AU Process

Text by Enrico Crispolti

For some years already Pino Poggi has been speaking about the Arte Utile – Avantgarde Utile (AU): he compiled the corresponding manifesto in the 2nd half of the sixties and spread it in the following years. After campaigns with the AU in the Regensburg area at the beginning of the seventies he started to propagate the principles of the AU. Some of his most prominent activities were the protest against environmental pollution for a green city (Munich 1971) and educational investigations (= Keks, a group which was represented at the experimental section of the Biennale in Venice in 1970). 1975/76 and later he presents the by then most precise results of his AU projects, collective results by concurrence which exactly becomes »cooperation« – however with the full artistic direction and creative lead taken by Pino Poggi himself. Without doubt, AU leads to a social dialogue, but exists only in this dimension. The manifesto implies with regard to the »audience« and its ability to understand art in general: »AU will help people to clearly recognize the everyday problems and thus contribute to find a solution. AU contributes as well and especially in contact with everything, i. e. in the »museums«, the places, in the »galleries«, the shopping centres, the »theatres«, the streets, etc. More precisely: for AU only the work is valid which is connected to everyday happenings, i. e. a continuous change, a continuous freedom for expression and motion. In that sense the »utilist« (user) – this is how Pino Poggi calls him – has to defend and maintain »his own freedom of activity and opinion«, i. e. this own critical freedom. He also has to fight for the problem of surviving by attaining tangible levels of the »fight for the need to exist« and to fit in the activities of AU with his own impulsive ability. This exactly is the dimension of the AU. An »AU work« exists in its importance for society only as long as society takes it up as their own problem. As soon as the problem has been solved by society, its right to really exist ceases for this AU work. Then it only remains a document.

The intention of the manifesto, in detail also the AU-leaflets (sheets) and AU-activities from the 1st half of the seventies result in a clearly visible, very sophisticated and complex picture which was specified as a projection of the aesthetical operator into the social engagement. At the Venice Biennale in 1976 the Italian section (not solely but with a higher transparency than others) responded to the main subject of the manifestation as »Ambiance« by documenting the visible expression of the presently in Italy conducted searching for aesthetical engagement in the »Ambiente come sociale«. On this occasion I tried to straighten out these new »artistical« working methods. »The visual in this phenomenon of experiences«, I wrote in the catalogue, »is the following – and this is completely new – to arrive from the determination of a cultural and aesthetical operator to that of a »cooperator«, i. e. the traditional privileges of its own particular nature are resolutely set first in in order to avoid a one-sided relation as well as to create a tight dialogical contact. Being a cultural trend-setter you are prepared to give as well as to receive, in an experience which becomes shared, bilateral, and not any longer the one-sided mediation displayed by the educator, the operator, to the uneducated or at any rate to a person who becomes capable of culture, the so-called consumer prepared to participate, i. e. to be interested in a de facto position taking on creative suggestions from someone who is no longer the ordinary and inferior consumer with a one-sided relation. The operator who became a »cooperator« is now mainly someone awakening to the cultural self-consciousness of someone else, interested in a conscious participation of the other person with regard to a cultural self guidance and more broadly aware of the problematic of decentralization.

Furthermore I have noticed: We might be moving in the same dimension of the avant-garde concept and search. Do we really want to question the heritage of the historical avant-garde and the experience of the so-called neo avant-garde? The historical avant-garde and the present cultural research which refers to it, I even would like to say, throughout the complete sixties are however characterized by the awareness of this search as a hypotheses of a clear expression of break, as they are privileged, absolute, individual and truly oppositional… The avant-garde perspectives however seem to be completely different today: the cultural research today is actually not the search for a clear language but rather the search for relations, i. e. it is geared to a strategy of the exact communicative answer to a question of the mass. And finally: »In search of a language we today have the differenced and concrete direction of a straight correspondence and a social verification possibility. The search has turned into a search in the social area but it does not refrain from the specific and its diversity but merely extends its borders, i. e. it regenerates the borderlines in order to – in full acceptance of this risk – come across a new question excluding the elitist privilege and leads to a perspective which has historically been overcome long ago already. It goes without saying that this new operative dimension has reached a special characteristic in Italy in the seventies with regard to the tight relation with the political and social evolution. It is fully connected with the facts and perspectives of a strong decision from the bases carried out in the right moment and the decentralised impulse which takes place in every aspect of social life (experienced by the student´s coadministration, the works council, decentralisation of administrative, regional, municipal and civil nature, cultural decentralisation in general and s. o.). I myself have tried to go deeper into the analysis of this whole problematic complex whether specifically within the scope of reseach, whether within the scope of the political and social administration of culture, with regard to the Italian situation in the book »Arti visive e partecipazione sociale«. It is some kind of working diary, the first volume of which was published in 1977 (with Donato, Bari). It is devoted to the realisation of »Volterra 73«, a significant event of interaction in a social-urban context which was held in this Tuscan city in 1973 and then at the Venice Biennale in 1976 after a trial of a theoretical organisation of this problematic had preceded.«

