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One of the three access gates  to Expo 2020 Dubai made  of carbon fibre threads designed by architect Asif Khan (ph. Silvia Bavetta)

text Teresa Favi

December 13, 2021

Expo 2020, the concept of the Italian Pavilion

Davide Rampello, creator of the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, reveals the origin of the concept, and how to best experience the 3,500 square metres of his creation

Expo 2020 Dubai (1/10/2021-31/3/2022) opened its doors to the world with the theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, an invitation to collaborate in an increasingly sustainable future. Each country has tried to give, and show, the very best of itself. And the Italian ‘home’ pavilion tries to do this by celebrating the beauty that unites people. There are no walls, but a curtain of 70 kilometres of nautical ropes, made from the recycling of two million plastic bottles. On top are three gigantic overturned hulls, painted in the colors of the Italian flag. The project was realized by Carlo Ratti, Italo Rota, Matteo Gatto, and the engineering firm F&M Ingegneria. The guidelines of the concept design, ideation and implementation of the exhibition experience are signed by Davide Rampello, already author of the Zero Pavilion for Expo 2015 in Milan, and of the Italian Pavilion in Shanghai in 2010. We spoke with him to find out more about the soul and meaning of the resulting Italian Pavilion in Dubai.

Davide Rampello Artistic Director of Italy Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

What initial thought gave rise to your first idea for this Italian Pavilion in Dubai? 

When they announced the theme that won the United Arab Emirates competition, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, I was walking through the Zero Pavilion for the Expo in Milan. This theme struck me as extremely interesting. It spoke of community, the need for not only traditional infrastructure, such as roads and trains, but also digital infrastructure, which, after the years of the pandemic, has intensified dramatically. Yes, with wonderful tools. But I also thought that human beings, in order to feel good together, also need values to believe in, and, at that moment, I said to myself, “It’s beauty that unites people”. That’s exactly how it went. After which, I never went back to that idea, until the elected commissioner of Expo Dubai invited me to participate in the competition for the Italian Pavilion. Then, that thought resurfaced. And we won.

Italian Pavilion, Expo Dubai 2020 (ph. Silvia Bavetta)

What means did you choose to stage it?

For all the work on the interior of the pavilion, I managed to involve Italian craftspeople. This was fundamental, because “knowing how to do it in the Italian way” is an integral part of this representation. For the construction of the Belvedere, a beautiful circular architectural structure, 6 metres high, with a 12 metre diameter, I had a farmer come from the island of Alicudi (an Italian island to the north of Sicily) who erected the dry stone wall in just 20 days. It was perfect. Only our craftspeople are able to realize work like this. 

The Belvedere: the place from which you can see the beauty, a circular window on the most suggestive territories and on the excellence of the Italian Regions (ph. ©Massimo Sestini)

Are you sure of that?

One example should suffice for you: Italy has the greatest variety of dry stone walls, determined by the diversity of its climate and the stone itself, and, therefore, by agricultural culture. The climate varies, the stone varies, and the agrarian culture varies. All these things are extremely precious, and, today, they must be recognized and recovered carefully, because they consist of a know-how that is deeply connected to what we call ‘sustainability’, or ‘the circular economy’. It is a know-how linked to the pact between man and nature, which has always belonged to man, but has been betrayed various times since the industrial revolution. Now, we have the technological tools, it is true, but it is essential to reclaim that pact. And, to understand what and how to do it, you have to look at what has been done before.

Michelangelo’s David, reproduced on a 1:1 scale, protagonist of the Theater of Memory. It is at this point of the path that the Beauty joins the People in a perspective of rebirth (ph. Silvia Bavetta)

Accordingly, Michelangelo’s David is a focal point of the project. Why did you choose this?

It is not precisely Michelangelo’s David, but, rather, a copy of it. It is important to underline this choice, because the sense of what I have woven into the idea of David here in Dubai stems from the intent to draw attention to the concept of ‘memory’, hence the title of the installation, The Theatre of Memory. In this precise historical moment, we are losing our memory. What each of us has in our devices is not memory, but an archive ... Memory relates to the concept of remembering, to the economy of feeling. It is a dimension that we are losing. For me, the concept of memory is fundamental, I have always worked on this principle. Today, when we talk about crafts, agriculture and biodiversity, we do so without really understanding what they are. They are memory. Biodiversity is not something that has happened to us from one moment to the next. It is memory. The work of man is memory.

The exhibition route of the Italian Pavilion offers to visitors an experience that combines historical memory with a sustainable technological innovation. A real ‘garden of stories’, a synthesis of many different elements that together create a language of balance and harmony (ph. ©️Massimo Sestini)A view of the Italian Pavilion

And here we come back to knowing how to do something with your hands, that all-Italian know-how that is unrivalled in the world, and this is the message that you also entrusted to the famous Italian director Gabriele Salvatores, who made a film about it... 

These are thirty micro-stories relating the know-how of Italian men and women. From those who make cars to those who sew the most beautiful shirts, from those who make pasta to those who grow wheat, from those who weave yarn to those who make the most beautiful motorboats. The hand is extraordinary, it may use a chisel or a laser, but it is always the hand that guides the tool.

Italian Pavilion

What interactions did you have with the Accademia Gallery Museum, the home of Michelangelo’s David in Florence?

We worked together very well. At the start, I wanted to bring a bronze copy to Dubai, like the one located in the square of Piazzale Michelangelo, which was made in the nineteenth century, when the original statue of David was moved inside, to the safety of the Accademia Gallery. Then Dr. Minacchi, who we were in contact with, had the clever idea of making a new copy from a digital scan. The last copy dated back to 1994. This proposal seemed a beautiful idea to me, because the whole operation consists in creating a precious legacy for study and research. 14 pieces were made with a 3D printer, then assembled and finished by a formidable restorer, Nicola Salvioli of Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in Florence, who completed the realization of the copy.

Italian Pavilion

In Dubai, Italian is ever more ‘spoken’ in terms of design, fashion, good living, etc. How do you see the Dubai of the future?

That’s right, I see it in this way. I think that from this point of view, our pavilion is also a bit like a second, very expressive and very active embassy. And the number of visitors, among the highest in the entire Universal Exposition, confirms this. 


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