The end of the 70’s represented a moment of enormous cultural, political, and social changes for Italian history. In the midst of this turmoil, Filippo Panseca, a Sicilian artist, built Italian socialist Party (PSI) iconography.
Nicolò Ornaghi and Francesco Zorzi, students at the Polytechincal University of Milan.
The season of political terrorism, called “Years of Lead" (Anni di piombo) had its peak and consequential end in the date of March 16th, 1978 with the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro. This event brought Italy in an enormous social and political tension. The political answer to this delicate situation was the so called “Legge Cossiga“ (February 6th, 1980) which increased police’s operative power. This extremely tense situation ended up with the terrorist attack at Bologna train station on August 2nd, 1980. It killed 85 people and wounded more than 200.
The one who took advantage from this political instability was the leader of the PSI (Partito Socialista Italiano), Bettino Craxi, leader of the socialist Party from 1976. He enhanced the moderate role of his Party in order to take power in 1983, when he became the Italian prime minister. This radical changes brought a displacement of the political power from Rome to Milan. With Bettino Craxi and his decisionist attitude everything changed, even the public image of Italian political society. The power was increasingly identified with the figure of Craxi himself. This led to a new spectacular political attitude, that at the end of the 90’s - with the Tangentopoli inquiry and the consequential dissolution of mostly all the historical Italian Party’s - became fertile ground for the rise of Silvio Berlusconi.
Here begins the political story of Filippo Panseca, a sicilian artist living between Milan and Pantelleria. Through conferences layouts and graphic design he built PSI iconography.
"I started working with PSI (Italian Socialist Party) in '78 with the Congress of Turin, there was this sport arena, I think they played basketball there. It was perfectly circular so I thought that it could be nice to layout the center as a symbol of peace, and so I did.
The iconography of the party was decided by myself. Always. The inclusion of the symbol of peace was functional to divide the various spaces of the Congress. On the one hand all the press with journalists. On the other all foreign delegation. And then another with the audience.
Another key thing. This conference was the first in which we presented for the first time the red carnation as a symbol of the party. Craxi did not want the sickle and hammer. He argued that we the socialists were the poor cousins of the Communists and therefore we should find our own independent symbol.
Also the French Socialists changed their symbol and used the rose, but at that time the secretary of the Italian Socialists was De Martino. He was a communist rather than socialist so he did not care. and Pannella instead, it was one that had the eye along took him the symbol of the Rose in the Fist.
Meanwhile it was at this conference that Craxi became secretary…
Nicolò Ornaghi: did you already know Bettino Craxi?
Filippo Panseca: I knew Craxi in Milan when I arrived here, in 1968, he was still a city councilor. We met by chance, we had dinner in the same place, Angolo, it was a trattoria in Via Fiori Chiari. There was this Angelo who was a real communist. He used to set up a table for painters and artists in general. There you could eat without paying, after a certain number of meals you just had to bring him a piece of art.
Among the artists I had relations with there was Ugo La Pietra. I met him when I was still in Palermo and I opened my gallery, I invited him to exhibit there, and we became friends. He sent me to Paullo (a place in the outskirts of Milan e.n.) to Mauro for the realization of my works when I arrived here in Milan.
When I went for the first time in Rimini to organize the Congress of PSI I saw the location and the first thing I noticed was that it had an exaggerated amount of columns so I sat down and said, ‘what about doing a temple with columns? ‘...
So I perfectly replicated the columns and I just put on top the rest of the temple. Then it happened a big mess, the newspapers have long spoken about all the hidden meaning of the temple, no one had figured and so on…
But the most beautiful layout was the one I set up in Ansaldo. It was very long. Now everything is closed because it became a space for the sets of the Scala theatre. But the space is impressive, it is 100m x70m, more than a football field. All this work was done in less than a month, there were more than 200 workers at work and I had to organize everything. Then at that time it was difficult to communicate without mobile phones and other technologies that we now have.
Craxi thought it would bring bad luck since the pyramid was the tomb of the pharaohs.
Anyway, this was a truly cutting-edge construction. It was the first time in Italy that four-color LEDs were used. Before there was only one color LEDs.
I managed to get these really innovative LEDs thanks to Formica, the minister of the industry, a Socialist. You should know that these led came from Japan in a fixed amount. He authorized to import the necessary quantity just for me, with a specific legislative decree. Then I decided that the whole thing (it was a huge tv screen e.n.) had to be a pyramid, so LEDs had to be optimized with a pyramidal shape.
At a certain point, it was Saturday, it was late and nobody wanted to work longer. Everyone wanted to see the football match. It was a qualifying match for Italy ’90 world cup, or something like that. So I continued to work to ensure them that, once finished, we would have watched the match all together. I took drinks for everyone and we watched the game live on the pyramidal screen. Italy won. The work was completed on time and so we celebrated.
In Verona Congress, in '84, I made a disco, all neon and mirrors.
In the end I worked on five congresses, but actually I also worked on the preparations of all the programmatic conferences. For example in 1990, before the big congress in Bari, there was a programmatic conference. It was in conjunction with a conference of the PCI, and so I thought; What's better than using the Berlin Wall as a backdrop for our conference? It would be a good joke.
Every time I was going to prepare a new set-up the journalists used to ask me insistently about what I would have done. That time I told them I would bring to Milan the Berlin Wall.
They went crazy. They were all asking how could I manage to have a 20 meters piece of Berlin wall. Once a journalist from La Repubblica told me he had asked all shippers if parts of the wall had been shipped. They all clearly denied and I told him that there was no need to go for external shippers since we, as socialists, had our own cooperatives that could do the transport.
