Unsupported Browser! This website will offer limited functionality in outdated browsers. We only support modern and up-to-date browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge.

© Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, a project by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, 2020. Project Partner: MiC.
All archival images and photographs taken at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii are used with permission from MiC-Ministry of Culture-Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Any copies or reproductions are strictly forbidden.

Andrea Branzi, with Andrea Viliani. Pompeii as dripping and Merzbau

Pompeii Commitments 32    14•10•2021

1. Video:

Andrea Branzi in his studio, 2021
excerpt from video documentation
Courtesy Studio Andrea Branzi

2. Work on paper:

Andrea Branzi
Untitled, 1966
ink on paper
Courtesy Studio Andrea Branzi

3-6. Text:

Pompeii as dripping and Merzbau
Andrea Branzi in conversation with Andrea Viliani, 2021

7-11. Images:

Andrea Branzi
Maquette Domus 03, 2015
Maquette Domus 05, 2015
Maquette Domus 07, 2015
Maquette Domus 09, 2015
Maquette Domus 01, 2015
all: wood, plaster, poliplat and das
Courtesy Studio Andrea Branzi

12. Text:

Andrea Branzi
Pompeii, Casa del Triclinio all’aperto, 2021
Courtesy Studio Andrea Branzi

13.  Image:

Andrea Branzi
Wall 6 – Metropoli Latina, 2021
wood, printed canvas and marker pen
Courtesy Studio Andrea Branzi and Foto Scala Group

On the occasion and in the context of Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters – first contemporary art programme conceived and produced by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii – Pompeii and the Festival del Paesaggio  of Anacapri have started a collaboration that includes the presentation of the solo exhibition Metropoli Latina by Andrea Branzi, one of the most important figures in Italian design and architecture from the 1960s to today, as well as a new contribution by him which is published on this portal in conjunction with the exhibition opening, on 14 October 2021. Branzi rethinks the “Latin metropolis” as an environment in which imaginary archetypes, historical memories, coexistence with the naturalistic and multi-species habitat as well as testimonies of daily life all intertwine, together outlining a paradoxically intact Pompeii, despite its continuous transformation, as Branzi himself writes in his new poem, published here (page 12). An introduction to Branzi’s contribution is given in the extensive interview between the artist and Andrea Viliani (page 3), from which the contribution takes its title.

Home page image: Andrea Branzi, Wall 6 – Metropoli Latina, 2021. Courtesy Studio Andrea Branzi and Foto Scala Group

