When education coincides with life itself
From Valerio Borgonuovo's Open Talk
Valerio Borgonuovo begins his intervention with the historical and political background that surrounded the Global Tools movement. We are in a transition phase, the post-modern, an era that brought with it great cultural, productive and economic transformations.
In 1972 the exhibition "Italy: the new domestic landscape" tried to define what design had been up until then and which innovations the new Italian designers had brought. The radicals stood in stark contrast to this performance by supporting an antirhetorical profile that criticized the institutionalization of design practices. In 1973, the global energy crisis of Kippur generated an increasing awareness of environmental and pre-ecological issues among philosophers, architects, artists and scientists. Not to forget that during the 60s Italy witnessed an economic boom based on a pervasive capitalist model that threatened to reduce individual liberties, increasing in the creative scene, the concern of being faced with a real threat to the intellectual sphere.
Global Tools was founded in 1973 as «[...] a system of laboratories in Florence for the diffusion of the use of natural technical materials and related behaviors. The Global Tools aims to stimulate the free development of individual creativity. The courses that will be held will provide the necessary basics for the use of tools, as well as information on specific techniques that can be learned in other places connected in different ways to Global Tools. The teaching will take place around topics such as: use of natural and artificial materials, development of individual and group creative activities, techniques of information and communication tools, survival strategies ». [Global Tools Document 1, in Casabella 377 (January 1973)]
Borgonuovo explains that Florence became the scene of a new cultural movements where key figures in the development of critical cultural and intellectual activities such as Umberto Eco, Ricci and Savioli, found themselves analyzing the events of the new political era, permeated mostly by student movements.
Starting from an attempt to transform the university teaching system, during the seventies, the political discontent of these movements resulted in acts of terrorism and political disequilibrium that will greatly influence the Global Tools experiment.
The art and architecture magazine Casabella, under the direction of Alessandro Mendini (from No. 499 of 1970 to No. 412 of 1976), assumed the role of media partner of Global Tools. He was already working for some years to give space to radical vanguard and in general to issues concerning the problem of education and "mass school". In the Casabella column "Radical Notes” Andrea Branzi denounced the passage of the cultural debate to the professorial class that caused the failure of social movements within the universities and the necessity to define a new spontaneous communication method.
The highlight event of the social and intellectual discomfort that was going through in the culture scene, was the occupation of the XIV Triennale, curated by Giancarlo De Carlo: workers, students and artists, destroyed or vandalized all the exhibitions inside, including a photographic exhibition on the students movement, saw by the demonstrators as an exploitation action. In 1971 Giancarlo De Carlo, one of the protagonist of the Italian debate on the change of the educational system and on the issue of participation, began a research at MIT on the innovation of the universities and their political significance, proposing as a solution the widespread campus and questioning the connections between campuses, cities, public and private institutions. In the same years, De Carlo and Riccardo Dalisi started an epistolary exchange on the idea of participation: for the first, it is a moment finalized to the project activity while for the second the process itself becomes an educational practice of spontaneous planning. The Global Tools, on their part, proposed instead a zeroing of the project, starting from the body as a process of self-liberation of the individual from the behavioral aesthetic armor of current morality.
The Global Tools emerged from the context of a wider reflection on education that the group 9999 and Superstudio were already developing as an indirect comment on the University's inability to renew itself with the new generation of students. From these reflections comes the definition of "auto-anthropology" as a pedagogical and research modality. The auto-anthropology, together with the analysis of non-civilized primitive cultures and archeology, led Global Tools to get closer and closer to popular culture and its simple craft techniques in which they read a renewed relationship between man and technique and between culture and spontaneous creativity. From the city the interest is moved to the theme of “habitat”, intended as the reality in crisis for the formation of new cultural references. These should not come from Western cultures but from pre-civilized territories. Here it was possible to implement the idea of "Integral Naturalism" ("Manifesto del Rio Negro" by Pierre Restany). From the "destruction of the city" a "de-intellectualized" man would be born, characterized by an archaic possibility of wisdom.
Valerio Borgonuovo continues his talk recalling the figure of Riccardo Dalisi who greatly contributed to the thesis of the Global Tools thanks to the activities in the educational experimentation with the children of the Traiano Neighbourhough of Naples with whom he built spontaneous and ephemeral constructions. From this experience, Dalisi formulated the idea of the "Poor Technique" which will then become one of the core theme of the Global Tools methodology. It was transformed into "Simple Technology" by Branzi as the negation of every technological filter and of any instrumental medium cultural.
