Superstudio – La Moglie di Lot
Pinksummer: We have been thinking for a long time how to begin our conversation with you Superstudio and we ended up starting with an awkward question, related to Florence and to a photomontage that does not belong to you at all.
The international edition of “New York Times” has dedicated a “Saturday Profile” to Matteo Renzi, mayor of the regional capital of Tuscany on election and Italian premier on assignment (as it seems that the extensive state of exception has made Italian people opinion superfluous), presenting him as the caravagesque boy with the basket of fruit, backdropped by Castel Sant’Angelo and the river Tevere by Corot, greeting the secretary of the PD (center left) as bringer of energy and prosperity. From Genoa, it is no longer the organized proletariat of the Port and the Ansaldo, but Beppe Grillo, new icon of the Italian dissent, the one who would like to oppose “the great refusal”.
Beyond the value of negative thinking, Marcuse had at least seen “the end of the utopia” as the liberation from every form of repression and the power to the imagination became the keyword of May ’68 student’s movement.
Even though among the “radicals” you have not been the most confident in an anthropological perspective, looking back to the future with the capital f of Superstudio, would your imagination have been so open to suspect that the time would have succeeded in operating such an unreasonable and stubborn desublimation of Italian associate life, allowing so much power to the imagination?
Superstudio (Adolfo Natalini, Piero Frassinelli, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia): I try to answer: reality always exceeds fiction.
P: The antinomic dialectic between monument and the anti-monument seems to expose the ambiguity of Superstudio poetics of space between knowledge and fiction, conservation and liberation, disorder and Cartesian grid distorted by the vanishing of perspective. Moreover, in Heideggerian terms, the comparison between the “Continuous Monument” and “La moglie di Lot” (Lot’s Wife) is emblematic.
The symbolic value of the “Continuous Monument”, a colossus that snakes around the world looking for a soul that, being mere surface without any inner dimension, it cannot find, tends to embody an hegemonic culture of metaphysical and anti-phenonomenological sort, presented by Superstudio as some sort of a priori, which is the impossibility of projecting, by exalting the dramatic limit, like if it was an existence lost among the beings (objects?) without considering the end.
“La moglie di Lot”, presented at the 1978 Venice Biennale and then got lost, reappears today with its fragile, nomadic and temporary poetry to tell us once again that being cannot be anything but existence and therefore history, necessarely finite, and that every truth is child of time. “La moglie of Lot” refers to the possibilities of an intrinsically temporal dimension, in which the nothingness asserts itself as a foreseen and necessarely future threat. “La moglie of Lot” with its five salt architecture models dissolving in time and water to reveal something hidden, escapes any definition and can only be interpreted. “La moglie di Lot” has the horizontal monumentality of existence and, because of that, it may be interpreted as an anti-monument.
Finally, according to Superstudio, do not monument and anti-monument, rhetorics and anti-rhetorics, “Continuous Monument” and “La moglie of Lot” coincide? Are not they two manifestation of the same essence? Furthermore, can the mere surface exist even though it is a representation?
S: I try to answer:
Between 1969 and 1970 we have elaborated a discourse pushed to the limit on the possibilities of architecture as critical tool. Starting to use systematically the “demonstratio per absurdum” we produced an architectural model for global urbanization.
The work is published in the catalogue:
THE CONTINUOUS MONUMENT, 1969
… we participated to the competition (and won a prize) with a single architecture to be extended all over the Earth, an architecture able to shape all the Earth or just a small part of it, an architecture that one can recognize (even extraterrestrial can) as the product of a civilization. An architecture to occupy the optimal inhabitable areas and to let all the others free…
We have introduced an “architectonic model of total urbanization” as the logic resulting from a “oriented” history: a history of monuments, begun with Stonehenge that, via the Kaaba and the VAB, found its logical completion with the “continuous monument” (see page 9)
And of such enigmatic continuous monument, of such “monument for example”, we presented some random photos, quite like postcards and therefore as disturbing as any “greetings from…” images. (On this work, carried on and expanded, we are preparing a film for an American television company).