In his research Andrea Branzi (Florence, 1938. Lives and works in Milan) interrelates projects in architecture, town planning, interior and industrial design, working along the fine line between the former disciplines and the visual arts – from drawing to photography to installations – interspersing his projects with university teaching and extensive theoretical production. Critical of the self-involved attitude of the modern movement – due to which the story of the “design” allegedly became separated from the story of “reality” – Branzi’s design incorporates all the creative and transformative vitality of the contemporary city. From which emerges the concept of the No-Stop City, 1969, (to which, in 2006, Branzi dedicates the publication No-Stop City: Archizoom Associati): a community defined not by the authority and stability of its architecture but by the mobility of its inhabitants and the porosity of their interests and exchanges, in relation to which it defines a building practice that is conscious but not assertive, indeed self-doubting. Aware that “our century does not guarantee any happy endings,” Branzi responds to the crisis of globalised and post-capitalist modernity by placing himself in a productively critical position: “We have moved from an architectural civilisation that identified historical value in the act of construction to a commodity-based civilisation characterised by the flow of goods, information and services, which, by their very nature, are non-territorial, diffuse, transferable realities… The rigidity and solidity of architecture no longer exists”. These premises give rise to designs which, by making reversibility their constructive principle, affirm the limit of merely theoretical thinking and the creative power of reality, a reality acknowledged by Branzi in its interweaving multi-species, in its constant process of becoming, in its unshakeable, and hence seminal – albeit paradoxically – contradictions. Branzi “strays” and “digresses”, as he himself admits in the interview published for the project Pompeii Commitment project, Archaeological Matters, but it is precisely this straying, this digressing, this straying off the beaten track that he has made a structural element of his work.
Branzi graduated from Florence University in 1967. From 1964 to 1974, he was one of the founding members (with Paolo Doganello, Gilberto Corretti and Massimo Morozzi) of the Archizoom collective, one of the leading groups on the Italian Radical Architecture scene. A member of Studio Alchimia, founded in 1976, Branzi began associating with the Memphis group in 1981. In 1982 he opened his own studio and in 1983 he was one of the founders of the Alchemic Domus Academy in Milan, the first international school specialising in industrial design, design management and fashion. Formerly a Full Professor and Chairman of the Study Course in Interior Design at the Faculty of Design of the Politecnico di Milano, and a contributor to the most authoritative magazines in the sector, such as Casabella, Domus, Interni and MODO, Branzi has written several books and essays, including The Hot House. Italian New Wave Design (1984), Domestic Animals: The Neoprimitive Style (1987), Learning from Milan. Design and the Second Modernity (1988), Weak and Diffuse Modernity: The World of Projects at the Beginning of the 21st Century (2006) and Introduzione al design italiano. Una modernità incompleta (2008). His designs have been produced by companies such as Alessi, Cassina, Qeebo, Vitra and Zanotta, and his works and designs are included in the collections of numerous museums, including: Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; CSAC (Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione) of the University of Parma; Denver Museum of Art, Denver; Design Museum, Ghent; Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris; FRAC-Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain, Orleans; Groninger Museum, Groningen; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; MAK-Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna; MoMA-Museum of Modern Art, and Brooklyn Museum, New York; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montreal; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Vitra Design Museum, Weil-am-Rhein. He has been awarded numerous prizes, including the Compasso d’Oro, which he has won three times, the third in 1994, being for his Career. In 2008 (the same year in which he was named an Honorary Member of the Royal Design for Industry in London) he received a Laurea Honoris Causa in Disegno Industriale (Honorary Degree in Industrial Design) from the Faculty of Architecture of the University “La Sapienza” in Rome and, in 2018, he was awarded the Industrial Rolf Schock Prize by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm.

Pompeii Commitment

Andrea Branzi, with Andrea Viliani. Pompeii as dripping and Merzbau

Pompeii Commitments 32 14•10•2021

Pompeii like dripping and Merzbau: a useless and illuminating conversation with Andrea Branzi

Milan, Studio Branzi, 24 August 2021.
With Andrea Branzi, Lorenza Branzi, Nicoletta Morozzi and Andrea Viliani.

 

Andrea Branzi: Start with an easy question, Andrea…

Andrea Viliani: It isn’t even a question, Andrea. Last time we met you said you were going to explain to me why, in your view, Pompeii is a dripping…

AB: … Yes. I know, it is a different interpretation from the classical interpretations of Pompeii, with its rather funereal literature which we are all familiar with. I find it interesting to try to interpret the reality of Pompeii from another standpoint, which contemplates the dimension of expectancy and surprise. Think of Darwin’s law that human beings evolved from monkeys, hence our resemblance to them. But, like all laws, this one too can be reversible, and therefore also applied in reverse, so it would be the monkey evolving to resemble humans, or humans going backwards to resemble monkeys again. An unexpected but possible case and type of behaviour, perhaps even a probable one, as the Parkour practised by contemporary urban “monkeys” demonstrates. Uncontrollable but realistic: a physical gesture of mental anarchy, a dripping.

AV: Do you think of dripping in the style of Jackson Pollock, who dripped paint directly onto the canvas, placed horizontally on the floor instead of vertically on the wall?

AB: For me Pompeii is, in effect, modern art. This is the idea…

AV: … So what is your idea?

