Milan MI 20122
Non è questione di forma
Non è questione di forma
Olivetti’s electronic calculator Logos 58 was conceived in Ivrea in the early Seventies. Designed by Mario Bellini, a leading figure in the history of Industrial Design, the device was intended to facilitate and speed up calculation and accounting processes, keeping pace with the ruthless demands of post-industrial Italy’s growing tertiary sector. As stated by its makers, the design of the machine derived from ergonomic and functional considerations rather than being a result of formal desires—hence its advertisement slogan: “Non è questione di forma”, its not a matter of form. Logos 58 was meant to be a well run, labor-saving instrument able to streamline the movements of one’s hand while uprooting “any margin of error” from calculation procedures. It was intended as a prosthetic instrument for the new, post-Fordist labourer capable of providing “solutions for each and every problem which can be formulated in numbers”.
Bellini’s design gives the device a cold, essential look. From the operator’s position, the object appears as a floating pentahedron with a trapezoidal section whose inclined surfaces evoke the aerodynamic outlines of 1970s race cars and spaceships. In admiring Logos 58’s die-cast aluminium alloy bodywork one is, indeed, reminded of Ferrari’s 1976 Bertone Rainbow automobile or of the spacecraft Jupiter 2 featured in the late 60s tv series Lost in Space. The resemblances are far from casual. Logos 58 was conceived of as a competitive, avant-garde vehicle permitting companies to partake in the “race for space” of twentieth-century global financial capitalism.
In "Non è questione di forma" (It’s not a matter of form), Riccardo Paratore exhibits an enlarged reproduction of the iconic Olivetti calculator. In scale of 5:1, the sculpture replicates Bellini’s original design in quasi-obsessive detail. One can notice the plastic and silicone control panel, where operations are divided by type; the plain-paper impact printer with its cylindrical print head and rotating cams; the power and approximation keys; the decimal switch—mechanical devices, numbers and symbols to put in practice the new quantitativist logos of neoliberalist social forms. Of course, in "Non è questione di forma", such elements transcend considerations of ergonomics and function. Their significance is purely connotative. In structuralist semiotics, to connote an object is to project added meanings onto it—shared meanings deriving from historical conventions and cultural norms. In the writings of Roland Barthes, connotative signification endows objects with an iconic, even universal value. It allows artifacts to become “myths”. In terms of connotation, Logos 58 gathers multiple co-existing myths: the myth of progress, implicit to a positivist understanding of technological innovation; the myth of efficiency—a cornerstone of capitalist discourse; the myth of calculus inherent to a deterministic vision of the world whose origins are deeply rooted in European Enlightenment. Non è questione di forma investigates the symbolic, cultural and formal substructures at the basis of our contemporary, capitalist Lebensform.
Ma come fanno le segretarie con gli occhiali a farsi sposare dagli avvocati?
This is how the lyrics of a very popular song released in 1984 go. From 1983 to 1986 Italy was governed, for the first time and for one of the most long running tenures, by the Socialist Party (PSI) personified in the symbolic figure of the Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi. In 1984 the Prima Repubblica was fading away with a shiny grin on a well groomed face. Yet the crucial question was still up in the air. Indeed, what might seem a hollow joke in the form of a rhetoric question, encompasses complex issues about gender, negotiation of power, sex and commodities, which have imbued work routines during the 20st century.
Within a office space seduction games occur quite often, to the point that eroticization could be seen as a structural and active component of the environment. This form of seduction implies the operativeness of the production’s technical instruments and lies within a chain of distributed and hierarchical labour: from human to human to instrument. From the CEO to The Secretary to The Calculator, in a very simplified scheme. The chain is recursive and the loop goes back to the CEO, after the transformation of labour in the “spectacle of labour” conceived to entertain a top level audience.
Regarding the relationship between the technical objet and and dominated subgroups, Gilbert Simondon writes: “A peculiar type of relationship exists between the woman and the technical object. [The woman] is not neutral in front of this object and can enslave it. […] The female social role is an occasion of degradation of the technical object which represents a slave figure or a semi-magical tools to achieve distinction”. Simondon highlights that the score of gestures which exists between the technical object and the woman can be “concerted and demonstrative”: relaxed or casually clumsy, it becomes a techno-sadist show which tickles the masochistic phantasies of the embodied power structure.
In the office’s Kammerspiel, the “dressed for success” woman—in a masculine outfit and pastel-color manicure—and the elegant, efficient calculator constitute not only a functional unity, but provide a stock character for the leading one, usually played by a male, which also stands for the ultimate spectator and will possibly be The Husband in the next episode of the production play.
It is not a matter of form yet rather of technique, or in Simondonian terms, of “zones of technicity”: the technicity of the objects irradiates beyond the object itself and establishes the participation. Without the mediation of the technical object perhaps many fabulous weddings would not have taken place. “Every being in a state of alienation, alienates in turn”, the officiant states in front of the newlyweds.
And they lived happily even after.
Riccardo Paratore (b.1990, DE/IT) is an artist and currently lives in Milan and New York.
20122 - Milano
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