Monday, May 9, 2022

Books as Weapons of Peace

Annamaria on Monday

In the courtyard of Palazzo Reale in Milan, artists Lorenzo and Simona Perrone created a silent anti-war art installation that speaks volumes.

The idea for the work actually came to them before the current outbreak of a war that has riveted the attention of the world for the past 70 days.  Five years ago, Simona and Lorenzo read that, at any given time, there are 70 or more wars going on all over our sacred planet. They had an idea of how art could bring attention to the need for peace. The conflicts they were thinking about then are still going on.  Most are local and often have little impact on the economy or politics of the world at large, but on a local basis they have the same effects as larger conflicts. You can read a list of them here.

Given that Lorenzo and Simona make their artistic statements with LibriBianchi, white books, their response to the prevalence of combat was symbolic and powerful. Inspired by the famous image of the tank man of Tienan Men Square...

...they imagined a tank disarmed by covering it with white books.  Eventually, they made a model using tiny books and a toy tank three feet long.

A collector on a visit to their studio in Milan admired the work.  He was serious about the importance of the sculpture. He talked about the statement it could make if it were made in a public place.

Time passed.

We all know now of the misery that broke out in Eastern Europe ten weeks ago.  War has been on all our minds.

With horror images flooding screens around the world, Simona and Lorenzo saw the urgency of the message they wanted to send.  "Only culture can stop war!"  Books, the basic materials of their art, stand for knowledge, truth, wisdom, civilization, enlightenment, the embodiment of culture.  Books are the very essence of thoughtful communication.  And the opposite of brutality and violence.

And white is the color of peace.

Lorenzo telephoned that interested collector and asked, "If not now, when?"  The answer was very encouraging: "I will speak to the mayor.  I know him,” the collector said. The city's Commissioner of Cultural Affairs soon  took the reins, and the project was off and running.

The chosen date was the long weekend of April 23-25, the 25th being a national holiday in Italy, in celebration of the country's liberation from Nazi-Fascism.  The courtyard of the Royal Palace was the chosen locale.

Simona and Lorenzo figured that it would take around 8000 books to smother a tank.  They appealed to local publishers for books that would otherwise be recycled.  They received 5000 and began painting them white.  

Then they circulated a flier, inviting people to participate.  News of the upcoming event was published in the papers and on line.  They found that many people wanted to bring their own book and paint it themselves.  Lorenzo and Simona set up a studio in the courtyard for people of all ages who came to participate.

As the day approached, Lorenzo began to worry over the weather.  The prediction was 80-100% for rain on all three days. But, mirabile dictu, that spoiler never materialized.

The people came.

When all was ready, the populace of Milan began to fling books on the symbol of war that was parked in the courtyard of their regal palace.  Simona says that for some, it was hard to part with a book they loved, but that intensified the impact of the ritual for some.  They were giving up something they loved for the cause.

Success!  In the end the tank was swamped with books.

Simona sent me a digital collection of the coverage the event garnered - in print and in on-line media.  It numbered more than 80 pages.

The installation was packed away after the weekend was over.  Half an hour later, the rain started, and it poured.  The fact that it held off until then felt like Mother Nature's blessing on the endeavor.

Pax In Terra!


  1. With our Installation ONLY CULTURE CAN STOP THE WAR, we want to give life to a collective ritual that encourages people to stand up against the war. Since ancient times, mankind has invented ceremonies that were functional -- rites of passage, allegorical representations of reality, both to be able to change a pre-existing status and to bind to a group to which they belong. The powerful symbolic function of rituals is based on action, goes beyond the limits of logic and verbal language, and speaks directly to our unconscious.
    The action of painting a white book and then throwing it at the tank is a tiring action from an emotional point of view, it can damage our ability to be able to do so, but the very fact of being not easy to do makes it stay there, inside as a test of courage and becomes part of our conscience.

    From Simona and Lorenzo Perrone

  2. Simona and Lorenzo, you created and executed a lesson in compassion for us all to learn and emulate. Bravo!

  3. Thank you, my brother. I have forwarded your comments to Simona and Lorenzo. Their white book sculptures are huge favorites of mine. But this installation fed my soul!