The collection comprises 2734 portraits, all taken from very close-up, strictly in black and white and mounted on aluminum, of the people who took part in the major public art project Salviamo la luna or “Save the Moon,” conceived and coordinated on behalf of the Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea by Jochen Gerz (Berlin, 1940), an artist who has established an international reputation for his important operations of public art devoted to grand themes of historical, ethical, existential and symbolic value (Monument against Fascism, Hamburg-Harburg 1986; Monument against Racism, Saarbrücken 1993; The Living Monument of Biron, Biron 1996; Reasons for Smiles, Paris/Arles 1996-98; The Witnesses of Cahors, Cahors 1998; My Word, Bolzano/Kiev 1999-2000; The Gift, Fresnoy 2000; The Words of Paris, Paris 2000; The Future Monument, Coventry 2004; Fundamental Rights Square, Karlsruhe 2006).
The project, born out of the need to bring the inhabitants of Cinisello Balsamo closer to the museum, gets its name from a local folktale (the people of Cinisello are known as pescaluna or “fishers of the moon”). It was carried out over the course of two years, from 2005 to 2007, and divided into four phases, in each of which every participant played an active role that transformed him or her from a spectator/user of the work of art into a genuine author: in the words of Jochen Gerz, without the presence, the contribution and, in a sense, the very existence of the participants, the project could not even have taken shape and been carried out. During the first phase, that of invitation, people were asked to come to the museum to have their pictures taken by a group of young photographers involved in the project; in the second, the demonstration, they wandered by themselves through the streets of the town at night carrying a placard with their portrait on it; in the third, that of exposition, all 2734 portraits were shown at an imposing joint exhibition which occupied all the spaces of the museum and Villa Ghirlanda; in the fourth, that of distribution, all the portraits, property of the museum and part of its collections, were delivered to the participants (each received the picture of another, in an ideal exchange) who had undertaken to keep them in their homes: in this way the collection of portraits became truly public and was placed in the hands of the townspeople.
Just as the inhabitants of Cinisello Balsamo played an active part in this project of high poetic and social value, along with a large group of collaborators of the museum, so too did several newspapers (Il Giorno, La Città of Cinisello Balsamo, Il Diario del Nord Milano) and a number of institutions (CFP Riccardo Bauer, Goethe Institut Mailand, Milan Bicocca University, Milan Polytechnic), and companies (Epson Italia, LAB Angelo Colombo, Arti Grafiche Meroni).
The project was accurately documented in the volume Jochen Gerz. Salviamo la luna/Save the Moon, ed. by Matteo Balduzzi (Milan, Electa, 2008).