Author: Melissa Pignatelli

The Gift

The Gift

The gift, a seemingly simple act, is actually a canvas where meanings and expectations interlace. Marcel Mauss has reconstructed the dynamics of the gift in a famous essay, The Gift, published by Routledge. Here he explains that “the voluntary nature of the gift, so to speak, is only apparently free and independent. The gift is actually bound and affected to the very moment it is performed in a social setting”. This means that the social phenomenon of the gift intertwines with other obligations: giving, receiving and reciprocating. It is actually in the gift that the principle of reciprocity takes form. The exchange brings together people and starts – or challenges – social relationships that are built – or ended – over time, with other exchanges, with other gifts. The energy of giving, receiving and returning, or failing the return expectations, or in inadequate forms, may build and consolidate – or not – social relations. © Melissa Pignatelli 2012 Source: Marcel Mauss, The Gift, Routledge, 1990 (First Publication in French in 1950)

M.C. Escher, Writing Hands, Rijksmuseum Collection, Amsterdam


Today scholars of all disciplines have realized that how their research is presented is at least as important as what is presented. Questions of voice, style and audience – the classic issues of rhetoric – have taken the front scene in matters of writing a report. Writing is intended as a communicative act between author and reader. Thus, when a text is released and goes public,  meanings writers may think they have frozen into certain words, may melt before the eyes of active readers. “Meanings are not permanently embedded by an author in the text at the moment of creation. They are woven from the symbolic capacity of a piece of writing and the social context of its reception. Most crucially, different categories of readers will display systematic differences in their perceptions and interpretations of the same writing”, says Van Maanen in his reflections on writing ethnography. Thus writing combines elements of the real, in a certain world, at a certain time and from a certain position, and reaches out for a meaning in relation …

The Diver

Suspended in the air, dynamic but still, concentrically plunges Ernesto Michahelles’ diver.  The sculpture, in patinated plaster, currently exposed at Palazzo Strozzi for the exhibition on the Thirties, is the draft for a bronze casting to be displayed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  However, the IOC asked the artist to create a smaller sculpture, 160 cm instead of the almost 3 meters of this original project, and later Thayaht himself could not afford to pay for the metal fusion. The diver’s balance and the effort are brilliantly reproduced in the work, anchored on a single pin below the hands. The metal circles are independently set as a base, and each time the sculpture is mounted, its needs to find its own balance again, its own perfect alignment. Linear artist with eclectic skills, Thayaht is a particular character in the art world. Sculptor, painter, goldsmith and fashion designer , Thayaht, was born in Florence in 1893. He grew up in his grandfather’s house at Poggio Imperiale, and his years in Paris, designed clothes for the atelier …

Firenze Vogue Fashion Night Out, © MarioLuca Giusti

Vogue’s Night Out

High heels, chic dress and sexy make-up, Firenze, yesterday evening, has had a brilliant night out. Down the streets walked, elegantly and confidently, a contemporary Florence.  Feminine, sophisticated, bright, being florentine had a rejuvenated meaning. Vogue’s all-involving event trasformed the ancient town centre in a huge party venue. Every shop participated offering champagne, Campari, nibbles and live DJ music. People browsed around, stopped to chat and catch up with old friends, went through museums, spared a glance at the Duomo, stared at Palazzo Vecchio, continued to walk about Via Tornabuoni, strolled down Via della Vigna Nuova. In Piazza Goldoni, Mario Luca Giusti’s colorful jugs transformed street works into an installation. There is not much room for usual polemics as everyone seems truly quite happy with having one glittering night off the crisis’ mood. A new energy runs through Firenze’s veins. Lively and pleasant, it has awakened the Arno’s banks solitary inhabitants and dragged them into a great open-air party. In other words, thanks to our mayor Matteo Renzi, definitely en Vogue. © Melissa Pignatelli 2012 …

MOMA, New York City

Museums and Time

“Why are museums associated with the past?”, asks Pietro Clemente, Anthropology Professor at the University of Florence, Italy, in a paper focusing on Heritage. Perhaps because of the Muses, or Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman museums. When you think about these ancient people, you think they are in a fuzzy and remote time, not in the ‘real’ time of our knowledge of them: but then archeology is one of the most modern and computerized subjects of the humanities. Of course, there is still some room for romantic gestures and visionary insights, but the last word is based on computed tomography. Collections are a relatively recent phenomenon, and for certain categories (objects of ordinary people, calling cards, modern art) it is constantly changing. The ICOM (International Council of Museums, a UNESCO related NGO) was founded on science museums and civilization museums, like archaeological and ethnographic ones, that have more than 150 years, and are constantly updating their communication and multimedia technology. In this sense there is nothing more up-to-date, postmodern, and technologically advanced of a museum. Especially …

The Bridge of Aspiration, London, © Bernardo Ricci Armani


Twisting high above Floral Street in Covent Garden, the “Bridge of Aspiration”, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, provides the dancers of the Royal Ballet School with a direct link to the Royal Opera House of London. It’s apparent twisting and turning path reflects the complex ways of hope and ambition, will and discipline, skills and strength, that ballerinas need to achieve themselves. The “Bridge of Aspiration” with its bars leading to an unseen future becomes a metaphor for life. © Melissa Pignatelli 2012 © Photo by Bernardo Ricci-Armani

Ethiopia,© Photo by Eric Lafforgue

Sacrificed Ethiopia

Ethiopia is building one of the most important African dams, on the Omo River. According to the government, the dam will double the amount of energy available in the country. “The dam will dramatically change the life of 200 000 people settled in the Omo Valley, says the French photographer-reporter Eric Lafforgue. The government plans to relocate people in new villages by promising access to health care and education. But traditional ethiopian tribes have always lived out of agriculture and cattle breeding. Today their lands have been confiscated and ‘rented’, for 1 euro a month, to multinational companies. Water from the dam is used to irrigate crops owned by corporations. The military take care of people who resist ‘modernization’. Some Suri people work for the multinationals. They earn 30 euro per month. They save to buy cows, but less and less land is available to graze. Situation is tense. The government sent armed troops to ‘control’ tribes. Then central Addis Ababa government organized a kind of dance competition, filmed and aired by  Ethiopian national TV, …