The continuous monument is the extreme point of a series of coherent projectual actions, that we are currently carrying forward, from design to urban planning, as demonstrations of an enunciated a priori theory: the one of total design. A portable design able to remain same as it is by changing scale or semantic area without traumas or inconveniences found its logic achievement in the “continuous monument”.
Such immutability interests us: the search for an “impassible and unalterable image, which static perfection spins the world by the love it generates for itself”.
Through a series of mental processes, one can take possession of reality and reach serenity, the only state free from fear and anguish; in that sense architecture is the mean to the understanding of the world and to self consciuosness: Selbsterkenntnis durch Architektur.
At that time in Graz, we spoke with Mayr and Missoni of how to keep our balance, and discussed the fact that Freud declared that cube is a symptom of anguish, and so we all live in houses of anguish, even Wittgenstein who had built himself a cubic ‘house because he liked the houses designed by Loos… While speaking of Wittgenstein “how can a man he happy, when he cannot keep at a distance the misery of the world? Through the life of knowledge.
The life of knowledge is the life that is happy despite the misery of the world. Only the life that can renounce the pleasures of the world is happy”. And also: “There is really something ineffable. It shows itself, it is mystic. The impulse to mysticism comes from the lack of satisfaction of our desires on the part of science”.
Also, we have spoken a lot about architecture of happiness, about something we called Glückitektur or even Happytecture, an architecture of mental freedom, of disinhibited uses of intellect, of serene confidence in the decontracted use of the mind…
An architecture free from the complexes of “constructed architecture” (and this is perhaps our only one moderated utopia) in order to open the field in the only two true directions: outside ourselves (as Hollein says) and inside ourselves (as since thousands of years ago Indians suggests and maybe Saint Thomas does too).
We have spoken about an architecture of immaterial gestures, an architecture present and invisible to be built one fine day, somewhere possibly all over the Earth, and to build now continuously inside ourselves.
The greatest project is always to design a whole life under the sign of reason, a life with precise directions, chosen and serenely accepted, with limits as corner stones To construct ourselves with a series of primary gestures, magic gestures, calibrated and shining, through an architecture of clarity and lucidity, not of cruel intelligence, but understanding all reasons.
To save one’s soul through clarity, depriving architecture of its spatial-aesthetic-economic-functional superstructures (justifications and mystifications) and re-valuing its ordered essence. In this mariner, architecture as an operative structure is superimposed on natura naturans and natura naturata, putting their materials to order with the instruments of history and technology.
Now we make plans focusing our effort on the definition of an architecture as an image, like an exclusively mental construction able to resolve in itself the contradictions between things and ideas of things.
Therefore in Graz we could not expose any more plan, speech on other speech, but only architecture.
We have built the Room of Graz. And that’s it.
From: “Superstudio: lettera da Graz/Trigon 69” Domus 481, 1969
FROM: “IL MONUMENTO CONTINUO” UN MODELLO ARCHITETTONICO DI URBANIZZAZIONE TOTALE – 1969
For those who, like ourselves, are convinced that architecture is one of the few ways to realize cosmic order on earth, to put things to order and above all to affirm humanity’s capacity for acting according to reason, it is a “moderate utopia” to imagine a near future in which all architecture will be created with a single act, from a single design capable of clarifying once and for all the motives which have induced man to build dolmens, menhirs, pyramids, and lastly to trace (ultima ratio) a white line in the desert.
The Great Wall of China, Adrian’s Wall, motorways, like parallels and meridians, are the tangible signs of our understanding of the earth.
We believe in a future of “rediscovered architecture”, in a future in which architecture will regain its full power, abandoning all ambiguity of design and appearing as the only alternative to nature. Between the terms of natura naturans and natura naturata, we choose the latter.
