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Marco Balich: Designer of emotion

Culture / -

Marco Balich

Marco Balich is one of the best-known producers of major events in the world. His genius and creativity have led him to create numerous international events, many of which are in the area of sports.

From the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 to those in Turin in 2006, and the upcoming games in Rio in 2016. A career as artistic director that has brought him now to what’s been dubbed as the Food Olympics. Balich is the Artistic Director of the Italian Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. The Tree of Life as well as the Palazzo Italia are both fruits of his imagination.
You were behind some of the world's most spectacular and telegenic events, from the Olympics, to the Venice carnival, to the concerts of famous rock stars at the Heineken Jammin Festival. What will your next magical event look like? What has been your personal challenge with Expo Milano 2015?
The interesting part was when we started forming the answer to the question posed by Expo Milano 2015: what kind of nourishment will Italy give to the planet, what kind of energy? For this project I involved set-designers - Giò Forma - and my Artistic Director Lida Castelli. I first went with them to meet sociologists Giuseppe De Rita and Aldo Bonomi and then we went on to meet with all of Italy.
Initially the Italian Pavilion was to accommodate all the regions and their typical products, but then we realized that we would be missing out on an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and to understand who we really are. Are we Ferrari, are we soccer, are we the Stradivarius, our furniture, are we Giuseppe Verdi? Are we the poison in the “Terra dei fuochi” (Land of Fires), the mafia, are we a combination of these things? Who are we? This is the real challenge that I was given. A challenge which I am excited about, even if the road has been a little bumpy with a few obstacles along the way.

What is the concept of the Italian Pavilion and which themes have you chosen to represent Italy?
We started with the data that we collected during our travels throughout Italy. We developed a grid, devised by De Rita and Bonomi, on the values and traditions that were typical in the places we visited. The synthesis that emerged from this data provided us with some valuable information. Italy was responding to the theme launched by Expo Milano 2015 with three strengths, its expertise or “know-how”, its beauty and its future, or at least flashes of which, that, despite our limitations, territorial or linguistic, we will leave something for the future.

The concept of the nursery, as a thematic approach to the Pavilion, was born during a trip to Abruzzo, where I saw some guys with dreadlocks, wearing sneakers and headphones, herding animals and selling the farmed produce. This made me realize that the younger generation has a different perspective with which it celebrates our Italian traditions. This is why the Italian Pavilion takes its cue from the nursery, and has "flushed out" the stories that we should use as examples. If we want our country to grow and the planet to be protected, the way forward is to inspire young people to love what they have. Young people who feel proud of their country will protect and take care of it.

People from all over the world will be coming to Milan. How will the Italian Pavilion present itself to the 20 million people who visit Expo Milano 2015?
For the Italian Pavilion we took the concept of the nursery to create a pavilion that you can walk through and that at the center it could accommodate works that reinterpret classical and contemporary Italian art.

On the ground floor, the entire square is given over to the theme of the Italian market, where farm-to-table, seasonal products and biodiversity address the themes of the Expo. The Italy that lives by night and by day in the markets of Palermo, Rialto and Campo de’ Fiori will be found here. Over three floors we see the three strengths that best represent the Italian identity. On the first floor, the strength of Italian expertise or “know-how” is represented by an installation featuring interactive mannequins that narrate the stories and experiences of the Italian people.
On the second floor, the strength of beauty starts with the question, "is it possible to grow without rules?", which leads into a busy space, full of smoke and strobe lights. A series of video screens show the negative aspects and the tragedies that have struck Italy. This is because we cannot hide from these things, we have to make amends and understand that growth without rules offers no future. In the following rooms beauty triumphs, a kind of redemption for the horrors that have hit us.
The first installation will show landscapes, the second, exteriors, for example, building facades and the ideal city, the third, interiors, where art takes the form of a psychedelic kaleidoscope. The third floor describes the strength of the future that starts with a rough path and a projection showing the collapse of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, and then continues with the reconstruction of a world without Italy and ends with the painting, La Vucciria by Renato Guttuso. With this artwork the exhibition path which started with the market stalls, comes to an end.

With the Italian Pavilion I would like to take the visitor on an entertaining journey that does however contain some important messages to ponder. For this reason, For this reason, the floor that is dedicated to the future, shows the Italian innovations and insights, displaying success stories from every region. Each of these displays is connected to an LED path that feeds into the Tree of Life. Here visitors will see words written in the various Italian dialects, as well as proverbs and the traditions that unite us, causing them to cast their eyes upwards, into the tree.

At the end of the path there will be the Charter of Milan. This document is the actual output that Expo 2015 will leave for the future. As has happened with the Kyoto Protocol, the Nations that sign the Charter of Milan will commit to regulating growth in their countries. This rate of growth cannot continue without any awareness or consideration. Food is a finite resource in the face of a growing population. For this reason we cannot continue to eat such huge portions and must consider waste and the preservation of biodiversity as key issues, in parallel with technological innovation, for further development. The Charter of Milan is the true gift that this Universal Exposition will leave to future generations.

