Radical Design in Italy: Lapo Binazzi at SACI Gallery (2019)

Excerpt from “SACI Students’ Re-visitation of Lapo Binazzi’s The Philosophy of the Roasted Chicken: Notes on Art Education” in LAPO BINAZZI The Philosophy of the Roasted Chicken, SACI Gallery, curated by Špela Zidar, 2019

In October 2019, Sculpture and Ceramics students at Studio Arts College International in Florence collaborated with Lapo Binazzi, one of the leading artists in the Radical Architecture movement in Italy, to exhibit a re-creation of Binazzi’s series of lamps titled “The Philosophy of the Roasted Chicken” along with some other examples of his lifelong work.

Lapo Binazzi studied architecture at the University of Florence and was particularly influenced by his semiotics professor, Umberto Eco. Through Eco’s teachings, Binazzi gained interest in the study of signs and symbols, and in 1967 he co-founded the Radical Design collective, UFO. UFO’s artistic production proposed alternatives to the norm using humour, irony, and parody, and through mediums that wed art, architecture, and technology. Binazzi’s works in particular consisted of a variety of mediums including fashion, film, performance, and interior design. The artworks/design objects created by Binazzi and his collaborators could be described as a combination of conceptual and pop art with influences from the Dadaists of the early 20th century.

Alongside other Radical Architecture groups such as Archizoom, Gianni Pettena, 9999, Superstudio, and Zziggurat, UFO played an important role in the rise of Radical Design in Italy. The Radical Architecture movement, of which Radical Design is a component, was a response to the nation’s political and economic state in the late 1960s and sought to operate outside the logic of industrial design. UFO worked to create a vision of a social utopia while critiquing social and economic orders such as consumerism and imperialism.

Lapo Binazzi

Much of Binazzi’s work, and works by UFO in general, were ephemeral and meant to be temporary provocations. The series urboeffimeri consisted of folded inflatable tubes marked with anti-capitalist slogans that were carried around Florence during protests and performances, invading and disturbing the public space. These inflatable objects were intended to be adaptable architecture that would consider and respect its surroundings and could be activated when needed.

UFO, Urboeffimero, 1968

Other inflatable works created by UFO were referred to as effimeri urbani (urban ephemera). With effimeri urbani UFO sought to change our perceptions of these familiar pieces of architecture. Included in this series is an inflatable version of the dome of Florence’s cathedral (la cupola gonfiabile) and an inflatable A.N.A.S. house. The inflatable dome is movable and therefore, when installed elsewhere, offers a new perspective of one of the most famous touristic views. The A.N.A.S. house, modelled after a government building used to store road material and maintenance equipment, acquired symbolic importance due to its size; the inflatable A.N.A.S house measured six meters in height, larger than most of the real A.N.A.S houses.

Inflatable dome concept sketch, 1968
Inflatable dome re-creation in 2015

Lapo Binazzi’s interest in semantics and critiquing contemporary social values are integral to his design objects. Three of his lamps, in particular, demonstrate the humorous way in which Binazzi approaches these themes, specifically in response to Hollywood and the idea of the American Dream: “Dollaro”, a table lamp with a dollar sign stem, was created by UFO for the Sherwood Restaurant interior design project and alludes to the world of comic book cartoons, specifically Uncle Scrooge and the celebration of the money; “Paramount”, a table lamp with a mountain as its base and an umbrella (parasole or parapioggia in Italian) as its lampshade; and “MGM”, a table lamp that mimics the shape of the American media company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios’ logo.

Laop Binazzi, “MGM”, “Paramount”, and “Dollaro” lamps

Binazzi’s series of lamps titled “The Philosophy of the Roasted Chicken”, re-visited in this exhibition by SACI students, was influenced by the first Radical Architecture ‘happening’ in San Giovanni Valdarno in 1968 where the roasted chicken served as a symbol of consumer culture and the contemporary food economy.

SACI Students after Lapo Binazzi, The Philosophy of the Roasted Chicken, 2019
SACI Students after Lapo Binazzi, The Philosophy of the Roasted Chicken, 2019

Binazzi’s light fixtures are some of the few tangible works that remain from the Radical Design era. ▪️

Lapo Binazzi (b. 1943, Florence) is a visionary designer and a founding member of the UFO collective, one of the “supergroups” of Italian architects and designers in the late 1960s who banded together to express their utopian and political manifestos through their provocative works. 

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