Eliminating mirages and will-o’-the- wisps such as spontaneous architecture, sensitive architecture architecture without architects, biological architecture and fantastic architecture, we move towards the “continuous monument”: a form of architecture all equally emerging from a single continuous environment: the world rendered uniform by technology, culture and all the other inevitable forms of imperialism.
We belong to a long history of black stones, rocks fallen from the sky or erected in the earth, meteorites, dolmens, obelisks. Cosmic axis, vital elements, elements reproducing the relationships of sky and earth, witnesses to marriages celebrated, the tables of the law, final acts of dramas of various lengths. From the Holy Kaaba to the Vertical Assembly Building.
A square block of stone placed on the earth is a primary act; it a testimonial that architecture is the centre of the relationships of technology, sacredness, utilitarianism. It implies man, machines, rational structures and history. The square block is the first and ultimate act in the history of ideas in architecture. Architecture becomes a closed, immobile object that leads nowhere but to itself and to the use of reason.
From: “Superstudio: discorsi per immagini” Domus 481, 1969
La Moglie di Lot – Description
A metal zinc structure, similar to a table (251 x 156 x 100 cm), supports five small salt architecture buildings on their respective zinc tubs. A second metal structure (56 x 56 x 156 cm) slides on the principal structure holding an upside-down zinc pyramid containing water. The water runs slowly down a tube drop by drop onto the first architecture building and dissolves it. Then the sliding metal structure moves over to the next, then one after the other.The first building architecture is a pyramid. When the water has dissolved the salt, there appears a pyramidal structure of iron wires.
The second is an amphitheater and, when it is dissolved, it reveals a residential settlement (in refractory).
The third is a cathedral, and when the salt is dissolved, exhibits an egg shell, perfect and empty.
The fourth is Versailles Palace, and when the salt is dissolved, exhibits the brioche of Marie Antoinette.
The fifth is the Le Corbusier’s Pavillon of the Esprit Nouveau, and when the salt dissolves, it reveals a brass plate with the inscribed writing: “the only architecture will be our lives”. While the salt precipitates to the bottom of the basin, the brine water runs through the designated tubes into a wheel at the bottom of the principal structure.
Inside the basin one finds the explicative brass plate that notes the following “Superstudio, Florence/Venice.
The Wife of Lot
Architecture exists in time as salt exists in water”
The brine water slowly covers over the object, and the salt hides the plate making it barely legible.
The architecture buildings of salts, dissolving themselves, reveal within their insides objects representing what time has transformed them into.
The architecture of history shows just its symbolic aspect across the time; the time of erosion of the functional phase is extremely short compared to that one of the symbolic phase. The architecture of history is an architecture of symbols and representations, its function of use is temporary and perishable. On the other hand, architecture can find a use again, in times and conditions unpredicted by its designer, because of its inhabitants.
The architect has chosen to express the symbolic function of architecture while only the inhabitants can actually plan its habitative function.
Those who wish to build look around themselves and forward: by doing so they leave behind the architects, turned into statues of salt.
From: “La moglie di Lot e la coscienza di Zeno” Biennale di Venezia, 1978
P: Speaking of “paper achitecture”, we arbitrarily include “The 12 ideal cities”, in particular considering “Barnum Jr.’s City”, that looks like the preview of a theme park, containing “the reproductions of all the greatest monuments. From the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower to the Colosseum (reconstructed in its original aspect)” and “La Moglie di Lot” by which Superstudio transforms and re-presents , Le Corbusier Esprit Nouveau Pavillion, Versailles, the basilica, the amphitheater and the pyramid in form of statues of salt without any apparent sense of guilt.
Well, going back to “paper architecture”, we imagine that a strange diachronic soteriology of infrastructural sort, connects the mental practice of Superstudio, the one of Etienne-Louis Boullée (we think namely to the design for a French National Library), to the postmodernism risen during the last decades of the Soviet Union, at the time of Gorbachev, Perestroika and Glasnost. Specifically, we scope around inside the “Colombarium Architecturae (Museum of Dissapearing Buildings)” designed in the 1984 by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin.
