in STUDIO 11. TERRIFIC
Published by STUDIO
Passing by Italian highways you can easily spot a very peculiar graffiti: Street signs, residual walls and many other artefacts of modern infrastructure reveal in big letters the inscription “Dio c’è” (literally meaning “God exists” in Italian). However, the somewhat vandalist expression is far from being a declaration of strong devoted belief, being instead the acronym of “droga in offerta costi economici” (italian: cheap drug available). It is more than just an expression of some secret language. It is the manifestation of a far-reaching parallel world.
“Dio c’è” is an explicit example of a codified language which tells a lot about the very nature of drugs and their presence in the city as illegal entity: in fact, the condemnation to illegality generated a profound necessity to build up a cryptic but simple vocabulary to enhance self-defense and to help in the constant struggle for survival. In this sense there are some intriguing parallels to the dynamics of early Christians who used the symbol of the ἰχθύς (denoting ‘fish’ in Ancient Greek) to codify ‘Jesus Christ, Son of the Savior God’ in order to protect their clandestine, illegal rituals.
Even if drugs have not originally been bound to illegality, they have assumed this connotation as a basic feature in the course of time; their illegal dimension placed drugs outside common paradigms and outside the control of urban planning. Despite this fact the use of drugs keeps being strictly related to human vicious needs and behaviour.
This double nature of being, at the same time, forbidden and necessary made the drug extremely “resilient” to any attempt of repression and empowers it to penetrate unnoticed into any public and private sphere. In this sense it acquires a parasitarian behaviour in its connection to the city.
Its urban impact could suggest the chance of tracing an “alternative geography” that is able to define dynamics and fluxes of drugs in the city. Nevertheless, drawing such a map would be a worthless exercise. Flaring up centers of frequent dealing and consumption indeed vanish within a short period of time, leaving behind anything but the stigma as only remaining trace.
It could therefore be argued that its nature is disperse and immaterial rather than spatial. In this sense drugs can be related to ephemeral concepts like Andrea Branzi’s notion of ‘weak urbanism’, which foresees a performative nature of certain urban circumstances. Drugs could be considered as one of these circumstances, where the dealing and consumption are performed in an ever changing theatrical orchestration. Drugs take possession of the urban backdrop.
In order to approximate a representation, it seems necessary to abandon conventional techniques and conceive a code that is able to express the notion of time, movement and performance. A series of intriguing approaches could be triggered by investigating alternative fields such as music, dance and art. The suggested images give a glance of a possible superposition on the urban layer of such a drawn choreography.
The sheer presence of the described performances is even able to alter the surrounding space itself: Rather than changing its physical attributes it enhances a certain environment. In these terms drugs behave like an ‘ornament of urbanism’. In architecture, an ‘ornament’ is only apparently marginal, but is what turns ‘pillar’ into ‘column’. In the same way, drugs appear a negligible entity in the city, whereas they strongly affect the urban spaces they occupy. In the moment that the narcotic performance takes place, it adorns the space with a distinctive feature.
Leaving behind the urban scale we would like to enter the setting of smaller spaces and investigate the relationship between drugs and domesticity: The stage is a cozy home in the suburbia of Rome, a woman and her mother are selling drugs in the comfort of their modest home. The crucifix in the background, the rather handcrafted chimney on the left corner, candles and glasses placed next to a set of dolls upon a shabby cupboard. Random artefacts of everyday life compose a warm and familiar space. Instead of sugar though, right next to the rest of the spices, in a glass jar, there is a large quantity of heroin. A pusher who pretends to be a housewife or vice versa?
The scene, Claudio Caligari depicted in his movie “Amore Tossico”, shows how drugs are able to act as a parasite and how it assumes a domestic dimension. Thus narcotics seem to contaminate the banality of common life, replacing not only its physiological needs such as feeding, sex, sleeping and defecate, but even many other pleasures.
In another frame of “Amore Tossico”, a non-family reaches the house of an artist, some lay on the sofa, some others around the table, they start to prepare and share a dose. There is a certain rituality. Like a father that slices the meal and gives food to his family, a man fills a syringe entirely and distributes the heroin among the other nails.
This scene reveals another important aspect of the domestic character of drugs: The act of consuming is an act of sharing, and consequently it requires a communal space; in fact, it’s a ritual often performed in company, around a table.
Consequently two aspects, the extreme domesticity and the rituality of drugs, become clearly visible in many artistic representations that suggest an interchangeability with food. Most frequently a kitchen is chosen as the setting of drug consumption: heroin is dosed using a knife over a plate full of other different foods, consumption of drugs replaces the sharing of food.
The domestic space of the kitchen, together with all its objects, absorbs everyday life experiences and rituals up to the point of assuming a deep connotation of banality itself. In the moment that drug substitutes food, architecture becomes a medium of legitimation, the addiction is perceived as an ordinary action like breastfeeding. This subtle transposition conquers slowly the deepest layers of one individual’s Memory: kitchen, fireplace, living room, all spaces of ‘familiar’ and domestic architecture become soaked by drugs.
The space of a kitchen, together with all the objects it contains, is able to absorb experiences and to call back them whenever is necessary to inject a sense of normality.
In Switzerland, Germany and Denmark there are places devoted to drug consumption. Aseptic green rooms are arranged in a row, providing a “proper” pure volume for the chemically induced serendipity. Each room is carefully equipped with sets of tools for the different drugs, an ultimate catalogue of emotions. These spaces are far from the famous drug dealing districts like Scampia, from the bathroom of a random disco, or from the coziness and friendliness of a homy kitchen. Indeed the space is rigorously designed to erase any hint at domesticity. Hence the total genericness of this spaces suppresses the rituality of drugs, unmasking the tragic condition of dependency. The comparison between the domestic and the generic, the kitchen and the green box, leads to discover the perverse relation that drugs establishes with space, manifesting again its inherent ornamental nature.
Who firstly used the expression “Dio c’è”, provoked strong interferences among the two radically different connotations leading to a mutual contamination: drugs became confused with an exclamation of strong belief and assumed the significance of a glorified cult, which is launching warfare against other ‘cults’ i.e. the legal structures of the city. Drugs conquer spaces, regardless the scale, with all its inherent qualities embracing its inconvenient presence. Within this condition, “Dio c’è” reveals to us a dimension which is outmost terrific, i.e. great, intense and at the same time able to shape the surrounding context with its performative character.