The Tree of Life: where does the name come from and what is its symbolic meaning? How does it link to Italy and the theme of Expo Milano 2015?
The tree of life is a recurring theme in all religions, and takes its inspiration from this. During a trip to Puglia, I was thinking about what the symbol for this exhibition could be, then looking down at the floor of Otranto Cathedral, I saw the tree of life. The tree is present in all cultures, from Buddhist to Indian, in the ancient Mexican religions, in the Kabbalah and even in Islamic texts.
It’s a beautiful symbol and when I saw that it also belonged to Italy I said to myself: "here it is, I’ve found it." For Expo Milano 2015 I needed a large object that made us look upwards, to aim high, that would allow us to dream, an icon. My Olympic experience has helped me understand that it must be an image that captures the public's interest. I am sure it will be perfect and will be welcomed by all.

After Expo Milano 2015 will there be a second life in store for the Tree?
The Tree of Life was funded by 19 companies from Brescia, through a consortium (consorziate in Orgoglio Brescia) that together with Pirelli and Coldiretti, have taken care of the costs of its production and its installation.They believed in this project and supported it from the very beginning, so, when Expo Milano 2015 closes, the tree is likely to be transferred to a square in Brescia.

February 27, 1861, Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamic agriculture is born

Sustainability / -

Rudolf Steiner
© Adoc photos_Corbis

Thanks to Steiner, farms have been "redesigned" in a holistic fashion: no longer self-contained entities, but systems based on wide-reaching relationships, with the soil seen as a source of life, together with the earth and the cosmos.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, an esoteric, a teacher, an artist and a social reformer. He is the founder of anthroposophy, a new conception of humanity and of the world that reinvigorated the fields of medicine, and of teaching, as well as art and science in general, acquiring many followers throughout the western world.
Steiner began his career in 1897 as a teacher and lecturer. During his career, which took him round the world, he gave more than 6,000 lectures and published 28 books on topics ranging from philosophy, medicine, and mathematics to physics and agriculture, as well as economics, education, and architecture. The lectures have been collected, along with his writings, and have been published in the 354 volumes that constitute his opera omnia.

The birth of biodynamic agriculture
One year before his death, he formulated the principles that underpin biodynamic agriculture. The year was 1924 and a group of important Anthroposophist landowners in eastern Germany had asked Steiner how they could revitalize their fields. They were concerned about the early signs of weakening in the soil, caused by modern approaches to farming, and in particular, by the increasing use of chemical fertilizers. Steiner decided to give them a series of lectures, the central theme being the need for healthy soil and the preservation and enhancement in fertility, the better to improve the quality of the output, food to feed humankind. These lectures were published in the volume entitled "Scientific and spiritual impulses for the progress of agriculture".
In his lectures, Steiner demonstrates how spiritual research leads to a completely new view of nature. Through the cooperation between the soil, water, sun, animal life and plant growth, it is possible to identify two formative forces: the terrestrial and the cosmic. In the plant world, the action of the ground forces can be seen in the growth and production of substances, while the action of the cosmic forces can be seen in ripening and fertilization. Steiner shows how in agriculture it is possible, up to a certain point, to stimulate, or possibly curb, those two quite different forces, which are polar opposites.

The biodynamic method considers each substance as a combination of matter and life force. As Steiner explained in his sixth lecture, given in June 1924:

[…] We must not merely look at the plant or animal or human world […] Life always proceeds from the entire Universe — not only out of what the Earth provides. […] Nature is a great totality; forces are working from everywhere.  […] What does science do nowadays? It takes a little plate and lays a preparation on it, carefully separates it off and peers into it, shutting off on every side whatever might be working into it. We call it a “microscope.” It is the very opposite of what we should do to gain a relationship to the wide spaces. No longer content to shut ourselves off in a room, we shut ourselves off in this microscope tube from all the glory of the world. Nothing must now remain but what we focus in our field of vision. […] We, however, must find our way out again into the macrocosm. Then we shall once more begin to understand Nature - and other things too.

Legacy and the present day
Adopted around the world starting in 1924 by farmers of all sizes and types, biodynamic agriculture takes its inspiration from the idea that a farm is a real organism living in a closed cycle, but is also part of the larger living cosmic organism, and is subject to its influence. For each farming activity, such as sowing, transplanting, and pruning, great importance is given to the cycles of the moon and planets, and farmers use a special calendar.
As well as reviving traditional practices, such as green manure and crop rotation, biodynamic agriculture is based on a series of "preparations", used in homeopathic doses, which function as “medicine” for the soil and plants. This results in a gradual rejuvenation of the soil, an increase in stable humus, and higher-quality output.
This knowledge can complement the official agricultural approach, helping to achieve greater growth, in a more ethical and aesthetic fashion, while promoting a new type of farmer, one who is more mindful and responsible.
Expo Milano 2015 provides an opportunity to learn about the importance of biodiversity on our planet. In particular, the Biodiversity Park, located within the Thematic Areas, highlights Italian excellence in the fields of agriculture, the environment, and food production, describing the evolution and preservation of agricultural biodiversity. A program of events, talks, and multi-media experiences completes the visitor experience.

