(g)host Borgo

Sicily, Borgo Rizza


Laure Catugier

Created ex-nihilo by Mussolini, the Borgo is a small urban area in the heart of the Sicilian agricultural countryside, grouping together well-defined units and intended to unify a precarious economic system. Scattered throughout the island, it is similar to a square around which basic services are distributed in a hierarchical way: the Casa del Fascio, the school, the post office, the fire station, and often in the background, the church.

The Borgo Rizza fascinates me in two ways: it is both attractive (recent renovation, attractive geometrical shapes, acidulous candy colors) and repulsive (Das Unheimliche -Freud’s disturbing strangeness- generated by the emptiness of the place). In fact, today it looks like the set of a ghost film, the filming of which never took place. Borgo = (g)host.
Located in the countryside and very isolated, Borgo Rizza leaves me wondering, where exactly is this? Who owns it? What is its purpose? The ‘strangeness’ continues in the absence of street names or signs indicating what it is, and the difficulty of identifying it on Google Maps. This physical heritage seems to be accompanied by an intangible heritage.

Because of its very orderly structure, it leaves no room for chance, for luck, for randomness. It would seem that access to the site is deliberately difficult (isolated location, lack of transport linking it to the city), as well as its visibility (absence of signs). The square is turned in on itself. Moreover, as its real function is not utilitarian but rather symbolic and political, it imposes a certain toxic virility; a weight through heavy materials; a solid visual composition and clearly separated functions. A military order that seems to exclude a place for the human body, rendered useless. Only the pastel color palette contradicts this impression; it softens the angles. In my eyes, it has a camouflage function, leading to surprising scenes: it attracts future brides and grooms in search of romantic images to immortalize.

The Borgo exudes a certain representation of power that has been frozen in time through the makeovers it has received. For me, this ambitious project of renovating most of the Borghi of Sicily by their region or the E.U. is absurd, an action that seems doomed to fail because it freezes a model of standardization that did not work 80 years ago (and certainly won’t now). Inside the buildings, there is no indication of what they will house, what function is assigned to them. They are empty shells, renovated in a contemporary and neutral way: hygienic white walls, sealed rooms separated by walls and doors. It is façade architecture, whose only function is to exist, to occupy a space.

Why is there such a need for conservation, and how can it be better understood? How to de-enslave a place associated with fascism, where the violence was psychological rather than physical, leaving no visible trace? A place which, moreover, bears the name of a former Italian colonizer considered a hero? How to measure the impact and damage suffered by the local community, in order to consider better future use values from a social point of view? How to overcome the current fetishization of the site generated by its recent revaluation?