| The wedge
project by Will Kwan
with the collaboration of:
Roberto Pecorale (Mediatore Culturale Città di Cuneo), Mirella Roaglio (Comune di Cuneo), Andrea Fenoglio (Film-maker)
(Barge e Bagnolo), 2004
Barge and Bagnolo are two small mountain villages in the northern Italian province of Cuneo that have existed for many years around a concentration of mid-sized quarries and a comprehensive stone processing industry. The stone extracted from the mountains in the area is manufactured into an array of building materials such as flagstones for roofing and street-paving, and cobblestones, that provide the region and more distant markets with foundational materials for construction and urban revitalization projects.
The villages of Barge and Bagnolo are also exceptional for the fact that an estimated 1,000 of the 5,000 inhabitants of the two small communities are ethnic Chinese. The influx of Chinese migrants began a decade ago, and similar to the other 90% of Chinese living in Italy, this population originates from Wenzhou City and its surrounding districts south of Shanghai. The movements of the migrants, in their displacement from Wenzhou to Barge and Bagnolo, are much more difficult to pinpoint, often involving a set of factors and relations which float ambiguously within the nexus of traditional immigration, family networks, clandestine networks, legitimate resident status, and human smuggling.
The Chinese that inhabit Barge and Bagnolo work almost exclusively in the stone processing industry, providing a major source of heavy manual labor for the production of irregular flagstones. This particular variety of stone paving material – coincidentally called opus incertum – requires human manipulation in order to manufacture its chipped or "uncertain" edges. These laborers work long but voluntary shifts, slowing hammering the Italian landscape into oddly-shaped, but usable fragments.
The situation of the Chinese in Barge and Bagnolo is not simply an economic relation hinging on the availability of work. Despite their growing physically presence in the villages, there exists almost no cultural or social trace of the Chinese in the built environment of the towns – shops, restaurants, and gathering spaces conspicuously absent – adding to the transient aura of their status. Certain indicators however suggest that after a decade of living and working in this place, there exists now a growing desire to develop channels for exchange and identification in the public life of the municipalities. For example, the Chinese population here is quickly becoming a community of families, not simply a collection of temporary workers. It is in this context that my research and proposals are developing: to create spaces, tools, channels, power relations and leverages, that may help to bridge the delicate moment of emergence into the political realm.
My research is greatly indebted to Roberto Pecorale, a Mandarin speaking cultural mediator who works directly with the Chinese immigrants to acquire legal documents, resolve employment disputes, to find housing, and to attain other essential daily services. An eventual project in Barge and Bagnolo will develop in close collaboration with Roberto and the Chinese community at large. My research and interest in the situation of the Chinese community in Barge and Bagnolo is intimately linked to a larger, ongoing body of research that explores experimental methodologies of political participation practiced by dislocated communities, particularly as interventions into real estate acquisition, framings of ethnic-towns, legal restrictions and loop-holes, bureaucratic process, and documentary media forms.
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