AB: It is as though the matter descending from the volcano, and therefore from above, had recreated Pompeii during the eruption. There is this dual energy signal: on the one hand in Pompeii everything falls to the ground, it collapses, but, at the same time, for Vesuvius this action signifies growth, a rising, an energy signal of the opposite sign. If you correlate this dual energy signal, Pompeii is not a space or a time of destruction, a pile of corpses and rubble, but an expressive reality, that is, a reality that is expressing itself, a vital creative sign. Fragmentary precisely because it is energetic. And hence a dripping.

AV: Is it as though the eruption had regenerated the bodies and artefacts of Pompeii?

AB: In a way. I have before my eyes a reproduction of The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault. Do you remember this painting?

AV: Yes, it depicts the shipwreck of the French frigate Méduse, which took place in 1816, I think, off the coast of Mauritania. Géricault painted it between 1818 and 1819, a few decades after the rediscovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii…

AB: In this painting too it is as though there were two realities. Desperation, abandonment, death for some… And then unexpectedly a possible sign of hope, of salvation, of life when, on the opposite side of the raft, now practically submerged in the sea, some castaways rise up and open their arms when they see another ship on the horizon…

AV: … I think it was called Argus… those modern ships all had mythological names….

AB: … And Pompei too is a modern painting. To give you another example, look at these pictures of Francis Bacon’s study. The rubbish of all these things covering the studio is not chaotic, even although it may seem so, but it composes a sign, which is the historical testimony of someone living in London under the bombing. If you look at that shapeless array of rubbish with its colours, objects and instruments, it looks like the result of the fitful gestures of a madman, but what it actually does is bring back to the studio what Bacon saw outside the window…

AV: … A city destroyed, but still alive.

AB: Like that of Bacon, Jackson Pollock’s painting no longer seems to be entirely human – it seems almost to belong to the reverse of Darwin’s law, an inverse Darwin’s law – like painting of a wild, furious animal. But it expresses its energy with the extraordinary, incredible elegance of dripping.

AV: So you feel as though, in Pompeii, Darwinian evolution, instead of continuing to move forward, began to retrace its steps, repainting Pompeii, so to speak?

AB: Pompeii can be interpreted in this sense as a genetic territory, which changes but continues to grow, also due to the energetic fertility of the volcanic terrain, but no longer as a regulated, or regular, city, and hence devoid of the human beings who previously inhabited it and interpreted it as such. These are not the ashes of Gramsci, no, forgive the slip of the tongue – the ashes of Pompeii – that are interesting, and if they are, they are not inert ashes……

AV: … An interesting slip of the tongue. In his short poem of 1954, The Ashes of Gramsci, Pier Paolo Pasolini also seemed to indicate a counterpoint, similar to what you indicate – in that case with respect to the “ideal that illuminates” (to Gramsci’s progressive ideology) – when he writes: attracted to a proletarian life / that preceded you; for me it is a religion, its joy, not its millennial / struggle; its nature, not its consciousness”

AB: I’m straying, or digressing, thinking of another artist – also a poet – Kurt Schwitters, the author of works made of debris, mostly falling apart…

AV: … the Merzbau – a definition which he himself invented to describe his installation and environmental works – on which he worked from 1923 to 1944, and which was attached to his own home. It was destroyed during the Second World War (almost a modern Pompeian counterpart, in fact). I think the name of the Merzbau was Cathedral of Erotic Misery

AB: … An attempt was made to rebuild it. But, precisely because of what we are saying, this doesn’t make much sense, and in any case what came out of that reconstruction had none of the drama of the thing which, right from the outset, was intended as something dirty, unstable, infinite and unfinishable.

AV: What Schwitters meant when he coined the term Merzbau. So, to your mind, Pompeii in addition to being a dripping, is also a Merzbau?

AB: In its own way. In a series of works of 2009, I used fragments of reproductions of Pablo Picasso’s works, as though they had been fragments destroyed and then reassembled. The series is entitled Picassincocci (edizioni Attese). I indulged in a technique of archaeological restoration, whereby archaeologists take a shattered ceramic vase in their hands and reassemble it, accompanying the fracture lines of the original work that has fallen apart. They are objects that are not objects, but memories… but not even that…

AV: … In which, moreover, you also recover the relationship between original and copy that was a distinctive feature of ancient art. After Rome’s conquest of Greece, many Roman copies were produced from Greek originals, which were then, in turn, lost. So today we only have the copies.