This new operative dimension, projected onto the social area, however ranges not only within the Italian Situation. Here exists without doubt just the special situation of a political tendency which is stronger as somewhere else, even if in a spectrum of a manifold search, a spectrum which, may I quote an example, stretches from the projection or realisation of the present urban conflicts which can be seen in the case of sculptors such as Somaini and Staccioli (both of them later at the Venice Biennale in 1978 presenting interactions in the outdoor area, especially the latter with his famous »wall« at the entrance of the giardini) to the analysis of the individual-urban reoccupancy of the radical architect La Pietra, the Salerno 75 and the »Ufficio per l’immaginazione preventiva« and to the support of a spontaneous participation whether in consideration of the aspect of the poetical action such as Dalisi (another radical architect) of Summa or the group Ambulanti, whether in consideration of the aspect of a political action such as the collective of autonomous painters of Porta Ticinese. Yet, however, at the same Venice Biennale in 1976 various concepts for an international extension of this scheme of aesthetical operation in the social area were developed. A Dutch group, for example, suggested the idea to carry out an exact analysis of the conditions of the »Habitat« (Living) and to find the possibility of interaction on the part of the aesthetical operator, whereas numerous groups and single operators from Switzerland documented a very articulated work which was based on the dialogue and the »co-operative« participation. Then again the French »Collectif d’Art Sociologique« (Hervé Fischer, Fred Forest and Jean-Paul Thenot) summarised, in the realm of the dimensions of social communications research, to reject the ruling system from within. »It is not concerned with« reports Manifesto d’Arte Sociologica n. 3, suggesting new models of social organisation but to find its way back to the methods and art of critical questioning.This consciousness or more precise, this conscious insight had to permit the development of a systematical refusal with the offered opportunity of a break in the social system (resulting from the crisis in the structure of economy and administration) in order to show the direction of the path of those who wished to change the social combinations. The philosophical question about the meaning (the significant) is without doubt subversive as soon as it challenges a social system which does not allow to take the center stage of the discussion. Even the suggestions submitted by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan achieved a detailed validity of the collective possibility to put into practice and a common performance in Venice 1976. But the international scope also made its mark better than ever and this not just in Venice where the Biennale 1978 e. g. demonstrated the problematical area of the anthropology (from Paradiso to Conanna). In Venice the quasi »historical« seat, the critical analysis which Hans Haacke conducted to the situation of construction speculation and social dispossession in Manhattan in 1971, was revitalised. The examples can be multiplied. In the US there is a very wide, even though questionable activity of wall interactions in an urban context (not only in New York). Moreover the group SITE was acting in the concepts of an architectural negation. At the beginning of the year 1978 the Paris magazine »Opus International« (Nr. 65) documented various, very drastic methods of aesthetical interaction in the social area: by Ernest Pignon (the »group Untel«), by Rougemont and by Marc Petitiean.

Now there is a broad discussion, in a very sophisticated style of operational modalities, even though in a linguistical aspect only. By the way Frank Popper pointed out the commonly undertaken actions which result from the same research experiments of the European and American avant-garde, especially in the sixties and seventies in his book »Art-Action and Participation« from 1975 (Studio Vista, London). With them the suggestions for the aesthetical operation are undoubtedly in a verbal connection and apart from this they focus with a resolute clearness on the starting point for a new social question, finally for a new and precise social practising possibility.

Within this wide scope of aesthetical activity in the social area stands Pino Poggi’s research with its own identity, as it seems to me, in the tension of dialogue and »co-operation«, to accept absolutely everything as a justification and destination of the creative outcome.From this result Pino Poggi always clearly perceives the necessity that it has to be a comprising moment, now a »co-operative« experience and instrument of the additional dialogue. I mean to say that for Pino Poggi it is always present to render the work visible, as demonstrated by the commonly undertaken action by the creation of suggestions. He develops them in a »co-operation« which always result in a clear, creative conformity, i. e. in an elaborated concept of visual communication. In this context the initial concept of the operator,Pino Poggi himself, and the response by the participants are always very close and it builds up the collective moment of communication to a creative testimonial. The explicit appointment of the role of a participant and the distinctness about the role of creative direction seems to characterise Pino Poggi’s work for me.

