Mediamatic Off-Line Vol.10#2 Arie Altena 1 Jan 2001

54 Giorni

1978, Italy. A prosperous country, but also a country of the mafia and the Brigate Rosse, one of high inflation, omertà, corruption beneath a facade, at least two cabinets per year, a country of political instability.


CD-ROM Annunciation by Davolio (screenshot) -

The 1970s are politically turbulent times for Italy and, for those who have become all too used to our consensus-media-democracy, strange times. The Democrazia Cristiana rules uninterrupted since 1945, with the Pope's endorsement and the odour of nepotism. The Partito Comunista has been the second party for just as long, a huge power with more than 30 percent of the electorate. Neither the DC nor the PC, however, has any answer to the radicalisation of the left. The radical left which, in 1978, gets entangled in discussion groups or crosses the line into terrorism in the name of the Brigate Rosse. It is the radical left where the PC, conservatively communist and with good contacts in Moscow, regards with disfavour and which in the eyes of the Christian Democrats is undermining the state.


error or terror -

In the middle of it all is Aldo Moro. DC bigwig, tipped as the next prime minister. Highly regarded by friends and enemies. He is the architect of the aggiornamento, the openness to the left, that at the beginning of the 1970s led to cabinet coalitions between the DC and the PSI socialists. Along with Berlinguer and others, he advocates making political overtures to the communists, which he thinks could lead to a breakthrough in Italian politics and call a halt to the slide from control.

This is Italy before Tony Buscetta, the mafia boss and pentito whose confessions laid bare the interwovenness of the Christian Democrats and the mafia; Italy before the Gladio affair, Italy before Operazione Mani Pulite.

1978. For a month and a half the news is dominated by the Brigate Rosse's abduction of Aldo Moro. For 54 days no trace of him could be found. Moro writes letters from captivity that the Brigate Rosse send(s) to the newspapers. The DC refuses to negotiate, refuses any kind of overture. Can they really find nothing? Why did the Brigate Rosse kidnap Moro, the dialogue man? After 54 days, on the directions of the brigadiers, a Renault is found with the lifeless body of Moro in the back seat.

And thus begins a new chapter in Italian history.

A modern-day Italian myth

Cesare Davolio has made a CD-ROM about Moro's abduction: Annunciation. Moro's 54 days of captivity, ending in his death, announce a new era in Italian politics. Thanks to the abduction and the letters he wrote in captivity, Moro, amid political corruption and terrorists blinded by violent direct action, grew into a moral beacon, gauging point for a future of improved, cleaned-up, democratic politics. In 1978 he is only the victim of abominable terrorism in an disrupted Italy. It immediately looks as if a new era has begun: the next cabinet is an historic coalition between the PC and the DC; it does not last long. Only later, after Buscetta's trial, do the boundless hypocrisy and the dirty tricks of other DC big shots become clear, and a new era really dawns. Then Moro's 'true message' is 'revealed'.

Just as the JFK assassination became snowed under by thousands of interpretations and conspiracy theories (which kicked off the postmodern media age in 1963 with two (?) blasts), the Moro case became a focal point of explanations, interpretations and stories that depict moral corruption and nearly make Moro a saint.

Why a CD-ROM? Why not a website? The CD-ROM seems to have become a pure storage medium, and HTTP can handle multimedia perfectly well with today's bandwidth. The answer is: because Davolio began to make a CD-ROM. A few years ago Davolio made an installation about the Moro affair for an exhibition during his stay at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht (Holland). To record something of it he started to make a CD-ROM. What had been intended as a record became a project in itself. Thus we have Annunciation.

Naturally, there is another reason that surpasses practical coincidence. The CD medium suits the project. A CD is read-only, closed, finished. In principle a website is always under construction, being added to. A website without links to other websites is not a website but a freestanding digital application distributed by means of HTTP, as a CD-ROM is a means of distribution for digital files. A website about Aldo Moro can't do without at least one physical reference to all the archives, all the stories. What I expect from an Aldo Moro website is, for example, an enormous collection of material: ideal for the historian, a source of architainment. Or a place for all the mutually complementary, contradictory, commentary opinions and stories concerning Moro. Or a third possibility: a usability-engineered Moro website that gives me an answer to any question concerning Moro within at most three clicks, preferably in one.

On a website everything is potentially present. All documents, all interpretations. Future ones too. It is a living, ever-changing whole, just like history. An Aldo Moro website would ideally actively concern itself with all the different stories and interpretations and offer a place for reactions by others, including me.

The power of the CD-ROM lies in its limitations. Since the stigma that everything can fit on a CD-ROM no longer clings to the medium, I do not expect the complete edition of the letters (they must be available somewhere on the Web). From a CD-ROM I expect conclusion, a whole, a vision. This is found in, for example, the careful selection of material, texts, video, image and sound, and in the author's way of presenting these. Annunciation is such a CD-ROM.

Annunciation is carried by its content. No Director trickery here, no game structures for the click-happy. The design supports the content. Davolio is fascinated by the DIY aesthetic of 1970s pamphlets and shows this in the CD-ROM, with which he creates a visual context.

The navigation structure of the CD-ROM is deliberately simple, almost linear. It helps the user, or perhaps here we should say reader, to examine the various chapters slowly but surely. There then arises an image of Italian history, of the now-foreign 1970s, of the kidnapping of Moro, of its meaning.

Davolio zooms in on Moro's 54 days of captivity. This temporal isolation works well and fits the choice of CD-ROM as medium. By taking the 54 days from Moro's abduction to his burial, he sends the reader back in time. We hear the kidnappers explaining how they did what they did, we read the letters Moro wrote, we hear the Brigate Rosse's last, almost distraught telephone calls. Davolio isolates the Moro case to these 54 days. Space is thereby created in the concentrating user/reader 's head for the interpretations and stories that follow later, the entanglement of history, which is precisely not part of the CD-ROM, but which the CD-ROM refers to and makes us sensitive to.

Davolio's opinion is clear, but he does not force his vision on us. He reveals it, and he supplies sufficient material for us to potentially arrive at our own new opinions. He is fascinated, just as I am, by the terrorism and the politics of the 1970s, but also shows his horror at the violence. But the CD-ROM is emphatically not a personal account of his own fascination: the material comes first, it is all about Moro. In an art world that sometimes seems held together by the hyperpersonal, the small, one's own world, it is a breath of fresh air that Davolio dares to concern himself with the wider world and recent political history. He has made a CD-ROM which is neither an archive of historical info nor a graphically attractive potpourri of fascinating pictures, but a vision of history around Moro. He brings us closer to what happened in the month and a half of Moro's abduction and shows us a modern-day Italian myth in an artistic manner: Aldo Moro's annunciation.

translation Laura Martz