Superstudio and Labor:
Elfine, Ross K. “Superstudio and the ‘Refusal to Work.’” Design and Culture. Vol 8, no. 1. 55-77.
Superstudio claimed to “reject design” and this has been interpreted, by architectural critics such as Manfredo Tafuri and later scholars, as an act and laziness—if only they could have done something they may have achieved some of their political demands. Elfine introduces that changes in the Italian architectural market in the late 60s meant that the only jobs available were either high-end residential projects for the wealthy or corporate development jobs. Superstudio chose to reject the act of building rather than participate in inherently capitalistic available opportunities. But this does not mean they didn’t work at all. Elfine argues that they really only rejected one aspect of architecture, namely, building. Rather than viewing this rejection as a form of failure, he instead is interested in what purpose it could have served. He finds his answer by connecting Superstudio’s work to the contemporaneous Italian labor movement, particularly Operaismo and autonismo. Operaismo (workerism) and autonomism both come out of Marxism and glorify the importance of the worker. For his argument here, Elfine is particularly interested in workerism’s critique of how capitalism controls the psyche. Workerism argues that the workers’ “passions, creativity and emotions” are used simply towards capitalist production and a goal of workerism is for the worker to regain ownership of her psyche.
Antonio Negri, an Autonomist writer called for “self-valorization” of the worker: “It is only be recognizing myself as other, only by insisting on the fact of my different-ness as a radical totality that I have the possibility and hope of renewal.” (Negri, “Domination”). The radical act of the worker was the choice to say “no.” This does not mean that all work would stop but the worker would have the ability to dictate the pace and tempo of their labor.
One way to regain control was to “exorcise our indifference” to the world around us, which Superstudio addressed through furniture, which they did actually produce (62). Modernism had attempted to meld form with function and create objects and spaces that aided efficiency—and hence production. Superstudio hoped to interrupt this efficient flow and thereby awaken the individual to and active interaction with her surroundings. In contrast to the clean order of Modernism, Superstudio created bright, bold, often tacky objects that got in the way and demanded attention. The purpose of these objects was simply to elicit some sort of reaction in the viewer [[a la Adrian Piper]] and to inspire individual agency. The point being that the viewer (and the worker) should not simply accept the current circumstances. Superstudio’s Histograms—a modular grid of architectural building blocks—took this idea further by allowing the user to create the object itself. This gave a person the autonomy to make an object do something which may have not be originally intended in its design.
Superstudio also created fantastical designs which, like Archizoom, served as metaphors for the dangers of capitalism, but physical products such as Superstudio’s furniture demonstrate that their work moved beyond metaphor. Elfine argues that Superstudio provided examples for how the architect can design for liberated workers in a utopian future.
1) Their refusal to create buildings was not a refusal to work but rather a refusal to operate within the current system – “their refusal of instrumentalized design labor was, in fact, a concrete and productive elaboration of Operaist techniques applied to the design process” (66)
2) Supersurface as an example of utopian design (rather than dystopian critique) that connects to Operaist ideas of autonomy.
Therefore Superstudio’s refusal to work was not a solipsistic break from society but rather a way to make space for an alternative world free from capitalism. Although they never actualized this utopia, they did point out the role of design in the construction and perception of capitalism.
Quesada, Fernando. “Superstudio 1966-1973: From the World without Objects to the Universal Grid.” Defying the Avant-Garde Logic: Architecture, Populism, and Mass Culture. Spring 2011, 23-34.
Giulio Carlo Argan argues that the mass production of objects creates a conflict in the relationship between the object, its location, and the user. Italian avant-garde responded in two ways 1) futurism: glorify the modern object and ensure that all objects serve and fits into its current context [[It emphasizing speed, technology, youth, violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane, and the industrial city – sorry, this is from wikipedia]] 2) pittura metafisica: completely separate the object from its context. Argan argues that Italian designers created a third option: the object creates its context and defines its surrounding space. The correct use of the object in a given space then turns into a purifying “ceremony.” He called this third form “a design of exorcism.” Quesada argues that although it seems that Superstudio fits into the third category, this would mean that the architect becomes the designer of consumer behavior. Instead, Superstudio attempted, through their images, to create a world without designed objects and instead to give consumers the opportunity to design their own behaviors and spaces “in an anti-ceremonial relationship with the environment through their resilient and transparent supersurface” (32).
Historical Context: Radicalization of architecture schools in Italy reconsidered the role of the architect and questioned the relationship between object and user. Object was no longer seen as simply a helpful extension of the human body which could improve the condition of humanity. This idea was connected to larger international movements of pop art, revolutionary French architecture, system theories, and American body art and happening which restored corporeal experience in the face of corporate and disembodied experience.
In “Invention Design and Evasion Design” Superstudio mourned the loss of the symbolic and the definition of the value of objects only in market terms and advocated for the use of the “irrational and poetic” in design. They proposed that the re-sacrilization of the object could be a way to disrupt capitalistic production and use.
Histograms: architecture broken down into modular segments. Cubes on a grid that can be structred and moved and therefore created by the user.
Continuous Monument: a “dystopian heir” to both the great works of antiquity and human sprawl, and the human desire to build. The monument itself was a completely ordered and structured object the plowed through the landscape rendering everything—both natural and man-made—into background.
Twelve Ideal Cities: ironic commentary on existing city planning ideas. Each city is in some way a grid and demonstrates how compartmentalization can serve as separation, isolation and confinement. Shows the movement from disciplinary to control soceities.
THE APEX OF THIS ARGUMENT AND SUPERSTUDIO’S WORK: Supersurface: the culmination of the idea to build nothing, the Supersurface has zero density. Unlike the Continuous Monument it is there but has no physical being. Everyone can do whatever they want at any moment on the supersurface and “everydayness appears only in the interstices of the gridlines” (31)