Boullée’s never carried out library is a metaphysical space, for sure not a functional or at least comfortable place for studying, a monument to knowledge rather than a temple of knowledge. The Sovietic columbarium of Brodski and Utkin is an inverted utopic exploration, not to mention yours apocalyptic utopic exploration, disguised under a synchronic language tailored on the futuristic and technolatrous neo-avantgarde of the “Swinging Sixties”.
Such architectures of paper are unable to preserve or to museify anything, they are structures of remembrance and nostalgia, perhaps also of desire, because they seem to deal with some kind of destruction. They are Noah arks constructed in sight of a disappearance. They are necessarily cynical structures, since we already know that, with the urgency of the oblivion at the door, we will be able to save just semi-signs, a-substantials like the air we breathe without seeing it.
Beside their linguistic cynism/eclecticism, Neoclassicism and Postmodernism are not informed by memory and nostalgia though?
Is Superstudio perhaps the ante-litteram Florentine Postmodernism (considering the incidence of genius loci)?
S: I try to answer:
THE THIRTEENTH CITY. Its form and dimensions are indefinite and unknowable. Some hold that it is a perfect square, others a hexadodecahedron, yet others an infinite square without corners. Some believe that it is an enormous solid, others that it is a bi-dimensional form, yet others that it is a pluridimensional geometrical form. Most define it as the projection of an invisible solid, the shadow of a highly transparent crystal, placed between us and the light, a shadow that in moving assumes polarizing properties, or more simply merely when the crystal opposes its greater width to the light.
On the other hand, if the problem of the passage from protection to object could have been resolved geometrically, the unknown permeability to light of the object and the doubt that the plane of projection might not be perfect, rendered knowledge of its true form even more improbable. The use of the most advanced research methods was not forbidden to observers: the only limitation was that the observing station should remain immobile in a chosen point, and immediate communications between different stations were forbidden. These communications were permitted only after a certain interval, and on a certain priority established channels. It was not known to what degree the interval and the channels could deform the messages. And on the other hand, the coincidence or the difference between various observations could depend both on their substance or on the means of their transmittal.
lt was known that an ideal form of society and life had been developed in the thirteenth city. Fragmentary tales of its inhabitants had been heard. Those that had at one time lived there and others that one day will live there could still meet in an immense open field in the country: this field still held regular traces as if of canals, streets or cultivation. Both the former and the latter were convinced that this was the place that the thirteenth city had left when it had become transparent and invisible.
But the memories of those who had lived there had become faded by time and hope distorted the descriptions and plans of those who were to live there. They were therefore satisfied by meeting on the plain, searching amongst those vogue traces for certainly and confirmation. The only reality was the sparse unexpected grass, like newly-sprouted corn, which permanently veiled in green a grey earth similar to sand. This earth was to be found nowhere else: perhaps it had been generated by chemical transformations in the materials of the vanished city, as perhaps the grass was generated in this form by the light shadow which the invisible city casts more often here than in any other place.
There were no other visible traces: only a vague sense of malaise or frustration in those who met here. Their meetings ended more often than not without a word being spoken. As time went by, only a few continued to come to the plain, all the others being too busy building or living in heavy, impossible cities. Thus, in the supposed place of origin of the thirteenth city, they began to question themselves about the sense of memories and prophecies, trying to reconstruct the reason for their memories and plans for the thirteenth and the preceding twelve cities. Slowly, they began to understand that these were not suppositions or plans, nor were they descriptions transmitted in a bizarre code: they were not even metaphors or parables. They therefore added a note (to be found only in this edition) on the why and the wherefore of these stories. The text of the note was: “This is an information feedback”.
what I wanted (we wanted) to tell with Superstudio (I have) we have already told. It is enough to look at books, magazines or archive items. Forty years after, could (we could) tell those history in a different manner. The buildings and the projects that I have made after 1978 could tell this story from my point of view, but the pages from “Superstudio storia con figure 1966-73” and from the white book of the 1978 Biennale provide a more precise answer.
