellina in Western Sicily in January 1968, and its subsequent memorialization in Alberto Burri's vast land art sculpture/installation, Il Grande Cretto (‘The Great Crack’), constructed in the 1980s. Conceived as a ‘labyrinth of memory’, Burri's work covered the old town in a concrete shroud; however it was never fully finished and is now in a state of disrepair. The text reflects on concrete as dynamic, ambivalent material, and on the status of the artwork as a memorial. It also explores the town's relocation and reconstruction in the 1980s as a utopian art-and-garden community 18 km west of the original site, designed by renowned architects, artists and town planners. Today Nuova Gibellina, an open-air urban gallery in the shape of a butterfly, remains unfinished and is in part deserted: a ‘new ruin’ of a radical urban environment, described by one Italian commentator as ‘the cemetery of the avant-garde’. The article explores the current urban fabric and architecture of this ‘concrete utopia’ as material trace of an adventurous and compromised endeavor to realize an ideal of cultural renewal in the wake of disaster, and affirms its status as unfinished ‘work-in-progress’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-49
Number of pages11
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number3
Early online date23 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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