AB: It would also be possible to produce historical Pompeian forgeries and finally put them back in Pompeii itself. And here too there is a wealth of literature on the adventurous, imaginative, fantastic criteria for reconstructing objects.

AV: Something similar happened when, in the 19th century, the excited curiosity aroused by the rediscovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii led to a craze for Pompeian fakes.

AB: The “archaeological matter”, as you have defined it in your project for the MADRE, does not, in itself, distinguish the difference between original and copy, it is in itself expressive and generative, so it is accommodating towards the idea of changing sign: from fragments of building material from destroyed artefacts to regenerated building material. Pompeii is a site where chaos is produced, a vital accident, but where it is not passively endured. Everything may be destroyed by Vesuvius, but Vesuvius keeps creating something else.

AV: The volcano itself (Giacomo Leopardi’s “Vesuvius / Exterminator terrible,” from which the yellow broom that infests its slopes is reborn) was transformed by the eruption. The caldera we see today, with its diameter of about 4 km, is what remains of the previous volcanic “building”, corresponding to Monte Somma: the eruption of 79 AD led to the collapse of its southern side, in correspondence with the formation of the current volcanic cone, with its crater.

AB: An atomic bomb! Which rose in the sky above Pompeii, but which we should, evidently, interpret as a colossal change of sign.

AV: When did you first become interested in and refer to Pompeian iconography and imagery in connection with your research into architecture and design?

AB: For me, the “Latin metropolis” is an enormous, stratified, non-linear, elusive environmental system, difficult to grasp and even incongruous. Like Pompeian painting: if you look at it, it is partly a tale of historical events or myths, like scenes within a theatrical narrative; but then there is an enigmatic, mysterious, black component to this painting, composed of people and things that do not exist, or it is not clear who they are and what they are for, an exclusively mental, virtual product, for which there is no key to interpretation. I am referring to those images of Pompeian painting that become these theorems in the dark, outlining a very ill-defined, ordered world. An essential element of the “Latin metropolis” is in fact a semidarkness… in which nothing can be seen! You wander through this darkness with torches, lanterns, candles, discovering it as though you were holding it by the hand, tiptoeing forward, and this is where you encounter nightmarish visions.

AV: Yes. In actual fact, those of your works in which you refer to Pompeii are ambiguous and at the same time simple, philological and deviant, as though suspended: mimetic and erratic camouflages, and for this reason disturbing. Perhaps because, for you, Pompeii, as a “Latin metropolis”, is really a contemporary city, something that can be revised and therefore re-designable. Not just a city that is real, but that has the appearance of an ideal city: a “Latin metropolis”, to be precise. As a humanist-surrealist, I would say that you have grasped the arcane dimension while still managing to glimpse the life of this city, which others view as an archaeological finding. As another architect and designer, Le Corbusier, also remarked, on visiting Pompeii at the beginning of the 20th century, this city is not composed of its monumental ruins (triumphal arches, aqueducts, forums, gymnasiums, theatres and amphitheatres and temples) but rather of the tangle – intact in its structural elements – of its most intimate and private spaces and times, in which exterior and interior, building and decoration, natural and artificial spheres, factual reality and oneiric and imaginative intuition, micro-systems of the domestic environment and macrosystems of the metropolitan dimension, annihilation and regeneration, past, present and future, simply coexist. The condition of semidarkness, I believe, is a sensation that archaeologists often experience as well, for example when they wander around in sections of the excavation areas that have not yet been brought to the surface, where you do not yet know what you will find, or if you will find anything; for example when they come across a possible discovery, in the face of which everything is still to be understood, deciphered and interpreted.

