IF ITALY in the last 25 to 30 years had a thoughtful left-wing intellectual, completely dedicated to alternative cultural action and promotion, that person was Gianni Sassi. He died in his home city of Milan, aged 54. He was very fond of the city and always felt strongly for the importance of its particular presence within the changing Italian and European cultural situation.
As an organiser and an art director, Sassi was at the heart of many intelligent activities. He was in love with the permanent avant-garde, both local and international. He saw himself as a 'remover of obstacles', so that the flow of research and experiment in music, the visual arts, poetry, dance, performance, video etc could be made accessible with true respect for their complexities.
In the Sixties, inspired by the artist Marcel Duchamp, Sassi participated in the loose interdisciplinary network of Fluxus. During the Seventies he organised key events for John Cage (such as Il treno) and promoted the Spanish group Zaj - 'more zen than zen', as Cage stated. Sassi was also the manager for the vocal experiments of the Greek singer Demetrio Stratos and for his progressive rock group Area. Sassi's cultural promotion agency, AR&A, produced books for small presses such as the Co-operativa Scrittori based in Rome. He founded the label Cramps, issuing records by Juan Hidalgo, Walter Marchetti, Cornelius Cardew, Steve Lacy, Stratos, Cage and others. Sassi started, in Milan as always, the cultural co-op Intrapresa (later Nuova Intrapresa), which published throughout the hostile Eighties the monthly tabloid Alfabeta, a space for diverse cultural ideas. He also edited La Gola, a sophisticated monthly on recycled paper discussing traditional and new gastronomy issues.
In 1990 he organised with Gino di Maggio the large Fluxus show Ubi Fluxus ibi motus in Venice, to run concurrently with the Biennale. Finally, since 1983 he had been the main force behind the annual international poetry festival 'Milano. poesia'. Every year he fought the 'don't- give-a-damn' attitude of politicians, bureaucrats and authorities. Yet every year 'Milano. poesia' came off, in spite of the difficulties, for a whole week packed with live events in locations ranging from theatres to large remodelled factories. Until last year it was the liveliest meeting-point for poetry and various progressive arts. Interested people would gather from all over Italy.
In Milan you could see a variety of authors and artists like the British poet Tom Raworth, the Italians Nanni Balestrini or Patrizia Vicinelli or Corrado Costa, the Viennese Gerald Bisinger, the Basque Esther Ferrer, the French Julien Blaine or Jean-Jacques Lebel, the German Wolf or Tom Johnson, reading and performing.
Now, sadly, it will no longer be possible to argue and laugh with Gianni Sassi, always wearing a wide- brimmed hat, at his favourite Milanese hangout, the Lucky Bar, also known as 'The Frankenstein', after the songwriting name Gianni gave his friend Stratos.
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