The philosophy of STANZE

Salone del Mobile.Milano 2016 protagonist at the XXI Triennale di Milano

ROOMS. Novel living concepts


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It’s been twenty years since the last Triennale and thirty since the last great exhibition on interiors (The Domestic Project, 1986), so for the “ROOMS. Novel Living Concepts” exhibition – entitled “STANZE. Altre filosofie dell’abitare” in Italian – we decided to choose a number of seminal books to inform the eleven interior designs providing an overview of this particular period in time. Books that triggered major reflection and debate. A matter of choice, obviously, very personal and therefore open to discussion.

We started with an introductory reference text that serves to inspire the ethos of the exhibition: Adam’s House in Paradise (1972), by the Anglo-Polish architectural historian and historian of ideas Joseph Rykwert. Rykwert demonstrated that some of the great masters of modern architecture (such as Le Corbusier, Adolf Loos and Frank L. Wright) resorted, at crucial points in their careers, when introducing radical innovations, to a barely veiled mythology about the origins of building, perpetrating, as it were, the image of a first house, correct because it was the first, long gone yet remaining archetypical in our minds.

The stanzas are the rooms of the heart, as Dante Alighieri said: “At that moment I say truly that the vital spirit, that which lives in the most secret chamber of the heart began to tremble…” (Vita Nuova).

Ferruccio M. Cataluccio

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During the early 1980s, debate around the crisis of the Western paradigm of explaining and attempting to order reality and the theme of challenging complexity was hugely important in Italy, and led to greater awareness of the unsustainability of hitherto prevailing ideologies and the need to build new theoretical pathways. It was at that point that the inevitable result of the Crisis of Reason, which for some was a good thing, was dubbed “weak thought”. Of the many books published at the time, we chose a work by several different authors: Gargani, Ginzburg, Lepschy, Orlando, Rella, Strada, Bodei, Badaloni, Veca, Viano, Crisi della Ragione. Nuovi Modelli nel Rapporto tra Saperi e Attività Umane, ed. by Aldo Gargani, 1979 (and also the contemporary works Il Pensiero Debole, 1983, ed. by Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovatti, and La Sfida della Complessità, 2007, by Gianluca Bocchi and Mauro Ceruti).  We thought these works would be useful for the project by CLAUDIO LAZZARINI and CARL PICKERING, in which sheets of coloured glass define the walls of a minimalist habitative cell that explores the technical, aesthetic and ethical potential of the new photovoltaic technologies: reducing traditional elements to the essential and building new, more sustainable, pathways.

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Next was a difficult but hugely successful book, structured in a somewhat unusual and metaphorical way: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979), by the American Professor of Cognitive Sciences and Informatics Douglas R. Hofstandter. It is a meditation on the human mind through artificial intelligence, which shows that the future consists of hybrid models, with no preconceived ideology, models drawn from several different disciplines, in other words, in the greatest and purest interaction between different sciences and forms of knowledge. We chose this book to inform the project by MARTA LAUDANI and MARCO ROMANELLI, a “scattered distribution” inside a space, playing on the absence of presence and underscoring the connection between hiding and revealing.

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The famous novel by Czech writer Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) informs FABIO NOVEMBRE’s project. Existence and the short and long-term choices we all make are totally irrelevant, according to Kundera: this is where their unbearableness resides. The only thing man should be able to say about existence, in order to give it meaning, is that it is a Necessity. Not by chance the novel opens with a reflection on the “Eternal Recurrence”, which represents the desire to impress Necessities on our lives. Novembre’s room is a kind of head, which of necessity and ironically carries architecture over into the shapes of the body and the room into to the head, with its perfectly habitable cavities.

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The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (1988), by Gilles Deleuze, one of the shrewdest European philosophers of the second half of the twentieth-century, revolutionised the way in which architecture and Baroque culture was interpreted, amongst other things: everything folds in on itself, unfolds, refolds, representing the darkest sides of the soul. The infinite repetition of the folds, their incessant self-stratification, continues to create new harmonies to this day. ANDREA ANASTASIO, identified the furnishing elements essential to daily life (table, bed, container) before arranging them inside the room so as to mark out two virtual axes, suggesting the folding over of two rooms. A semi-transparent curtain was hung across them, chopping them in half, ruffling the walls with a blast of air.

