Gaia D’Arrigo‘s The Myth of the CiucciaNebbia is a layered, multi-phase art project. It is a simultaneously analytical and intiuitive-creative, art-based research that addresses an urgent and painful contemporary problem: the poisoning of the environment in which we live, of which we are a part and which we have created. 

Gaia bases her experimentation with materials – coming from studies in product design – on a strong operational and methodical component, which allows her to establish links between places and activate traces of the past. She observes surfaces and works on layering, on the accumulation of matter, collecting samples to map the city and create an archive that tells a story. She does this by literally staying “in touch with the problem,” and in the end she is able to personify her city by dressing its air – or recreating and bringing to life the contaminated fabric of its inhabitants. She reminds us of the concreteness of present contamination by dressing up the past one. 

Frame of the video CIUCCIANEBBIA by Gaia D’Arrigo; full video at

Putting on a mask and wearing a costume are rites of access to the embodied imaginative potential of theater and the anticipatory character of performance, fundamental aspects of critical and speculative artistic practices. Precisely in this irreducible bodily dimension, activated by the artificial epidermis and the newfound symbolism of apotropaic “masks,” lies the link between the intimate, cathartic and therapeutic nature of the work and its political aspect. Indeed, the CiucciaNebbia is a situated inquiry into the spatiotempomaterialization of pollution that moves toward the universal: it embraces a process of ecological conscientization and questioning of the anthropocentric binarisms and boundaries that limit our ethical systems. 

Becoming the CiucciaNebbia, rather than telling the story and imagining its ending, is an unambiguous critical statement on pollution that opens a crack in hegemonic thinking and peeks beyond: what happens when we welcome on our skin the interrelationship between what exists? What does it entail to take on the role of a hybrid creature, embodying a range of relationships and identifying with one’s environment when it is toxic?

The CiucciaNebbia was made by Gaia as a graduation project at Design Academy Eindhoven where it was exhibited at the Graduation Show during Dutch Design Week 2022. Until September 10, 2023, it is possible to see the Ciuccianebbia within The new Italian Landscape, at the ADI in Milan. An exhibition dedicated to selected works by young designers under 35, exploring contemporary issues with its continuous ecological and social transformations.

In December 2022 we met to talk about it:

What role did the myth you quote in the project’s title play?

The project always works on the layering of different levels, such as those of pollution or the body, but also of meaning. I was interested in investigating the collective imagination, the “myths” that we have created for ourselves that have led to the problem of pollution, but also the myth that leads us to believe that we are different from the creature that has emerged in the work. I wanted to interrogate the barrier, ideological and, indeed, mythologized, between our human body and the surrounding environment. I also refer to the myth as a story, as part of the narrative of the project, so I wanted to include the word in the title to characterize the storytelling of this creature that emerges among the buildings, the pollution and the Milanese

In the text that accompanies your work and lays out its research you write, «pollution is used as an investigative lens, a mirror and an archive». Can you explain what role these three concepts played?

When I started to interrogate the layers of pollution and its meaning, my intention was to make it speak. I also refer to the words of Jorge Otero, architect and artist, who wrote in an interview that he wanted “pollution to tell its own story.” So I started to go around the city, to see where and in what specific areas the pollution is layered, which ones are being cleaned and which ones are not, what kind of neighborhoods these are. In that sense, I used it as a lens to look at the city – I observed the development of the phenomenon to understand Milan and the interactions between its geography and the phenomenon itself, because we all interact with pollution, but we do it differently: for someone who lives in an underpass, where I also went to take some samples, the relationship is not the same as for someone who lives in a central area.

These dusts are produced by our activities, not exclusively industrial ones, so their trend reflects us, it works like a mirror. As far as I’m concerned, it’s always a bit strange that this matter – which is also a wake-up call – is removed from the buildings to follow the city’s image agenda. Perhaps it’d be more fruitful to embrace one’s toxicity rather than relegate it to the least visible places. Not least because the inhabitants reflect it anyway: it always made sense to me that pollution acts on a neurological level creating anxiety and depression. If you imagine the typical Milanese, reflecting these symptoms in some way, what is the cause of what? It’s a vicious cycle.

