Seeking out and offering a new approach to heritage education that harmonically combines the languages of art and science.

Research Plane

Cultural landscapes is a research project led by the Human Sciences for Education Department at the University of Milano Bicocca; its goal is to develop new tools for enhancing audiences’ appreciation and enjoyment of the landscape, artistic and historical heritage at Villa Carlotta, Isola Comacina and Bergamo Botanic Garden.

Based on data collected during an initial exploratory research phase, new practices – designed to stimulate deeper sensory, emotional and “hands-on” involvement on the part of visitors – were introduced on an experimental basis. The research team developed a novel format entitled VIP (Visitor in Practice), which engages visitors by providing them with a kit containing a set of tools and a list of activities to be carried out during their time at the site. 
One of the research aims was to come up with a method of harmonically blending scientific and humanistic language in approaching the theme of landscape. The multiple types of landscape, from gardens to cities, that characterize the target heritage sites, offer rich opportunities to combine themes from the spheres of art, science and history.

Research new tools for enhancing visitors’ appreciation and enjoyment of the historical and artistic heritage offered by the three cultural sites, with a view to developing shared initiatives including novel visitor itineraries/experiences.

Involve the various stakeholders by drawing on the vast legacy of assets, practices and expertise available at each of the participating cultural sites.

Enhance the connection between art and science by offering interdisciplinary forms of visitor experience.

Methods and instruments:
Existing practices and audiences were explored by means of interviews, surveys and focus group discussions.
Based on data collected during this initial exploratory research phase, new practices – designed to stimulate deeper sensory, emotional and practical involvement on the part of visitors – were introduced on an experimental basis.
The research was also informed by the EST project, in which museums are viewed as active learning tools, insofar as they offer the opportunity to carry out practical activities that in turn promote intellectual growth. This “hands-on, minds-on” model is typical of the informal educational approach adopted by many science museums.

Extend the use of “hands-on, minds-on” methodologies in the domains of history, art and archeology, making the participating heritage sites more accessible to the public...
…especially to students at technical institutes and senior citizens, thereby educating new audiences with high levels of motivation, empowerment and focus.

Themes: art, science and landscapes

The Greek philosopher Plato used to say that beautiful things are difficult.
If we factor out all received superstructures of knowledge, we still perceive landscape as beautiful … but can we say the same thing for art? No! Art, most people say, is very difficult to understand! Art, especially contemporary art, requires a theory to be understood. Thus, art is commonly viewed as requiring explanation in order to be appreciated and enjoyed.

It follows that science, while certainly beautiful, is even more difficult than art, because understanding it demands not only theory but also experimentation and ongoing observation of phenomena where possible. However, science allows us to “mess about with stuff” and, in the words of famous Italian geneticist, Edoardo Boncineli, people enjoy “messing about with stuff”. Therefore, science is difficult, but learning it has an enjoyable side. We might say that those involved in science communication have made science accessible to all by bringing the scientific experimental method into their educational approach.
Landscapes are beautiful (if we close our eyes to a certain amount of human “error”), but everybody knows what a landscape is, and there is no need for a theory. From childhood onwards, we have had to learn how to recognize the landscape around us so that we can find our way home without getting lost.
“Cultural Landscapes” works from these basic assumptions to enhance awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of cultural heritage. Following Paolo d’Angelo, we might say that landscape is nature perceived through a culture. We can only define a given environment as a landscape through the instrument of culture, which may be based on a theory or an experience, but also the outcome of knowledge, skills and relationships that have accumulated in our consciousness over time.

The participating heritage sites

Cutural landscapes, by definition, are cultural assets: based on this assumption, our project focuses on three different cultural heritage sites:

Isola Comacina, the only island on Lake Como, where it is still possible to admire Romanesque ruins and Rationalist villas designed by architect Pietro Lingeri, against the stunning natural backdrop of the lake.

The Lorenzo Rota Botanic Garden of Bergamo, nestled high in the old city of Bergamo with views over the “new” city, in which nature is showcased for research, conservation and awareness-raising purposes.

Villa Carlotta, one of the most delightful villas on Lake Como, home to works of Neoclassical and Romantic art, and set in a landscape crafted by human hands: its lakeside gardens.

Three peculiar combinations of art and science located in unique and distinctive settings and offering at least three different cultural landscapes.

Some visitors have been willing to share their personal point of view with us during their VIP, Visitors in Practice, experience. Behind each narrative, there is a life story …a soul. Some recounted having fallen in love with the local area to the extent of deciding to move there from a different home, town, city or region: in other words, to make a significant life change. Others had chosen this place as their holiday destination. Some held old memories of the site, while others lived nearby but had never been there. And what about you? Could you be the next VIP?

The challenge

Cultural Landscapes is a different way of engaging with cultural heritage, a ‘’philosophy ‘’ according to which visitors can discover multiple facets of cultural sites and contribute to the construction of new knowledge. Thus, cultural heritage will no longer be perceived as a static collection of dead things to be passively learnt about, but as a treasure-chest of stories to be delved into at will, either solely for our enjoyment or to enhance our knowledge.

The challenges for the project “Cultural Landscapes” is to apply the scientific learning approach to the enjoyment of art and to bring poetry, to borrow a metaphor from the landscape architect Dixton Hutton, into the enjoyment of landscape.  

Carlo Rovelli, a famous physicist, in explaining the most beautiful of all scientific theories - Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – has said that: “there are masterpieces that excite us intensely, such as Mozart’s Requiem, the Odyssey, the Sistine Chapel or King Lear: we may need to undergo an apprenticeship to fully appreciate their splendor. But we will be rewarded by their beauty. And not alone this, but our eyes will be opened up to a new perspective on the world.”