Peter Lang, curator

Material Culture, its myths and its futures: a public workshop proposal

Material Culture is a creative public Workshop, with documentation assembled in a public environment and publication. The public workshop would be run by R-lab N_A, together with Marvels and Catastrophes.

Architects and designers have long been fascinated with new technologies but also with ancient and archetypal forms of material culture, that broaden our understanding of local cultures, and indigenous practices. Following Aby Warburg’s own deeply curious fascination with indigenous cultures in Arizona and the midwestern United States, I am proposing a project that would examine the works of a number of Sixties radical architects and their own interests in indigenous cultures, with the aim of making a contemporary project that reaches into the present.

The Hungarian French architect Yona Friedman’s animation series, created between 1960 and 1963 “Films d’Animation,” (restored version published 2008 DVD, CAPC et concours des amis du CAPC) that visually re-enact a series African stories and myths originally gathered by the German ethnologist Forbenius. Soundtracks of African music were recorded by UNESCO and the stories were narrated by Georges Aminel. These animations demonstrate Friedman’s longstanding interest in African culture and is a visible source in the architect’s later utopian work.

In Italy, I suggest studying the project by Piero Frassinelli, (Superstudio) Galassia di oggetti ovvero essi sono quello che noi non siamo (Mostra Avanguardia e cultura popolare, Galleria dell’ arte moderna di Bologna, 1975) where Frassinelli compared the objects used over a year’s time by an Australian aboriginal couple and a Florentine couple with the aim of understanding modern obsessions with everyday objects.

I also would suggest that the Italian Radical School Global Tools (publication Global Tools, When Education Coincides with Life 1973 – 1975, edited by Borgonouovo and Franceschini, Nero books) that can further serve as a model for architects and designers interested in probing alternative methods and practices that could be more sustainable and resilient in the face of today’s extreme challenges.

My project would use these studies, together with reflections by Aby Warburg while he was living and traveling in the midwestern United States to further our understanding on the role indigenous cultures can play in helping communities today to address some of the most dramatic transformations in our environment and in our society (Global warming, pandemics, economic decline, de-forestation, the threats to global bio-diversity) .

Peter Lang interests focus on architecture, design, urban culture, public art, curatorial. The object of his research are global urban culture, Radical Italian Design, Italian History, climate change. He identifies some constants in his works. He has been working as a cross-disciplinarian, emphasising the value of research towards the development of new forms of theory based practices, to develop designs, artefacts and prototypes that could respond to current challenges and emerging crises. He values the use of myths, science fiction, superstition, urban anthropology, the humanities, the sciences and philosophy in developing his projects.

How did you find out about Aby Warburg’s work? What interests you the most?

Amburghese di cuore, ebreo di sangue, d’anima Fiorentino”, Aby Warburg, I am a New Yorker at heart, of Jewish origin, with my soul in Florence (Rome, Stockholm,) particularly fascinated with Aby’s soul searching trips to learn about indigenous American cultures. He would define an Atlas as as an early proto =rhizomatic diagram. In his work, he uses the Atlas as a conceptual, formal and mnemonic device by creating a mental map of relationships between methodologies and practices that could stimulate further actions. Mnemotechnics is very inspirational to him. Astrology and mythology, Archaeological models, Migrations of the ancient gods are mnemonic system guiding the organization of his material.

Are there visual and emotional formulas (pathosformeln) in your project?

Yes, in our attempt to create new artefactually based prototypes that can inspire through their use of history, myth and science fiction new and positive outcomes.

In your work, do you identify formal or conceptual recurrences such as repetitions and disruption, distance and proximity, identity and migration, conflict and colonization?

I have initiated a large scale project called the Baltikan, which unites Baltic and Balkan regions in a post-iron curtain terrain rich in ethnic diversities, political and cultural contrasts and saturated environmental panoramas.

In your work, what is the balance between image and text?

From the outset I begin with the diagram and the sketch, before I organise the text. These diagrams, maps, and charts are for me like visual codexes that are part of our visual culture in contrast to purely literary expressions.

One of the books I would list is Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. I believe that accumulating aphorisms that are only proximately linked or visual associations that are ambiguous help us expand our ways of thinking and making.

Thinking about Warburg’s ‘good neighborhood rule’, what are the books that underpin your project?

Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1960)

Colin Rowe, Fred Koetter, Collage City (Cambridge Mass, MIT Press, 1984)

Silvia Franceschini and Valerio Borgonuovo ed.s Global Tools 1973-1975, When Education Coincides with Life, Rome, Nero 2018.

Irene Sunwoo, In Progress, the IID Summer Sessions, London, Architectural Association 2016

Beatriz Colomina, Craig Buckey, ed.s, Clip Stamp Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 1960 to 1970,

Princeton, ACTAR, 2011

Yona Friedman, traduzione Susanna Spero, Utopie realizzabili, Quodlibet, 2003

Peter Lang launched R-lab in 2015, an open research platform investigating urban culture, architecture, art and design. R-lab’s current initiative Marvels and Catastrophes aims to develop creative responses and alternative practices for today’s society undergoing extreme and unheralded transformations. Teacher, author and creative leader, Lang is a member of the Rome based urban research group Stalker. Originally from New York City, Lang up until a short while ago split his time between Rome and Stockholm.