“I have to think that all that happens to me is my life” (Monica Vitti in “The Red Desert“)
A “Festschrift” is a celebratory book made in honour of a person. Typical of academic contexts, it has an analog in the arts with the “retrospective”.
At his 80th birthday, after a life spent working on a few “canonical” architectures, producing theory able to influence the architectural debate for almost 40 years, researching and educating, Peter Eisenman has surely gained the right to a “festchrift”. This has certainly been the opinion of Gabriele Mastrigli, Giovanni Damiani and Manuel Orazi, well known Italian architecture critics and editors, who used the first issue of their new-born magazine “Deserto Rosso“, to celebrate the architect in his late age, indeed.
And yet, we find, whereas the title and the intentions of this little booklet are seemingly to retrace the architect’s thought and work, its pages hide a more ambitious perspective.
Proudly written in Italian, Deserto Rosso makes an explicit reference to a time, the 60’s, in which our country was (*) “central in the international culture, (expressing) directors, poets, authors, writers and also critics, historians and architects of great value, able to talk to the world of the issues of the world in the times of the world”, a country, that the authors are today unable to recognize and that they aim to rebuild “giving birth again to ancient tools such as the study, the encounter, a dimension of the time of reading and of an in-depth research, less wild than the one we face today, and that we feel as profoundly useless“.
“Deserto Rosso”, the fascinating title of a 1964’s Michelangelo Antonioni movie, provides a reference to a critical turnpoint in Italian history, an age in which the economic “miracle” was resolving in a profound crisis of the bourgeois model of family, of the social tissue, of long-lasting cultural and societal values. Wandering solitarily across the northern industrial landscape, the protagonist, a young Monica Vitti, provides an unforgettable portrait of human alienation, an embodiment of man’s incapability to adjust to the new societal condition.
No architect more than Eisenman, the authors seem to imply, has been able to understand the problem of man in relation to modernity and to express it through his work. Architecture is pushed by progress into the future, but is doomed to look at its past, at its ruins. Precisely through an opposition to the iconic value of the building, against the capacity of architecture to respond and adapt to its ideological, political and cultural context, Eisenman rather investigated the “firmitas” value of architecture, questioning the necessity of a building to represent solidity and stability.
Deserto Rosso’s first issue offers an introduction to Eisenman later work, the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, it features retrospectival analysis of Eisenman evolution and his dialectical relationship with avantgarde European philosophy and it also hosts a previosly unpublished Italian translation of an essay by the same architect about the work of his longtime friend John Hedjuk (“Nella casa del padre mio ci sono molte dimore” translated from “In My father’s House are Many Mansions“).
Only the last pages offer a preview of what is yet to come, in the form of a Forum section, (“We would like to create a different space, where the problem comes first, we would like to show moments of real encounter where people are there for their ideas and opinions and also for the pleasure to be together”)
It would be banal, as a conclusion, to indulge into the old adage: “we hope this first number won’t be only one episode”. We know that this is not: in fact Orazi, Damiani and Mastrigli have singularly and jointly worked, in the recent past, to promote architecture as a reflection on the modernity, using the discipline as a tool to question the sense of our being in the world. Just let them the time and the necessity to come out with a (anyway important) second issue of Deserto Rosso.
Deserto Rosso #0: ‘Festschrift per gli 80 anni di Peter Eisenman’ has been presented at the Vernissage of the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2012
To purchase a copy just write to the address that appears on the page of the site www.rossodeserto.it
(*: our translation)