Maurizio Zucchi. Informed and aware: this is the consumer of the future

Innovation / -

Maurizio Zucchi, direttore qualità di Coop Italia

Leading Italian retailers have signed a petition to make known the place of production on food labels, an indication made optional by the new European Regulation 1169. The Director of Quality at Coop Italia – which, with its 8 million members and 1,200 points of sale, holds a privileged vantage point on consumer behavior – shares with us the pros and cons of the new labels.

Last December 13, in all the EU Countries, food industry underwent a major change when Regulation 1169 on new labeling came into force. But the adjustment process is far from over: a public consultation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies is under way on how these indicators of place of origin or of food products are perceived, providing guidelines for any proposals to Brussels. But what are the other hotspots of the new labels? We put the question to Maurizio Zucchi, Director of Quality with Coop Italia, Official Premium Partner for Food Distribution for Expo Milano 2015.

Was the Italian food industry 'prepared' for the December 13 announcement?
As is usual when taking on major regulatory change, the situation is spotty: certainly, the large Italian food companies came prepared, but so did small and medium companies of quality; in other cases there were difficulties, not least because the guidelines and directions were not so timely and clear.

How much effort was required for aligning private labels to the new European regulation?
Although the substance of the regulation was not something new for Coop-branded products, the adjustment to the formal directive has in fact meant that we have had to revise thousands of labels, entailing months of work by a task force.

We have already been including much of the required information voluntarily for quite some time on our information labels. By way of example: Coop-branded products already had a nutrition label since 1979; olives used for the production of extra virgin oil were labeled with a declaration of origin since 2001, and tomatoes for canning and sauces, since 2003; and microfiltered milk, since 2005. Also in the field of "vegetable fat" Coop is ahead in assuring transparency: its branded products already indicated the composition of the various types of oil or fat used well before the 1169 Regulation.

The indication of origin label is not new for Coop’s fresh pork, meat and poultry, used as early as 2009. And we have gone further: we first made the origins of raw materials used in our products readily available, in this case, on a dedicated area of our website. And in addition to the "where," it is important "how": consumers need to know not only the production sites, but also the manner in which something is produced, meaning quality, controls, environmental impact and also an ethical guarantee throughout the supply chain.

Have the new guidelines achieved a good balance between brevity and comprehensibility, completeness and transparency of information?
Certainly more can be done, for example on trans fats. The EU, in fact, will decide whether to make reporting on the label mandatory in the next three years. Coop, meanwhile, has banned the use of hydrogenated fats in its products, which are a significant source of trans fat.

Another innovation introduced by the Regulation concerns the highlight of allergenic ingredients. But since there is no obligation relating to plants and production lines to minimize any contamination, this does not resolve the chronic problem of an overly casual use of cautionary words 'may contain', which drastically reduces the choices of food those who suffer from allergies. Coop Italia includes such words only after careful analysis of the production process and only where it is not possible to intervene in the processes to eliminate accidental contamination.

The requirement of the nutritional table is very basic: in 2008 we voluntarily chose to include the so-called GDA (Guideline Daily Amounts or daily values of reference), in practice as a serving of food contributes to the percentage of allowable daily intake of certain components that should be kept in check, such as salt, saturated fats, simple sugars, etc. We also expect an indication of fiber.
Like many retail chains, you have joined the petition to include on the label the production site. Why? Wouldn't it have been better to apply pressure earlier on, give that we had three years to challenge the additional requirement after the approval of the Regulation?
Coop has joined the petition because transparency and information to consumers are our core values. The names and addresses of our producers have been on our product labels since the eighties. And we certainly do not intend to take them off now! As for lobbying earlier, this aspect probably slipped within the process of what is a rather complex norm.

At Expo 2015 in Future Food District you present the supermarket of the future: we shall speak in greater detail on this important project, but just for now, can you give us a taste of what is to come: what new frontiers of information and technology will be made availabe to visitors?
In the future, imagine a Coop supermarket where citizens will know all there is behind a product: origins, properties, quality, health  and how it is produced. A place full of information and interactivity, where you can make purchasing choices with a high degree of awareness. Transparency and traceability of products will be mainstream, but that is not all. Visitors will be immersed in a truly stimulating, multi-sensorial space, where food can be chosen depending on its origin, its caloric content and other characteristics. It will change the way we display food: no longer on shelves, but similar to the traditional market stalls of yesteryear. Covering a sales area of 1,500 square meters, shopping will take place via smartphone, with the aid of video walls, touch screens and displays that give information about each product and its history, carbon footprint, the energy consumed in its production processes and much more. It will be a "hi-touch" experience for sure, but the content will be not cold and futuristic, but warm and rich in human values.

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