Then I started collecting it and mapping the city using this material. I reasoned about the possibility of a space-time “living” archive because these layers of pollution are matter and therefore a source of information. Millions of telling particles: cleaning up the street is a bit like cleaning up an unwanted story.

This phase of your work is experimental and methodical – I would like to elaborate on the technique you used to build the archive and the stages of the work that came to follow, including the construction of the masks that bring the character to life.

Experimentation with materials has always been a propensity of mine, and that of latex is a technique I discovered through the artist Jorge Otero Pailos, whom I mentioned, who reproduces entire facades of buildings. It is originally used in cultural heritage restoration and cleaning by smearing liquid latex on monuments to extract fine dust and whatever accumulates on the surfaces. I then used the samples collected from buildings and urban infrastructure to build the map and archive we were talking about. The rest was a lot of fun because, after scanning and archiving them, I put them directly on my body. I sat for hours at the table in my house in Holland wearing a jumpsuit on which my roommates were sticking pieces using more latex, with a space heater nearby hoping it would dry quickly. The jumpsuit has a zipper and can be re-worn-although the latex shrinks a bit – and the feet are sport socks that I gave a special pedicure to!

Masks on buildings are a bit of an obsession of mine; beyond their instrumental construction value, I have always observed them for their apotropaic function of protecting and warding off evil spirits. I was interested in the symbolic value attached to this material and its benefits for people. Milan, along with other towns in Puglia, is one of the cities with more such masks. For me they have become sentinels, watchmen who observe from above the changes in the city. Then the CiucciaNebbia takes on these demonic guises, as if it were the face of the buildings. 

The Myth of CiucciaNebbia, by Gaia D'Arrigo
Frame del video CIUCCIANEBBIA di Gaia D’Arrigo; video completo su
Did you have a chance to analyze the samples you collected? Can you tell me about the Future Material Bank?

No, but it would be very nice: I would love to continue with this project that is both analytical research and intuitive-creative research. And I would love to collaborate with someone to see what is actually in the samples. 

Future Material Bank is a giant collection of materials projects, initially focused on bio-materials. My work is more about reasoning the contextualization and narrative of materials. Pollution was included not so much because I want to create a useful material with pollution but precisely to propose it as an investigative lens and as an archive of an ecological problem. 

The Myth of CiucciaNebbia, by Gaia D'Arrigo
Courtesy of Gaia D’Arrigo
I would like to talk a little bit about the context where you developed this project – the Design Academy Eindhoven – and the influence it had. As Leonardo Caffo wrote in Interni magazine from December 2022, this institute participated in the institutionalization of radical thinking, a hybrid of philosophy and factual design, which contributed to the progressive shift of design from product to speculative design. How have you experienced and where do you stand with respect to this hybrid nature?

Academically, DAE promotes interdisciplinarity between research, art and design, and collaboration between different fields of knowledge. In more traditional product design universities some questions would not even be considered. It definitely incentivizes people to see design as a hybrid practice. I remember that in the description of my course of study in Social Design, Director Maria Otero Verzier was inviting people to think about the role of design in contemporary issues, rather than looking for direct solutions. And then what this university does, which makes it really hybrid, is bringing together people from all fields: some people come from performative practices, some from gender or social studies, some from product or graphic design. I learned so much from my friends: it’s clear that if I came from product design and experimentation with materials I then absorbed the performativity and use of the body, human or otherwise, that was being promoted. 

CiucciaNebbia is your graduation project and was therefore exhibited at the Graduation Show organized by DAE during Dutch Design Week. How did you choose the exhibition spaces and how did the project develop on this occasion? More generally, what influence did the thesis framework have on your work?

The spaces were assigned to us, it was the basement of a garage. It’s funny because a friend of mine had done a project on dust: she had worked for a year in a microprocessors lab, where she was cleaning these rooms that are supposed to be aseptic, and part of her installation at the exhibition was a sensor that picked up fine dust in the air. Apparently we spent ten days in the basement of the garage with a concentration of fine dust eleven times the permitted level, acceptable by health standards. Our works were in strong contrast, as hers was on cleanliness and mine on dirt, and this worked well from a curatorial point of view.

