A Super-Breakfast with Cristiano Toraldo di Francia

at Cristiano’s Studio Filottrano countryside Ancona

Conversation with Enrico Pompili Photography Ilaria Orsini

As found inside Alla Carta 4 Issue
Cristiano Toraldo di Francia welcomed us into his home, an ancient palazzo in Filottrano in the Ancona countryside. We spent a long morning in his frescoed studio which was bursting with books, artworks and prototypes. We were curious about meeting one of the components of Superstudio, one of the most radical Italian avant-garde realities of the Sixties and Seventies, to which we owe the creation of the long-selling Quaderna and other names that still seduce us. For the occasion, we set up breakfast on a checked tablecloth which was also a family heirloom and unmistakeable symbol of his studies. The tablecloth was laid unusually with the laminated histograms, unique pieces that are now found in the MoMA or Pompidou. Over countless cups of tea, in an interplay of words, food and images, Cristiano told us the story of Superstudio, his current life, Mickey Mouse and his visionary aesthetic adventure.
  • EP
    It’s quite strange to be in such a perfect classical palazzo.
  • CTF
    I actually wanted to transform the house into a workshop. It had been shut up for 20 years because the country folk weren’t interested... then I saw it one day and said to my wife, “Look, I’ve seen a house, come and have a look” and when she saw it she said “Take it straight away, you’ll never find another one like it.”
  • EP
    Being familiar with your work on cities, I wonder whether you miss Florence or another metropolis?
  • CTF
    No, I am so free here in Filottrano, I live in complete anonymity.
  • EP
    What a lovely surprise this table with all the squared elements, the Quaderna family.
  • CTF
    Yes, I prepared some elements for you, including the Istogramma Portatile, you need two people to carry it and you can also do physical exercises. Or just use it for going around as a couple. It is connected to the idea that the architect should no longer impose anything but leave it for others to decide what they want, you can do whatever you want with it, colour it, draw on it, give it any possible interpretation. This is the sense of the histograms: moving from the myth of quality to the myth of quantity, which is sort of what is happening today. What about a cup of tea though?
  • EP
    Yes please! Can we help you?
  • CTF
    No don’t worry, I’ll be right back.
  • He returns.
  • EP
    And the tablecloth?
  • CTF
    The tablecloth was made by a dear friend of mine, Paola Martinetti, who had a company called Tessilarte, which still exists in Florence, which worked with wooden hand looms. She made it for us in 1969, I requested it because we were making a short film and there was a scene in which we were eating. It’s really old!
  • EP
    Seeing as we are surrounded by them, let’s talk about your famous series, Misura, which was then produced as Quaderna. So did you never make a chair?
  • CTF
    Yes, but it’s kept in museums, just like the bag with the leather clasp, a unique piece that was made by a friend who worked for Gherardini in Florence and now it’s in the Pompidou.
  • EP
    Did the Italians never ask for anything?
  • CTF
    No, the Italians don’t. The only person that ever asked us was Aurelio Zanotta from the company of the same name, who met us, saw these things while he was visiting Chianti and said “Hang on, I want to take these things to Milan!” and then at the opening he and all the staff had these amazing checked jackets.
  • EP
    Yes, there are wonderful photos of that opening. Flos also produced some lamps if I’m not mistaken.
  • CTF
    Yes, checked of course. A sheet of plexi-glass with a series of incisions through which the light from below emerged, it was an extreme sculpture, almost a piece of art. Actually, we could revisit that…
  • EP
    Whereas the museum acquisitions? CTF It was foreign museums that caught onto us first; pieces were purchased by MoMA and the Pompidou, then in Italy by the Pecci a few years later and finally by the Maxxi. Here’s the tea!
  • CTF
    Can we place it on the tablecloth? Everything is photogenic here; checks are actually an excellent solution.
  • EP
    Yes, they don’t get old.
  • CTF
    People are still copying you nowadays. CTF Ah yes, because the network has become a reality. Ah, here’s the maritozzo from the Marche region, I really like them.
  • EP
    And this is a Ponte, a cream-filled pastry from Pesaro. We bought them en route this morning. And it’s actually an architectural element essentially.
