UFO Story

Stefano Pezzato's exhibition at the Centro Pecci turns its attention to radical architecture's most ironic and explosive ensemble: the UFO group, founded in Florence in 1967.

UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design is the title of the exhibition curated by Stefano Pezzato that has opened at the Centro Pecci for contemporary art in Florence, a museum that has carved out an important role for itself with regard to radical Italian architecture, mostly due to its archive collection. The collection includes extraordinary works by Piero Gilardi, Giuseppe Chiari, Emilio Isgrà, Mauro Staccioli, Gilberto Zorio, Vito Acconci and many other national and international protagonists. However, the institution's curating of the contemporary is somewhat inconsistent and contradictory, mixing displays of figurative and non-figurative artists without demonstrating a serious and thorough theoretical research.

As a result, the Centro Pecci — which opened in 1988 and is second only to Castello di Rivoli — does not succeed in capturing an international dimension by setting up exhibitions that can enable a large audience of contemporary art to "invade" the Tuscan town. A serious consideration of this should also be done in the light of the delay in submitting the design of the museum's extension, by Dutch designer Maurice Nio, already a rusted archaeological find in itself that surely does not represent a good sign. Despite these administrative difficulties, its position stands out as the only Italian museum to address radical architecture, following in the footsteps of the Pompidou Centre, directed by Frederic Migayrou and the FRAC, led by Mari Ange Brayer.

Finally, after exhibitions dedicated to Superstudio — at the Centro Pecci's Milan location, featuring the reconstruction of the installation made for the 1972 Italy: the new domestic landscape exhibition at the MoMA — and the recent Superstudio Backstage with photographs by Cristiano Toraldo alongside other works from the collection, the Centro Pecci has turned its attention to the most ironic and explosive ensemble. The UFO group, founded in Florence in 1967 by Carlo Bachi, Sandro Gioli, Lapo Binazzi, Riccardo Foresi, Titti Maschietto and Patrizia Cammeo, adopted a desecrating and ironic approach to bourgeois habits from the start, unlike other groups who actually were bourgeois.
Top: UFO, <em>Formaggio</em> bed, interior design element for the Mago di Oz boutique, Viareggio, 2000 (replica). Above: <em>UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design</Em>, installation view at the Centro Pecci for contemporary art, Prato, Florence. Photo by Ivan D'Alì
Top: UFO, Formaggio bed, interior design element for the Mago di Oz boutique, Viareggio, 2000 (replica). Above: UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design , installation view at the Centro Pecci for contemporary art, Prato, Florence. Photo by Ivan D'Alì
Led by Lapo Binazzi, they took on the semiotics theorised in those years by Umberto Eco, then a lecturer in Decoration at the Faculty of Architecture in Florence, as a basic element for actions in public space. It was public space itself — the piazza — that became an important location for performances by the Florentine group. UFO experimented in the urban context of Florence, a city where the presence of history is suffocating yet at the same time stimulating, coming face to face with the monumental nature of renaissance architecture.

"The occupation of San Clemente (January 1968) began the series of the Urboeffimeri ," — writes historian Bruno Orlandoni, "interventions on the reality of urban behaviour in which the objects produced (inflatable) are used from time to time as instruments of struggle… as stimuli for behaviour" [1] .
UFO, <em>Dollaro</em> lamp, 1969. UFO edition, Archivio Lapo Binazzi – UFO
UFO, Dollaro lamp, 1969. UFO edition, Archivio Lapo Binazzi – UFO
The Urboeffimeri were tubular inflatable structures in polyethylene that established a dialogue with the participants at the demonstration against the American war in Vietnam underlining the affirmations "Colgate con Vietcong" and "Potere agli Studenti" (both Urboeffimero no.5). These ephemeral works of architecture occupied space, invaded it and dispersed it in the mass of the student movement, becoming its icon.

The inflatable elements represent an alternative way to contrast against the heavy power of academia with an architecture made of air. In Italy, UFO remained the only group to make use of them, on the same level as Utopias in Paris, Haus Rucker-Co in Vienna, Graham Stevens in London and Ant Farm in California. UFO however, like all radical groups, at the same time came up with design objects like the Dollaro and Paramount lamps, retracing pop iconography with the intention of creating a parody of it. It is parody, along with irony, that is the key to interpreting the work of UFO, evident in their entire production: actions, happenings, design, photographs and interior design. I mention the interiors because they represent a lesser-known side with designs and built projects for the Mago di Oz and You Tarzan Me Jane boutiques with their comic-strip theme, like the Bamba Issa nightclub in Versilia from the late 1960s.
The inflatable elements represent an alternative way to contrast against the heavy power of academia with an architecture made of air. In Italy, UFO remained the only group to make use of them, on the same level as Utopias in Paris, Haus Rucker-Co in Vienna, Graham Stevens in London and Ant Farm in California
UFO, <em>Mezzaluna</em> lamp, 1984- 2005. Archivio Lapo Binazzi – UFO
UFO, Mezzaluna lamp, 1984- 2005. Archivio Lapo Binazzi – UFO
The Bamba Issa was done up in the theme of the Mickey Mouse no. 25 comic book from 1951, "Donald Duck and the Magic Hourglass". In this episode Donald Duck and his nephews search for the desert oasis of Bamba Issa to get sand to use for a magical hourglass that will make them rich. In the Versilia nightclub, the interiors recreated the oasis with camels and sand in a space that ran continually from inside to outside. The idea itself of using parody in the nightclub was different from other nightclubs designed by Superstudio, Derossi 9999 and La Pietra, based around the use of technology with projections on the walls, lights sounds and materials, referring to the future also in their names: "Space electronic", "Mach2", "L'altro mondo", "Bang Bang".
<em>UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design</Em>, installation view at the Centro Pecci for contemporary art, Prato, Florence. Photo by Ivan D'Alì
UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design , installation view at the Centro Pecci for contemporary art, Prato, Florence. Photo by Ivan D'Alì
Alongside the exhibition is a book that presents all the theoretical and design work by the group, unfortunately published only in Italian thereby excluding the possibility of making it known and appreciated outside national confines. It brings together texts from the Urboeffimeri performances and articles that appeared in architecture magazines: Domus, Casabella, In, In più, and Marcatre, a publication of literary group 63. Then there was the UFO from A to Z dictionary that became an important means for reading the group's story. In this way, a forty-year timespan reveals an intense activity beyond the end of the radical movement — in 1973, with Global Tools — that enabled UFO and Lapo Binazzi to follow on with actions and performance without losing their experimental strength. Emanuele Piccardo (@plugin_lab)

Notes:
[1] Bruno Orlandoni, Paola Navone, Architettura Radicale p.32, Documenti di Casabella, Milan 1974
<em>UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design</Em>, installation view at the Centro Pecci for contemporary art, Prato, Florence. Photo by Ivan D'Alì
UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design , installation view at the Centro Pecci for contemporary art, Prato, Florence. Photo by Ivan D'Alì
Through 23 February 2013
UFO Story, from Radical Architecture to Global Design
Centro Pecci for contemporary art
Prato, Florence

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