31 January 2008

31 Ettore Sottsass and THE VALENTINE

Interview with Ettore Sottsass

Matteo Pastore asks Ettore Sottsass about his life through travelling the world.

Thursday February 3rd 2000, Milan

In December we were invited in Thailand to take part in a workshop titled “City of Water”; we were one of many groups from all over the world. The aim of the workshop was to make projects along the river.In the first week at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok we developed the projects from the original idea to the construction with the help from the students of the faculty.After this we left Bangkok on the boats leading North along the Chao Phraya river; five days and four stops where, every evening, we built a kind of city made up of our installations. “Moving Architecture, a special issue of art4d will be a sum-up of “City of Water” but enriched with different contributions. Your experience seemed to us perfect for this particular issue…

E.S.: but did you do this for yourselves or for an audience?

It was thought for an audience, always different according to the situation. For example the first evening we arrived in Ayuthaya quite late and we were alone…

E.S.: you know, my experiences are naturally of a completely different kind. I mean, I travelled, I looked around and I tried to eat well, if possible. One day I was in the square in Bangkok and I was gazing at the market, which is one of the most beautiful things in the world – full of orchids, roses, fruits I didn’t even know the name of – and we hear ratatatatrr… and we see that all the people from the stalls slowly start to pack up their things and to go away… at a certain point I asked one of these guys “what is happening here?” and he says “there is a state coup”. So we ran to the hotel, where we were blocked in for two days because of the state coup, and then the Generals reached an agreement with the others. What I want to say is that I have always had experiences from the outside towards me, I never took part, as you have done, physically to modify or understand the place better.

And the experience of Metaphors? That is to synthetically build in places…

E.S.: ..yes, yes, that one I did in Spain but not in such a far away and exotic place. Those days I would never even have thought of doing things like this.
It has passed to you…

They seem comparable experiences. You went to the desert and what did you think about doing? The airport for ants.

E.S.: yes of course, that’s why I asked what you did. I can never understand these operations, in general, in contemporary art without –how to say– a title, without a scope. Because my metaphors were called Metaphors, they had a title; I mean the one of the animals was to say that contemporary production produces for us a load of things which we don’t need – as the ants don’t need a motorway for the ants, or we don’t need a TV for moths. They always had some kind of ethical or political starting point, or whatever you want to call it.

In our case the starting point, with some kind of freedom, was for all the groups the theme of water and the river. The common ground was the confrontation with the landscape around us and the people we met along the way; investigating the sensibility of people, of very different situations – at some point we also experienced situations on the verge of folklore.

E.S.: I think it is very important that you experienced this situation especially for yourselves. For you, because you have experimented this nomadism; I mean, the truck that arrived in places at night, by day, dismantle in an unknown place – I think it’s an experience that gives existence a structure, to you especially.

I will tell you a story, on this river (Chao Phraya): one day they took us to have lunch in a restaurant on the river shore with one of those long boats with the long engine behind. It was awfully hot and heat for me is like a drug, it excites me. They brought us a kind of boiling hot samovar, boiling water with fish inside it, vapours, wine or alcohol. I don’t know what it was, but instead of bringing cold stuff with ice, like the Americans would have done, they brought steaming stuff. I was so happy to have eaten boiling hot stuff, with lots of spice; in a state of total ecstasy to the point that on the way back, on the boat down the river, I said to Barbara [Radice – one of his lifetime girlfriends] “I want to commit suicide right now!”. She says “why?” – “because I will never be as happy as this moment”.

I want to say that the contact with the surrounding world – with this novelty of strong heat, the exoticness of the tropical landscape, the unexpected food, the silences, the noises, the different smells and scents – made me feel, through a form of yoga, abandoning every conceptualism, for a moment in a state of total ecstasy, bliss. Nothing really mattered and everything mattered in the same moment. It was a non-conceptual event, a completely physical event, like yoga, through which you reach a state of total blessing.

All the experiences I’ve had in general in the Far East are experiences of this kind, that is experiences of ecstasy. Already the unexpected, unusual, environment, like Indian architecture or this picture of Ayuthaya – they are so unexpected and strong that all the idea we have of architecture, when you get there, it falls apart in many pieces and it leaves another one. You end up with an Architecture that has an origin of, how to say… of spiritual exaltation.

So when I read that you wanted to do this journey I really thought that, more than a conceptual experience, you wanted to have a kind of more physical experience; because these places are physically different from ours: the scents, the food, the heats, the waters.


Anonymous said...

worth to mention, this curious fact, that the "valentine" typewriter was one of the most incredible commercial failures ever...

olivetti company was making a lot of profits with less relevant products (design-wise), while the most acclaimed ones, were alwasy carrier of losses.

not so odd,
olivetti, a name world-known for its incredibly beautiful design (products, visual identity, showrooms, factories), finally collapsed some fifteen years ago.

good design is not necessarily good businness..


allzone said...

lovely comments... :)
designers are always fascinated with things that nobody cares... hahahahahah