  • CTF
    Yes, a section of viaduct that leads to Crema (translation of the Italian name Ponte di Crema), although pastry-making in the Marche is actually papal! While in Florence a lot of desserts come from the Austrian domination, a hundred years of Lorena. Like the Cassata Fiorentina, a big chocolate wafer which is Central European.
  • EP
    Are you also a fan of cuisine from the Marche?
  • CTF
    You eat well in the Marche, too well. When I go shopping I always ask for a ‘Tuscan portion’, which means a half portion. And they always ask me if it’s enough. Another problem is that we Florentines don’t cook very much, everything is either boiled or seared, but here they cook for hours on end.
  • EP
    Did you guys from Superstudio ever do anything connected to food? What would nowadays be defined an event for example.
  • CTF
    Yes, before beginning Superstudio, when we were still at university, we had an academy for culinary art and we met once a month to cook.
  • EP
    With checked tablecloths?
  • CTF
    No… we actually haven’t done very much with food.
  • EP
    This fashionable obsession with food didn’t exist then.
  • CTF
    No, although in the film Cerimonia, there was a part dedicated to eating. This tablecloth was made for that film, as I mentioned earlier.
  • How many films have you made?
  • We presented one in New York in 1972 which was called Supersuperficie, un modello alternativo di vita sulla Terra, made for an exhibition that placed the object at its apotheosis and instead we described a world in which only the network existed, where objects had become virtual or mental. And then in 1973 there was Cerimonia, the first of a series that we then didn’t continue, an anthropological study on the link between architecture and the fundamental acts of life; we made illustrations, photomontages... We actually made another one called Architettura Interplanetaria, a sort of response to the images that were arriving from the Moon. Everybody was saying “Who knows if they were made by Walt Disney?”. We were intrigued by the images, which spoke to us of an architecture without architecture, essentially you went to the moon dressed, without a house. From there a whole study began on apparel, which continues today. I love clothes more than architecture.
  • We didn’t know that! Do you have your own line of clothes?
  • No, but at the university I encourage students to destroy and construct, to go against fashion. We have always been against design; I can’t be anything but against fashion. The last operation I did was thanks to Alberto Zanone who gave us 160 jackets from about 10 years ago that had been in a warehouse. Beautiful material in out of date styles, so we could take them apart to make other pieces.
  • EP
    When you speak about the network, do you think you were forerunners of the web? You were essentially prophetic, even just at a visual level.
  • CTF
    We knew that an early version of the web, ARPAnet, was underway in the United States, which was used by the armed forces. We used to read Scientific American, my scientist father had a subscription. In the meantime I went to Australia with an anthropologist friend to meet the aborigines who lived in extreme climate conditions (-20° by night and 50° by day), with no architecture and very few objects. They move from point A to point B, point B to point C, because each place has a meaning.
  • EP
    That reminds me of Chatwin and The Songlines.
  • CTF
    Well yes, so reflecting on this it was clear that we were moving towards the dematerialisation of objects, or the miniaturisation if you like, which was then exactly what happened. On the one hand is the complexity and on the other the combination of functions. You have an iPhone in your hand, an object which has a thousand functions. Now we can say that we are at home anyway, purely because we have that object, only if we are connected.
  • EP
    Do you use it?
  • CTF
    Of course, I am digitally literate.
  • EP
    You even visualised it… the idea in Monumento Continuo.
  • CTF
    That idea went against the imagined and glorified skyscraper situation. Monumento Continuo was a negative utopia, the last monument on earth that concentrated within itself all materials and construction, leaving nature outside. We were trying to explain the present or trends through images. Monumento Continuo is a planetary scale histogram; the second step was Supersuperficie with the grid that adapted to the surface, the wired earth.
  • EP
    This is exactly what things are like nowadays.
  • CTF
    Of course it’s all very complex, the fetishism of the object still persists today, whether it be big or small, just like architecture, which is entrusted to the archistars, Frank O. Gehry, Koolhaas…
  • EP
    You were friends with Rem Koolhaas.
