Letters from the Passenger Seat with No One at the Wheel is a collection of eight stories that Riccardo Benassi wrote during his residency in Rome. The titles refer to architectural spaces (a building, a monument, a temple, a factory), or particular elements of the architectural interface (a doorbell, an elevator, a hallway), or something stumbled upon along the way. The stories involve pieces of architecture and realistic situations into which Benassi introduces subversive elements of surrealism; mingling nostalgia with amazement, the artist makes memorable observations about the contemporary constructed landscape.
Published by Mousse Publishing
fingers go numb but still twitch
Before I could go freely on my way, I needed, one last time, to take a step back. The opportunity was not long in coming. Around that time, in Cosio di Arroscia, near Imperia, celebra- tions were going to be held for the 50th anniversary of the Situationist International.
I heard the news with a sort of sublimi- nal annoyance... One of the greatest figures in the Situationist International had once spray-painted on a wall, in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of Paris: ne travaillez jamais (don’t ever work). I found it ridiculous that fifty years later we should be cel- ebrating that phrase, when my genera- tion could just as easily have written, on any wall in the world, travaillez tou-jours (always work).
Why not celebrate, for instance, the fact that psychogeography, a fundamental method in the Situationist creed, has now become a sport practiced around the world, parkour? In 1957, the foundation of the Situationist International had encountered only one obstacle, the dissenting vote of Pinot Gallizio, an artist who lived in nearby Alba. I was convinced that out of the members of the original group, only Pinot would have understood my frustration.
And so, on the day of the anniversary, I waited until evening, and then accom- panied by a friend from the area, head- ed for Alba, where I thought I might be able to find his house. Even though I knew he had passed away years before, I wanted to wake him up in the middle of the night, hoping he would invite us in for a cup of coffee and a chat.
After an evening spent asking passers- by for information, aided by the time- saving device of my travelling companion’s local dialect, we arrived at a two-story building, Pinot Gallizio’s last home. It was well past midnight; I rang the doorbell but no one answered.
Too late. And to think that every anniversary (like every monument) is a sophisticated form of delay that lets us always be on time! Pinot Gallizio had founded the Experimental Laboratory of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMBI), which later, against his wishes, merged with the Situationist International. In his laboratory in Alba, people practiced the last plausible form of communal activity made possible by industrialization: the assembly line.
The idea was to bend the process to artistic goals, freeing the act from the functionalist servility of the factory. The automatism of the assembly line was really a development on the antifunctionalist game of the Surrealists’ exquisite corpse, in which a single drawing grew out of many people’s hands. Mechanical automatism was a shortcut to synchronizing with the primordial form of automatism, leading to a collaborative creativity that could free the mind from the individual’s conscious control.
It’s always been clear to me that the repetitive nature of the industrial world could serve as the bridge to a sort of primordial hypnosis. Techno music, which I learned about in abandoned factories and industrial sheds, was based on rhythms very similar to a lot of the folk music that my grandmother listened to at ear-splitting volumes in the living room, dancing with imaginary lovers made from a substance akin to wind.
When it comes to Pinot Gallizio, though, and my grandmother, who was from the same generation, we’re dealing with a vision of industry based on systems, forms of mechanical automation, and interfaces that required the presence of a skilled human hand. The fondness for quantity and systematization thus grew out of an assumption connected to manual dexterity.
Nowadays, the sophistication of the in- terface demands no skill of our fingers except that of selection, the same one I used to ring the doorbell that night in Alba. The automation of the assembly line, which frees the mind from conscious control, turns out to derive from a vertical vision of the production system, which rather than toppling a hierarchy, forces us to swallow and as- similate every possible form of its perpetuation, day after day.
On the other hand, however, with the increase in skills of selection, our fingertips have grown incredibly close to our minds, sealing an iron-clad pact with consciousness. Still, I tend not to trust my fingertips completely, nor my fingerprints, because if my heart were to stop beating, they would survive for at least a few months longer.
And they would go on without me.
© Riccardo Benassi, 2010