Going back to the project: the video had the role of re-contextualizing the fogger in its generative environment, so it was produced also because I needed to bring the work back to Holland. Maybe if the exhibition was in Milan I would have done a live stream or an urban performance. In this regard, I remember a curator told me this kind of project is always more successful abroad than in the place they are dealing with, like they were being exoticized. However, that is not my purpose, since it was a located research it must be brought back here. Even though I used a more digestible language, it is still a critical statement to a system that design is part of anyway. 

For the installation I chose urban elements such as scaffolding. I thought about of the cathedral that’s in a constant state of restoration, of cleaning, because if we keep doing the same things we will also keep producing these materials. I liked the idea of recalling these symbiotic urban structures to architecture, as well as the exhaust pipes of cars assembled to masks, which in turn became creatures. 

I wanted to imagine an installation that was fictional design but also reality. An attempt to challenge the boundaries between what is real and what is considered fake, and then use an almost absurd character, but to show an absurdity that is already there – such as living in a completely toxic environment, in every possible sense, but promoted culturally because it is “cool.”

The Myth of CiucciaNebbia, by Gaia D'Arrigo
Frame of the video CIUCCIANEBBIA by Gaia D’Arrigo; full video at
As a final question I would like to return to the concept of the mirror. Who is the Milanese you find reflected here? And most importantly, how did you feel reflecting yourself in this phenomenon?

It is anyone who lives in Milan and breathes its air. Milan’s productivity is certainly part of its myth, and this is also a paradox. The city presents itself as progressive and forward-looking … however, then all these activities are reflected in pollution levels. The Milanese is the pollution. Milan, being always in step with the times, hawks greenwashing as part of its identity, and we end up forgetting that it is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. There is a constant attempt to hide this phenomenon and to erase its “physical”, material aspect. The project intends to turn these parts upside down: that is, to show the pollution that is there, and there is no tree that holds, there is no technology that absorbs these particles, because it reproduces, it comes from this myth of progress, from the exhaustive extraction of resources. And also of the Milanese.

I felt intoxicated, I started this project just because of a personal issue. In a way it was also very funny, I’ll tell you why. At the beginning of the academic year I took a course on alchemy which was also about Jung, a kind of psychological approach to alchemy. Here I heard the expression participation mystique, which has a history of colonial violence behind because it was used to refer to indigenous tribes designing part of their identity with their surroundings. This way of imagining themselves as one with the rivers and natural elements was obviously ground for delegitimization by the colonizers who claimed the supremacy of man over nature. Similarly, the alchemical vessel – or aludel – is the place where reactions occur between materials but it is also the cosmos and the alchemist who, while transmuting vile metals into gold, activates a psychological process of identification with matter. So I asked myself: what kind of matter do I identify with? I began to wonder what kind of metals were in the air in Milan: there is nickel, for example, which is a metal that I am allergic to. The idea of being allergic to the air in Milan – which we are all allergic to in some way – weirds me and made this investigation of the phenomenon something personal and almost cathartic. To me it was also about understanding the origin of the intoxication I felt when I was here, which was also the pressure of work, of the city, of capitalist society in general. The identification with this creature was a healing process. An attempt to not alienate myself from this phenomenon, to identify with it and try to come to terms with it, or rather, even just a way to carve out an opinion about it instead of being completely passive. 

The Myth of CiucciaNebbia, by Gaia D'Arrigo
Frame of the video CIUCCIANEBBIA by Gaia D’Arrigo; full video at
A bit like digging into the collective unconscious to resurrect remnants, a process that raises questions rather than answers.

Yes, indeed, imagining oneself as a hybrid creature can lead to positive consequences… maybe? I’m not sure but I think so – it is better to identify than to alienate oneself with ecological problems, which are simultaneously social, very connected as in this case. In my opinion it would create awareness towards the urban environment we live in, and seeing yourself as part of it could open up a new way of relating to it.