The five groups formed within the Global Tools (Body, Communication, Survival, Theory, Construction) summarized the various social and theoretical positions of the group.
The Body Group, which also included Franco Raggi, was one of the groups that produced more tangible prototypes. It analyzed the relationships of forced closeness between bodies and the meaning of spontaneous production through the relationship with one's own body. Borgonuovo underlines the international experience of Gianni Pettena that in the United States with the project of the "Wearable Chairs", brought the language of performance and happenings.
In addition to "Design For Real World" by Viktor Papnek and the Shelter publications by Loyd Kahn, among the countless theoretical referemces dear to the Survival Group we find the book "Deschooling Society" by Ivan Illic. Illic stated that the education of young people was not to obtain in scholastic context but elsewhere, as for example through laboratories where the didactic programs would be defined by the dialogue with the students themselves. The laboratory system had already been tested by Ettore Sottsass during his participation at the M.I.B.I. (Experimental Laboratory of Alba of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus) where artistic subjective research and scientific objectivity were combined and merged for a free experimentation.
The Global Tools also marked the transition from the concept of "international", whose political character was exalted in avant-garde artistic movements, to that of "global" that was related to processes derived from the exchange of visions, technologies, products and other cultural aspects. The second part of the collective’s name explicitly refers to the "Whole Earth Catalog - Access to tools" by Stewart Brand, an encyclopaedic catalog of do-it-yourself solutions for self-sufficiency, ecology and self-education.
The use of the term "global" also referred to the popular text of Marshall McLuhan, "War and Peace in the Global Village" (1968) that had greatly influenced the reflections of the Communication Croup. It focused more on the deviant effects caused by the use of media, encouraging spontaneous communication and eliminating all the tools of mediation between reality and the individual. The group undertook in 1974 a boat trip along the Rhine during which they collected informations produced by the involuntary communication emerged from the repetitiveness of actions and isolation.
The Construction Group did not built anything through the laboratories held in the few years of the Global Tools but "the Ark", built by the 9999 Group.
From the Theory Group remain some reports, among them that of Lapo Binazzi who focused on defining the concept of "theory as pure creativity". The conversation topics of the Theory Group included for example similarities between sports dynamics and collective creativity or the relationship between architecture and magic, in order to question power relations in the production of knowledge and the role of science.
Global Tools shared many ideas with the Situationism movement, including that of labor as a collection of situations, experimentation, the playful approach and the return to the ideal combination of art and life. The Global Tools seminars that took place between 1974 and 1975 can be considered nomadic spaces for creativity, with a special emphasis on the activities between the practical and the theoretical that referred to the philosopher John Dewey.
Another reference of the Global Tools was represented by the holistic practices sought by anarchist and radical education emerged in the context of the American hippie communities of the '60s that were analyzed by the underground magazine "Pianeta Fresco" (founded in 1968 by Ettore Sottsass Jr. Fernanda Pivano).
The movement of the Global Tools’activities in Milan was one of the first disagreements and misunderstandings among the participants. The group needed to clear up all these dissensions. They decided to preapre a seminar, in 1974, held in Sambuca Val di Pesa. It was a long session of auto-anthropology, theoretical debate and group therapy made possible thanks to the various activities and creative workshops that were supposed to constitute an approach to the "ideal moment in which education coincides with life itself". Among the participants we name the Cavart, with a young De Lucchi, Mendini, Superstudio, Franco Raggi, Branzi, Dalisi, Sottsass, Mosconi, Vaccari, Fernanda Pirovano.
In 1975, at the end of the Global Tools experience, and from an idea of Binazzi, Nazareno Noja and Alessandro Mendini, the ALCHIMIA studio was born. Alchimia was the first agency that produced prototypes without having a client and therefore close to future experiences in the field of design.
Valerio Borgonuovo brought also the exemple of the Domus Academy of Milan, founded among others by Andrea Branzi in 1985, in order to prepare the culture scene to face the scenarios of an emerging post-industrial society. The Domus Academy exerted an enormous international attraction, a symptom of a strong demand for change. It also represented the moment when many aspects of Global Tools, finally, crystallize.