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The room designed by ALESSANDRO MENDINI is a sort of “prison” with geometrically decorated laminate walls. The middle of each decoration features a mirror or light source. Aside from its ironic feeling of constriction, the fact that the design of all six is the same would appear to confirm the theories expressed by the American critic Rosalind Krauss, in The Optical Unconscious (1993), the story of an indomitable and irrepressible visual power known as the “optical unconscious” brought to bear on twentieth-century art as a whole.

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The Polish psychologist Zygmunt Bauman is one of the most radical and popular critics of the contemporary world. Perhaps his most famous book is Liquid Modernity (2000). The metaphor of liquidity, coined by Bauman, examines the current era: individualised, privatised, uncertain, flexible and vulnerable, in which unprecedented freedom acts as a counterpoint to ambiguous pleasure and impossible, insatiable desire. The space conceived by MANOLO DE GIORGI is “liquid”: split into a series of corridors, like diagonal “strips”, freeing up movement between the various functions of a home, liquefying the different rooms into a single flow that almost inhibits them from staying put in a set place.

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The room designed by FRANCESCO LIBRIZZI features an empty central space, as found in many traditional Mediterranean buildings: a space that comes both before and after the other spaces. Its architecture creates a border and generates an area that defines the “open” central space; it is a narration of the historic elements of interior architecture, pared right down to the essentials. Precisely because, in this case, the narration of the space is very important, it is associated with Making Stories (2002) by the American cultural psychologist Jerome Bruner. His thesis is that we are the narration of ourselves: the impulse to create stories, about ourselves and about others, about what we have experienced and what we will live through, is what has brought us into the world.

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ELISABETTA TERRAGNI, has drawn on an almost archetypal painting by Max Ernst from 1920 for her concept. Working from an old schoolbook image, Ernst took away almost everything, but left the figures of the animals in their original positions, achieving a truly surreal effect. Taking away rather than adding to seems to be a necessary process for underscoring the essential: the ghosts that remain and take on the permanent value  of expressing feelings. This is the modus operandi adopted by the German art historian Aby Warburg, rediscovered at the end of the twentieth-century, whose theories are now considered fundamental to an anthropological reading of images, as discussed by the French art historian Georges Didi-Huberman in L'Image Survivante. Histoire de l'Art et Temps des Fantômes Selon Aby Warburg (2002).

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DUILIO FORTE sees architecture primarily as a highly skilled and imaginative practice. His house, which grew over the years like a termite mound of original and wacky objects and solutions, all built with his own hands, is the synthesis of his creative fantasy. His project absolutely had to be associated with the books that have re-evaluated the craftsmanship aspect of homo faber, even from a highly technological perspective, such as 3D printing which enables all kinds of products to be designed and manufactured at a distance: Richard Sennet, The Craftsman (2008) – and also Stefano MicelliFuturo Artigiano (2011); and Chris AndersonMakers: The New Industrial Revolution (2012).

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In designing a sort of modern Cabanon (Le Corbusier’s final retreat), UMBERTO RIVA explores Existenz Minimum, in which the relationship between the person and the internal space is the most important and delicate factor of all. A room of monastic rigour, in which the light, the materials and the design of the furnishings assume the most important role. The ideal place to practice the art of disappearing, as theorised by the French philosopher Pierre Zaoui in La Discrétion ou l’Art de Disparaître (2013). Discretion, the new face of Modernity, is the art of disappearing, the art of subtraction: not in an attempt to deny, but to affirm oneself and, at the same time, to make what defines us disappear.

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Lastly, perhaps the sharpest thinking about the current situation, engulfed by digital swarming, comes from the South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han, who has been living, teaching and writing in Germany for many years. In his book Swarming. Aspects of the Digital (2013), he shows how transparency and digital devices have profoundly changed people and their way of thinking. His critique discusses what it means to relinquish meaning and good sense in favour of readily available, but often unreliable information. It sounds a much-needed alarm bell over the need for awareness of both the advantages and disadvantages of using the new technologies. The CARLO RATTI ASSOCIATI practice has designed a space that shows off technology at its most practical: a platform of soft pins that can rise up and reconfigure the space in a potentially infinite number of combinations. Each of its components (pixels turned matter) allows us to literally manipulate the physical universe and transform it, each time into the “best of all possible tangible worlds.”