Robert Pettena – Nobel Explosion & anti-hail rockets

Friday, 23 November 2012, 7 p.m.

23 November 2012 – 19 January 2013

Every abandoned building tells a story and every story has its mysterious side. When we drive along a road or walk in the country we often glimpse slightly scary old ruined buildings. This might make us wonder about their history.

Travelling along Tyrhennian coast of Italy, following in the steps of Pier Paolo Pasolini in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a series of buildings completely covered with brambles, near to the Forte dei Marmi, caught my eye. Once I had discovered who the buildings used to belong to: SIPE Nobel (Italian Explosives Company, in partnership with Alfred Nobel), the buildings took on a completely new meaning. I began to find other similar buildings along the coast and subsequent research revealed more buildings in other parts of Italy, all in a similarly abandoned state, polluted with dangerous chemicals and with no plans to clean up the land to make it safe to use again. These buildings were used to produce explosives, dynamite, gunpowder and rockets.

Alfred Nobel was a man of many talents: on the one hand he developed explosives for civil use and on the other he developed arms, cannons and other instruments of death for the many wars between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Some of the places visited are real industrial archaeology sites and my explorations often took on the character of Andrei Tarkovski's Stalker, driven by an uncontrollable desire to delve into the depths of their history. The buildings at Spilamberto are still full of abandoned SIPE Nobel documents, going as far back as the Fascist period. There are wage slips for men and women and maps with engineering projects designed to be built on new sites. The most recent papers relate to anti-hail rockets, developed in the 60s.

The exhibition at uqbar documents the old dynamite factories of the SIPE Nobel Company, originally founded by Albert Nobel in Italy. One part of the exhibition will comprise photos of the industrial ruins of the SIPE Nobel factories along the coast of Tuscany. Another part of the exhibition shows photos of the industrial ruins at Lastra Signa, in the centre of Tuscany and objects created with found material (in cooperation with Irene Lupi).

In the framework of this research, I would like to mention that research carried out by Swedish investigative journalist, John Bergendorff, indicates that even today the Nobel Foundation’s record is not unblemished. In recent years luxury trips to Japan and China, for many of the members of the committee, paid for by the respective governments, were followed by a Japanese and Chinese Nobel prizes. Perhaps more worrying are some of the Nobel sponsors, for example Honeywell, manufacturers of nuclear weapons, and Astra Zeneca, the pharmaceutical company who patented the papiloma virus vaccine. It is no coincidence that the Nobel prize was awarded to the German scientist who discovered that the papiloma virus causes cervical cancer, after which Astra Zeneca made huge profits from their percentage of the sale of the vaccine, promoted in nationwide vaccination programmes.

Perhaps most controversial of all is the Nobel peace prize, often awarded to people or organisations, for example the EU, who have been involved in a series of wars, whose armaments industries develop sophisticated weapons, such as drones and who pour billions into protecting their borders from refugees who are trying to escape from the very war zones where EU weapons are currently causing death and destruction.

Robert Pettena, Angela Paine