  • CTF
    We still are. Friends and enemies. All architects are friends and enemies. He is a little younger than us, when he saw our first publication in Domus, he came to Florence to meet us and then he invited us (he was the assistant for the Architectural Association in London) to visit him and he found the inspiration for his early projects. Quite a lot of inspiration!
  • EP
    And these photomontages that appear everywhere nowadays? I saw them at the Maxxi recently as well.
  • CTF
    We work as a three to make them, with Adolfo Natalini and Piero Frassinelli (anthropologist) using various techniques.
  • EP
    How did the idea come about?
  • CTF
    Thanks to my work as a photographer initially. During university, my friends and I had a photography studio; we did portraits, just to earn some cash. Then a friend, writer Giorgio Saviane, asked me to shoot his photography campaign. It was tough following him, in his Maserati he couldn’t go at less than 150 an hour through the little streets, it was scary... And at Rizzoli I made covers by creating photomontages with portraits, which take a minute in Photoshop nowadays. Then it was all darkrooms and manipulation, very artisanal.
  • EP
    The aesthetic, your imaginary in that moment was disquieting, almost annoying.
  • CTF
    Yet again we have to reference the avant-garde realities. The Collage was a transposition: you cut things out and moved them to a different place, with the wrong perspectives and places. There was a system for constructing discourse through contrast and visual imbalance.
  • EP
    Now we show people your work and they enthuse over it, people seek out the incorrect, we’ve become almost used to it.
  • CTF
    That is what we tried to do but hiding the fact, with maximum ambiguity. When faced with the thing, you were supposed to ask: is it real or fake? Even if this involved a barbarian manipulation if you like, or hardly refined at any rate.
  • EP
    There is always a play of perspectives that confuses the observer. How many requests do you receive for these images?
  • CTF
    They arrive every day! We’ve almost made 10 album covers with photomontages now.
  • EP
    Who was the last one for?
  • CTF
    The Strokes asked us to make the cover for them! And lots of other indie groups.
  • He opens a book and we digress.
  • CTF
    This on the other hand was a table for the tender for the new Modena cemetery, which was won by Aldo Rossi. Here Mantegna’s Christ, behind a section of earth taken from Life, here a man in front of the computer which at the time... and then another man recording his story, because the idea was that the new cinema was like a satellite that contained all the memories of all the people, famous or normal. The cemetery as a great library.
  • EP
    Will you be going to the next Biennale of Architecture 2014, curated by Koolhaas?
  • CTF
    No, we have an exhibition on at the same time at the Museum of Modern Art in Genoa: we will only be exhibiting things, objects; we will reconstruct La Moglie di Lot, an incredible machine made for the 1978 Biennale. A machine made of zinc- coated metal that has five architectures made of salt, with dripping water that melts it, revealing another, harder, structure within. They will be histograms on a natural scale.
  • EP
    So do all of you from Superstudio see each other often?
  • CTF
    Yes, we are still friends.
  • EP
    If a company asked you to reissue certain pieces?
  • CTF
    In all honesty, I had intended to reproduce some of these micro models. The world is full of imitators, checked furniture often turns up at auctions and people ask if it’s ours. Of course not!
  • EP
    What book are you reading at the moment?
  • CTF
    I never read just one book at a time. I have seven books on the go at the moment; I sleep beneath books as well as the duvet. Platform by Houellebecq, Il Capitalismo Infinito by Bonomi, The Philosophy of Mickey Mouse by Giulio Giorello... I have rediscovered something marvellous, I’ll show you. Here, do you know this wonderful episode? I always tell my students about it, it’s where Mickey convinces Goofy to get a modern house designed by an architect.
  • EP
    No, tell us about it!
  • CTF
    Mickey Mouse convinces Goofy to get a modern house and after a month Goofy invites him to see it. Mickey arrives and sees this slightly complex house, beneath an enormous curtain and asks what the curtain is for. And Goofy says, “Just wait and see”. He presses a button and... buzz, there’s the hovel from before! “I couldn’t separate myself from it; it would have been like cutting off a part of myself. I understand that I have to have a modern house, but I love how comfortable the old one is”
  • EP
    What year was it on?
  • CTF
    1937, the booming years of Mickey Mouse.
  • Special thanks to Delfina Capuzzo Dolcetta.