In the following days, in the study of my friend Franco Cheli, a scenographer, with many assistants, we reproduced a segment of the Berlin Wall. We did it precisely identical: same size, same graffiti, same irons coming through the fake concrete twisted exactly like true ones. Finally, throughout all the conference, everyone believed they were really original concrete panels from Berlin wall.
In the end I could not resist and I revealed to everyone that was my own creation.
The next day on La Repubblica a satirical cartoon was published, with Bettino giving to Occhetto a piece of the wall and Occhetto replied: 'No, I don’t want it, it’s from Panseca!'
I conceive all the things I did for the party as my personal artworks.
The difference between me and the architects designing for other political parties was that they were struggling to invent things while I just had fun doing these things joyfully.
I was the first to make conventions accessible for people with disabilities. At the sides of the stage there were always ramps. For Milan conference, for example, Franco Piro, an handicapped member of socialist party, one day called me and said: “When you layout the conference, please, think that there also people with disabilities”. And I did It! There were two ramps, one on the right and one one the left, but, you know, really smooth slopes, very easy to walk on.
I used to stay there also at night when I was mounting a layout. I had to keep contacts with all the technicians, with service companies. I had just a fax that I used as a notes table to draw or change details. Then with the phone I explained changes, materials or colors to use. In the same way I kept the Party updated with the status of the works. I was fine, a little reckless but I had fun.
I used to invent symbols. The pyramid in Milan, the Temple in Rimini, or the last one I did in Bari where I decided to make a Gate of Peace. Or the Berlin Wall. Basically I was just trying to find something that had to remain in everyone's mind at that moment, something that was topical. And through that ideas I built the structures containing the events.
I was in Egypt, I liked the pyramids. They were nice but did not vibrate. So for Milan I decided to realize a pyramid with LEDs that dialogued with the public. It was a real event.
In Verona, the space was rather sad, truly grey. That pavilion was not very high, rather small, really sad. There were no windows. It was very sad. So I said, 'Now I fill it with mirrors and do a sort of amphitheater'. Then make it circular was a mess so I went for the octagonal shape. It came out pretty cool I must say.
During the conference I was standing there next to the stage and every time Craxi stand up I used to take his place because no one dared to sit there.
Trussardi at the Ansaldo congress made clothes for everyone. The hostesses had Trussardi dresses with my red carnations printed on.
Bari was the last Congress. The Congress of the undershirt. There was scirocco wind, it was very hot, it was summer. Because the environment was not air-conditioned when Craxi made the closing speech he sweated so much that you could see the undershirt, so it was nicknamed the Congress of the undershirt. Journalists said it was my fault because i did not put the air conditioning.
At that time there was a clash between communists and socialists. So I chose to insert a rainbow in the layout as a sign of peace. After that the Congress of Genoa was scheduled. It was not a real conference. It was the celebration of the centenary of the party.
For that event I wanted to do the egg of Columbus. Also because we would have been in Genoa, the city of Cristoforo Colombo. I designed a large egg from which images materialized. It was the ’92, one hundred years after the birth of the Italian Socialist Party, the oldest of the Italian Parties, but then, of course, after 1991, everything was canceled.”
This interview was recorded in Milan at the studio of Filippo Panseca on December 5th, 2014 and January 9th, 2015.
 Francesco de Martino (Naples, May 31, 1907, - Naples, November 18, 2002) was an Italian jurist, politician, lifetime senator (1991-2002) and former Vice President of the Council of Ministers.
 Marco Pannella (real name Giacinto Pannella, (Teramo, on May 2, 1930 -) is an Italian politician.
 Ugo La Pietra (Bussi sul Trino 1938 -) is an Italian artist and designer.
 Salvatore Formica (Bari, 1 March 1927 -) best known as Rino Formica, is an Italian former politician.
 La repubblica is one of the main Italian Newspaper
 Franco Cheli (Brescia, 1939 -) is an artist and an Italian scenographer.
 Achille Occhetto (Turin, 3 March 1936 -) is an Italian politician. He served as the last secretary-general of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) between 1988 and 1991, and the first leader of the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS).
 Franco Piro (Cosenza, 3 July 1948 -) is an Italian politician, former leader of Potere Operaio (was a radical left-wing Italian political group, active between 1968 and 1973).
 Nicola Trussardi (Milan, June 17, 1942 - Milan, April 14, 1999) was an Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur.
 Tangentopoli or Mani pulite began on 17 February 1992. Manipulite (Italian for "clean hands") was a nationwide Italian judicial investigation into political corruption held in the 1990s. Mani pulite led to the demise of the so-called First Republic resulting in the disappearance of many parties. Some politicians and industry leaders committed suicide after their crimes were exposed.
In some accounts, as many as 5000 people have been cited as suspects. At one point more than half of the members of the Italian Parliament were under indictment. More than 400 city and town councils were dissolved because of corruption charges. The estimated value of bribes paid annually in the 1980s by Italian and foreign companies bidding for large government contracts in Italy reached 4 billion dollars (6.5 trillion lire). Craxi received his first prosecution notice in December 1992. He escaped the laws by fleeing to Hammamet, Tunisia, in 1994, and remained a fugitive there, protected by Ben Ali’s government. He repeatedly declared himself innocent, but never returned to Italy where he had been sentenced to 27 years in jail (of these, 9 years and 8 months were upheld on appeal). He died on 19 January 2000, at the age of 65, from complications of diabetes.