The Mission is the most beautiful, interesting and dangerous district in San Francisco. Or so say Nicola Pecoraro, Luca Lo Pinto and Valerio Mannucci, a trio of Italian artists who produce Nero magazine, a European art triannual that runs features with titles like “Topologies of culture(s) on the semiotics of dry stone walls.” (Sample text: “What are the structural oppositions between dry stone walls and concrete block walls? What semantic oppositions are brought about by such structural oppositions, and why?”)
The Italian trio were invited to the city by the Kadist Art Foundation, a French organization that opened a Mission outpost at 20th and Folsom this past March. “Usually traditional residency programs are organized in the style of a retreat, removing the artists or writers from the fray of urban life,” says Devon Bella, the foundation’s regional program manager. “The Kadist residency places them squarely within the heart and history of San Francisco.”
Pecoraro, Lo Pinto and Mannucci arrived in May, and were hosted by the foundation in an apartment in SoMa. “We literally saturated the Nero team with San Francisco’s history, culture and art,” says Joseph del Pesco, Kadist’s program director. In the Mission, the trio were introduced to artists like Paul Kos and Julio Morales, and shown around galleries like the Queen’s Nails Projects.
Part of the condition of the residency is that Nero will dedicate part of its next issue to San Francisco and the Bay Area. “It won’t be a traditional reportage,” says Mannucci, “but rather a portrait through free association of images, stories, documents and various fragments we found during our time spent here.”
“We had a good time here,” says Pecoraro. “I will always remember the tasty burritos I’ve eaten in the district.”
However, the group’s first impressions of the area were not the greatest. “I immediately noticed the great amount of homeless people and drug-addicted,” says Mannucci. “They looked like a zombie army.”
But a week later, says Lo Pinto, everything had changed: “The very same street, it looked like a different one. Probably we got used to that.”
Before arriving in San Francisco, the Nero team stayed in Los Angeles for a month, working on an exhibition called “When in Rome,” which showcased the work of 30 artists from the Italian capital. Comparisons were, perhaps, inevitable.
“San Francisco is certainly very different from Los Angeles, and it’s more quiet than New York,” says Lo Pinto. “It’s becoming very active from a cultural perspective. But overall it is still very attached to its past back in the ’60s.”
“Los Angeles doesn’t have a specific identity because it’s so wide that it looks like a nobody’s land,” says Mannucci. “For this reason it’s culturally a very vibrant place. On the other hand, San Francisco is very attached to its identity and it’s not ready to accept radical cultural changes. All in all, the most striking thing I’ve experienced here is that I’ve never met a person born and raised in San Francisco. Most of the people who moved here to some extent reinforced the city’s personality.”
They will, they say, never forget the Mission. “I will always remember the smell of its streets,” says Mannucci. “Sometimes it’s delicious, like the one emitted by the taquerias. Sometimes it’s terrible, as if somebody defecated in a street corner.”