Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, RO/LU cofounder Matt Olson—now creating under the just-launched moniker OOIEE—reflects on the legacy of Superstudio and the Italian Radical Architecture movement.
I was happy to be invited to write about something from the Hippie Modernism exhibition, but the experience has been a bit like returning from a trip to the ocean and having one of your friends ask, “Which wave was your favorite?” when you could honestly say, “I loved all of them.” That’s where I am now: I want to write about everything. All of it.
But maybe the only thing more impossible than writing about something is writing about everything. So maybe you can just agree to see it all in this post? The coded mist of knowledge and meaning here, not just the words. This slightly adjusted quote by Borges gets at what I mean: “In this blog post is the Blog Post. Without knowing it. The past tells the present the already forgotten story of them both.”
Tolstoy didn’t like the word “love” because it means too much. So maybe that’s a good way to talk about this, as a love story? And since I can’t really write about everything…
I remember falling in love with a few Superstudio images I encountered back in 2005 or so. It was love at first sight, truly. I didn’t really understand why and still don’t, but those images sorta came to get me. And there wasn’t really anything much on the Internet about the Italian Radicals at that point either. It created a longing. It seems like Superstudio knew back then what we’re learning (again) now, that the image, as a living idea, might be more important than the building in the image.
And so for a few years I tried to find more, and as I pursued what I couldn’t yet imagine, a whole world opened up. Gianni Pettena, Global Tools, Archizoom, pre-Memphis Ettore Sottsass, all the archi-zines.
As this love and longing turned into motion and meaning I reached a place where, when I discussed it with friends, I would get nervous about my lack of “historical information,” and suddenly I was a little anxious about the things I loved. I wanted to understand the context which created all this. The political and cultural landscape. I was faced with the question of understanding in the more traditional sense rather than just appreciating and following a forceful, unknowable energy forward. But as I started to attempt this, I realized that any historical context I tried to create was, in fact, just that, a creation. A fiction. And as I attempted to turn the energy I was getting from these images and fragments of information into something I could intellectually pretend was an understanding, I noticed the love I felt around the work disappearing. Maybe the act of metabolizing it into a fictional arrangement was killing it?
And then it hit me. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I wanted to trust the following forward of these things. The life of these things. I wanted to trust them. This work was teaching me that the Internet had freed history from an institutional and academic hierarchy told as a time-based linear story. Google images was the new context. History started coming to life in a whole new way for me—really coming to life—expansively pulling me forward into new projects of my own. Transforming me. It all seemed like waves. And a messy sky. And recently my work—created with my former studio RO/LU—was amongst theirs in the Superstudio retrospective in Milan. And it feels like the context was created by the Context.
A life without objects has, for me, morphed into a longing for a life without histories.
And I swear it’s love… and it does mean too much.
Matt Olson works on projects related to contemporary art and design. Landscape and environments furniture and objects, actions and scenarios, teaching and speaking. On 01/01/16 he began OOIEE (the Office of Int.\Est.\Ext. [Interior Establishes Exterior]) as a new backdrop for exploring the intersections of time and perception as they relate to space and the objects that fill it. Embracing an “open practice” in the belief that following forward and trusting the work the world presents becomes a poetic collaboration with the great “everything.” He was recently a visiting artist at Cranbrook and installed There’s No Separation, the studio’s first public project, at the Aspen Art Museum. He is co-founder and former director of RO/LU.