I’m on diet, I want to loose 10 kgs and I know that part of them comes from great dinners at Ferdinando Botto Poala’s place. I met this guy when we where teenagers, utterly disliked him first and slowly turned him into a dear friend. He’s from my hometown, Biella, in Northern Italy, his family has been for decades in the top wool business, where he works too, but to me Nando is above all a chef and a genuine art lover.
I remember when he started collecting paintings, in his thirties. Each time I went to see him there was something new hanging by the walls, emerging talents whom he was selecting with passion. As he was serving you brasato you could ask him why he chose that specific artwork and the answer was basically the same: “Because I like it”, with not even the slightest hint to show off. Many things changed in Nando’s life, since then, including his brilliant approach to art.
“It was 2008, our industrial district was stuck in the middle of worldwide economical breakdown and I was dining with my best friends, all working in the same field. We were in despair, we felt like there was no other chance to improve our business apart from dirty tricks that we didn’t want to play”, remembers Ferdinando. “Still a voice inside me was saying that it wasn’t all gone. I told the guys I believed in our entrepreneurs and artisans abilities, I believed there was a chance to do something relevant from an economical, social and ethical point of view. Together we could have taken care of old abandoned buildings, turn them into spaces and make things happen there. We were eating tortellini in brodo and I know the best broth comes from fondo bruno, the letfovers used by the chef to make it tasty. I said it was just like that and they all laughed at me”. Two years later Nando buys a dismissed factory founded by the end of the 19th Century in the outskirts of Biella and the Fondo Bruno Produzioni is born to prove that there can be a new life for all that’s apparently lost. “It was essential to have an actual place for my project, I needed walls, not just an idea. Also, as a manager I knew I had to make it profitable, so the roof has been completely covered with solar panels to produce energy that we now sell”.
Fondo Bruno is breathtakingly cool in its bareness, with huge empty spaces and smaller rooms with unexpected shapes. You can’t tell it was a factory, from the outside it looks like an old house. Only by entering you realize the endless possibilities of that place, it’s the perfect environment for creations. It’s Spring 2010 when Masbedo, the video art duo founded by Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni, filmed there the shooting of a pianoforte for their work Guardare se stessi guardarsi. Then Claudia Losi, performed there the Funerale della Balena with the help of the people in the neighbourhood, SkyArte used it for one of its productions, as well as Italian singer Giuliano Paola for one of his videos, while the video installation Movie Story, touring around Europe, was hosted here, after the Milan location turned it down because of a more lucrative fashion show . “Artists have incredible visions, but often lack the tools to turn them into reality”, explains Nando, “we, at Fondo Bruno, give them technical, logistic and artisanal support”. Because of his job, he has an amazing network of workers and artisans who can help in complex art productions with top skills at reasonable rates. “Shooting a piano with a gun, it’s not an easy thing, but we managed to do everything in one day, with all the due permissions. That’s the strength of a small place, with a great working culture”. And that’s the reason why Fondo Bruno is so special. Ferdinando doesn’t care about patronizing, he wants to participate art.
“I never liked the typical art system with galleries and exhibitions, besides I started questioning myself about owning art. Did it really make sense to keep buying? I was becoming obsessed by collecting more and more. Also, I regretted the lack of personal dialogue with the artists, something you could hardly do, because of gallerists. I met Mrs. Luisella Zignone, a Biellese and textile entrepreneur too with a deep love for art. We shared the same vision, so we created I.D.E.A. Industria Dedicata Essenzialmente all’Arte, the brain of Fondo Bruno. We don’t want to be a museum, to sell or show artworks. We don’t give artists money: besides space, we help them with practical know-how, we give them the appropriate timing, we are with them before their idea becomes reality and support them in that process”. If, for example, carpenters and electricians are needed, Fondo Bruno finds the right ones, at a fair price which will be paid by the artist. “I unloaded trucks, found hotel rooms, arranged dinners. Once I drove an actress from Biella to Rome in one night. She had to be there the next day, but the filming wasn’t over yet and she was missing her flight. I told them to keep going and once they finished, we left by car. By the end of the day, that work of art had become part of my life, something far more rewarding than possess”. Nando almost quit buying art, now he is with the artists as they are telling their story.
Fondo Bruno has no sponsorship and doesn’t want one: things happen when there is a good feeling with an artist, without any fixed schedule. “We have no obligations, with solar panels we get money enough to take care of the building and we are free to choose. We have only one commitment, with our territory. We want to create social empowerment, we talk to everybody. Our neighbours don’t know much about art, but whenever we can we open our doors and invite them to join or help the performance as it takes place. Sometimes they don’t understand, they are bewildered by what they see, but they come in anyway and to see their emotional feedback is my biggest reward”.