Although, you can also think that our texts (writings and drawings) were the questions and that your questions are the answers, given forty years after.
Adolfo Natalini, 4 March 2014
I would answer the question “what are Histograms?” with 4.1 Istogrammi di architettura, 1969, and if they ask me to talk about the Fundamental Acts here is the answer “Atti Fondamentali, 1971-1973” Casabella 367, 1972
but you did not ask me that – thank you – and so it’s all right!
P: We would have sent you today the question “what are the histograms”, by relating Histograms to Fundamental Acts, life, education, love, ceremony, death. The most radical reductionism appearing in divers forms, not at all Postmodernism, given the existence of such categories, canning thoughts and attitudes like vacuum-sealed food. Focault asserted that the man is a recent invention and that is a sort of fold in our knowledge that will disappear as soon as our knowledge will find a new form, perhaps, beyond any representation.
However in 2004, for the first exhibition of Tomas Saraceno in Italy, pinksummer started the conversation/press release with Luca Cerizza and the artist as follows: “Superstudio in 1970 wrote ‘ During those years, it became very clear that to continue drawing furniture, objects and other similar household decorations was not the solution to the problem of living […] and even less did it serve to save one’s soul'”. We are proud of making this exhibition with you.
HISTOGRAMS OF ARCHITECTURE, 1969
During those years, it became very clear that to continue drawing furniture, objects and other similar household decorations was not the solution to the problem of living in houses and neither was the solution to the problems of life itself, and even less did it serve to save one’s soul. It also became clear that no beautification or cosmetics were sufficient to remedy the ravages of time, the errors of man and the bestialities of architecture…
The problem was thus one of becoming even more detached from these design activities, rather perhaps adopting the theory of minimum effort in a general reductive process. We prepared a catalogue of three- dimensional, non-continuous diagrams, a catalogue of architectural histograms with reference to a grid interchangeable into different areas or scales for the construction of a serene and immobile Nature in which finally to recognize ourselves.
From the catalogue of histograms many objects have since been effortlessly generated: furniture, environments, architecture… But all these things are not very important to us, nor have they ever been. The surface of these histograms was homogeneous and isotopic: any spatial problems and any problems of sensitivity having been accurately removed. The histograms were also called The Architect’s Tombs .
FUNDAMENTAL ACTS, 1971-1973
From 21 March 1971 to 20 March 1973 we have worked to a series of researches on Fundamental Acts, pivoting on the relationship between Architecture (as aware shaping of the planet) and human life. The films we have produced constitute a propaganda of ideas outside of the typical channels of architecture as a discipline. The five films are:
Architecture never touches the great themes, the fundamental themes of our lives. Architecture remains at the edge of our life, and intervenes only at a certain point in the process, usually when behavior has already been codified, furnishing answers to rigidly stated problems. Even if its answers are aberrant or evasive, the logic of their production and consumption avoids any real upheaval. Architecture presents no alternative proposal, since it uses those instruments, which are accurately predisposed to avoid any deviation. Thus, the working-class home resembles the stately villa in the same way that the work of a Radical architect resembles the one of the academic or reactionary architect: the only difference lies in the quantities in play, the decisions on the quality of living have already been made.
In accepting his role, the architect becomes accomplice to the machinations of the system. Then, the avant-garde architect fills one of the most rigidly fixed roles (rather like the “young lover” in plays). At this point, the architect, recognizing in himself and his work connotations of cosmetics, environmental pollution and consolatrix afflictorum, comes to an abrupt halt on his well-paved path. It then becomes an act of coherence, or a last try at salvation, to concentrate on the re-definition of the primary acts, and to examine, in the first instance, the relationships between architecture and these acts.
This operation becomes therapy for the removal of all archimanias.
This tentative anthropological and philosophical refoundation of architecture becomes the center of our reductive processes.
From Casabella 367, 1972