By the way, Pino Poggi already made »wooden books« in the second half of the sixties, in a climate which was apparently influenced by the neo-dadaist tradition, but in reality strived to offer a hypothesis of a story by his invitation to a reading. They are issues written and demonstrated on timber panels which slide between guides made of round metal und thus suitable as a reading whereas the kind of participation was more corresponding and suitable compared to their actual animation. Indispensable, however, was the interaction of the »reader«, the review and course into the texts and ideas, into the narrative story. At that time, however, the participation was limited to this level. In his experience with the »AU-leaflets (sheets)« and the »AU-actions« of the first half of the seventies, Pino Poggi fully transforms the common “cooperation” and the collective activities of problematical subjects of a concrete social and political current situation to a subdivided process in different phases. In the first phase Pino Poggi carries out a couple of graphical compositions (assemblages) based on ideas of a photo mechanical origin with written comments based on his own opinions and ideas with regard to present socio-political subjects of a local, national and international kind. He makes two originals from each composition. The first phase demonstrates the participation from the starting point from an individual point of view. In the second phase which appears in public and happens on the street Pino Poggi asks the passers-by to participate by writing or making signs onto his composition which was displayed on a table. The comments by the public represent the different responses to the problem-affected designs of Pino Poggi. Thus they gain in observations, signs and personnel relations. The individual design is confronted with a collective, subdivided response. At the same time the initial design is activated for the articulation of opinions by the insistent accentuating of the problem-affected socio-political subject. In order to take the complexity of this reaction for granted, the documentation is completed by a photo- and videotape recording. The participants are asked to leave behind their names and addresses for a new interaction. It goes without saying that this takes place in an environment which is socio-culturally active.

Pino Poggi calls the third phase »Metamorfosi AU« and it happens within an adequate period of time, i. e. three months later. Pino Poggi takes one photograph of the two corresponding compositions in order to have them face to face. The untouched one we name individual and the other one which was modified and enriched by the collective comments of the others, the passers-by. Pino Poggi confronts the two compositions and processes them to a third version, a new complex composition, putting on record his conclusions and reflexions. Consequently the discussion is revived. The following place of discussion is the room which is determined for the appreciation of art, a gallery or museum (as in the Munich Lehnbachhaus in 1976 or in Kassel at the Documenta 6 in 1977) where Pino Poggi puts them against a wall with a white surface underneath so that it is necessary to step on it when reading and reassembling the puzzle. The complex composition itself is again presented and divided into plates, locked into a metallic cage a with key (an object resulting from the experience with the »books«). The people who participated in the street dialogue were personally invited to co-operate and another encounter of participation and discussion developed with a new audience being invited to the gallery or museum for the »exhibition« (fourth phase). A videotape records what had formed as a synthesis of the over-all experience and what stands as the conclusion. Thus the generated subjects can be updated in a another discussion.

These subjects, apart from those of a higher international importance, understood in a critical and provocative sense (e. g. neo-fascism, terrorism) are also of local interest as a typical social key (e. g. the problem with the old people and children within a district). The arrangement for reflexion results in a process of social and political consciousness, which especially in a field of experience as practised by Pino Poggi, namely Bavaria, achieves a precise human value. Pino Poggi’s »action« of the »Arte Utile« thus produces a process of consciousness of a social, political and human kind, on the other hand it also produces a possibility of a creative design, relative to the inherent aims, i. e. in the artistic sphere and interferes with accepted standards of artistic consumption. If the critical, social and political inductions are included in the exercise of a creative communication (the compositions for which Pino Poggi creates the subjects – are as a matter of fact building a conscious, artistic, structural connection of the imaginative world, at the same time further creative results which have become collective interactions and subsequent »metamorphoses«, that are tightly included in the motivation of socio-political themes an reinforce their involvements.

For Pino Poggi the Act »Arte Utile« is two-fold. Every sign on those plates has reached comprehensive functionality, communicative and documentary alike.

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(Enrico Crispolti: Ein AU Process. Engelhorn Stiftung, 1978, pp. 11–32.)