What if you don't need a chair to sit, but a belt?
This and many other hypotheses are the basis of a seminar dedicated to the body which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, that of Global Tools.
Between 1973 and 1975, in fact, meetings took place in the countryside near Florence which saw as main actors the protagonists of the Radical season of design, from Franco Raggi to Andrea Branzi and Riccardo Dalisi, from Ugo La Pietra and Gaetano Pesce to Germano Celant and Ettore Sottsass; but also representatives of groups such as Superstudio, Archizoom, Ziggurat, UFO and 9999.
And Alessandro Mendini who participated in the dual role of designer and director of Casabella, a magazine that reported the theoretical and visual results of those meetings.
Mendini himself is immortalized in a famous photograph where he is struggling with that object for rest, that belt that starts not from the typology of the chair, but from the anthropological study of the postures used in history and in the most disparate latitudes to sit.
The body thus becomes not only the recipient of the furniture/object designed to give a functional sense to the space, but, on the contrary, as the true and only protagonist of a function which coincides with an action.
As repeatedly underlined in the Global Tools posters, the idea of investigating these operational and design methods based on the analysis of the relationships between bodies and spaces is not to replace production itself, but to experiment ways of doing things that are not aimed exclusively at industrial production.
Among the seminars planned by the collective, the one on the body will be the most defined and best documented. If Body Art in those years explored corporeality even in its most extreme and tormented manifestations, the Global Tools experiments brought with them something optimistic and cheerful: the euphoria of being able to take the path in hand of the project for the sake of the experiment itself, freed from the needs of the market and sales.
Precisely for this reason that moment becomes foundational for other more recent proposals that always think about furniture, but starting from its effect on the body and above all on the gestures that this relationship generates and how these can affect behavior.
The American Allan Wexler has been working for years in an area of "absurd reasoning between art and design", as he himself defines it. Professor at the Parsons School of Design in New York, Wexler has been investigating the five senses for years through wearable machines that amplify them.
But his work becomes even more eloquent when he uses archetypes of furniture - chairs, tables, tableware - to induce alternative behaviors to those stereotyped by common use.
But be careful: his works are not non-usable works of art that use furnishings, but rather works where the performative action induced by the furnishings becomes the happening itself, with the complicity of the spectator.
This is demonstrated by a public work, the Two Too Large Tables, where Wexler creates a huge support surface and a canopy with built-in seats, where the spectator-actor is asked to slip in and position himself, giving rise to a a completely new way of dialogue and conviviality, but with its own practical function fulfilled.
More recently the Antifurniture collection by Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich, recently exhibited at the Design Museum in London, starts from equipment, a cross between a pilates exercise machine and furniture, to investigate traumas and phobias that pass from the mind to the body, somatizing our discomforts into physical blocks and resistances.
“The human body,” explains the artist and performer, “is able to sit, lie down, stand and lean.
These actions are typically purely practical, but the body has the fascinating ability to transform these mundane behaviors into gestures, imbuing these mechanical, routine emotions with sacred meaning.
In this way, our daily bodies take inspiration from ornamental furniture: these actions begin to celebrate the human body, integrating its pragmatic functions with a new mission of localization in space".
But there's more. Pavlov kindly invites the public to use his equipment, which has the appearance of furniture/tools, to recall something known and not disturb. But the unnatural and complex postures that they impose are actually directly related to the extreme states into which the human body is forced by torture and states of danger.
“Placed in one of the objects of the Antifurniture, a human body automatically becomes a body of resistance, a body of mistreatment, a political body – or even a body of war”.
The greatest disconnect between the known and the unknown is perhaps generated by an object recognizable as playful, that of the rocker swing.
In fact, Pavlov often refers to the concept of Moon Park, questioning what a moment of fun really means and how children's games can be powerful activators of hidden memories.
His is thus a very sui generis swing, where the two bodies are with their backs to each other, they cannot look into each other's eyes or rely on the other's reaction to activate their own. For the artist, this is a work dedicated precisely to "pistantrophobia", the fear of trusting others: "When you don't have the possibility of looking your interlocutor in the eye and you still have to coordinate your movements, you can try activating your internal radar.
When extracting earthquake victims, rescuers often have to rely only on their intuition; sometimes, the same intuition betrays one of the leaders of two neighboring states, leading to war.” Words that today have an echo that resonates in each of us.