AB: And it is there that this subterranean level of Latin culture appears, this totally useless but exceedingly refined thing. Everything seems clear to you when Eros, or theatre, is involved, everything seems explicit, once it has been brought to the surface. But when you come up against these black walls, these black vessels, that emerge from the semidarkness in which nothing can be seen, nothing is clear. That’s why you can talk about regeneration: they look like abandoned objects and yet they are the most active, the most seductive, and also the most frightening: short circuits. As a “Latin metropolis”, Pompeii contains within itself all these levels of knowledge, and of rediscovery – not of what is finished but of what is still alive. Not only the life of the past, but also, and even more important, the life of the present and the future, because in those black things you can sense an extreme vitality, almost the mystery of life, its reshuffling, reformulation, regeneration starting from itself, the unfolding of a captivating story, which penetrates you. So there it is. For me Pompeii is not something dead at all.

AV: Perhaps it is precisely this, what we are saying, that is the perturbing reason behind the attraction exerted by a site like Pompeii during the Grand Tour, an appeal that still exists, even in today’s context of globalised tourism and digital communication…

AB: … Because Pompeii lives in the shadows, in the semidarkness, and it is from this dimension that it continues to regenerate itself. A dimension, therefore, that is very difficult to govern, organise and regulate. Think of the Pompeian paintings after all: they are, in themselves, inexplicable… No-one knows who painted them, whether it was an artist, a designer, or a craftsman. No-one even knows why they were painted… Of course, there is also the innkeeper pouring the wine, or the guard dog (Cave Canem), but if you think that those images explain Pompeii you are barking up the wrong tree, because Pompeii is inexplicable, it is something else, and it is all still to be understood.

AV: In your opinion, can the “Latin metropolis” be considered apart from Pompeii, I mean, is it not limited to this one reference? How did you get the first insight?

AB: Once, at the University of Milan, I told my students to work on the theme of semidarkness. Each student had to invent a small torch, a small lantern, a small candle, something that would allow them to cross a dark space and time… barely seeing them. This gave rise to the idea of investigating a broader reality, which I called the “Latin metropolis”, something that does not correspond to the hierarchies of archaeology but to an existential and design-related doubt, to something that was not clear to me, and is still not clear to me. It’s not clear at all – quite the contrary – and it continues to scare me. It is not something that a person can explain. In fact, for me, the limitation of archaeology might be that, as a subject, it is expected to be able to explain – analyse, demonstrate, illustrate, measure – everything it comes into contact with or learns about. Whereas, in reality, even in archaeology what is interesting is that there are many things that we don’t understand and cannot justify. And this requires a great deal of intuition and invention. I’m not just referring to Pompeii, but to this “Latin” culture in general, which for me is basically a culture of madmen… drugged by lead, spices, water, dense with liquid substances, that made their heads spin… Perhaps the only one who tried to assemble these madmen – because for me that’s what the ancient Latins were – by having them act together in front of a camera, was Federico Fellini.

AV: You are referring to Fellini’s 1969 film Satyricon?

AB: Yes, if you watch that film again you see these distraught figures, who look…

AV: … Surreal, monstrous, anticlassical?

AB: Classicism was invented by the Renaissance. The ancient Latins were different, raving lunatics, and dangerous too. Living people… going in and out of death. Theirs is a world that you would like to explore, but you can’t, and perhaps that is why it should not even be understood. In any case, you can’t understand it anyway.

AV: So are the “Latin metropolis”, and Pompeii, incomprehensible projects?

AB: To reduce Pompeii to an ancient city whose population has died out and whose culture has left more or less solid and comprehensible traces would be a belittlement. Because Pompeii expresses another vitality, effective and narrative. Archaeologists continue to unearth figures – human beings, animals, plants, minerals – that are enigmas, mixed with earth, with food (imaginable but inedible), with erotic and religious rituals, with flows of thought, that haunt us as though they had just newly sprung from the ground. Pompeii, as I said, still has to be understood, although I don’t claim to be able to, or to succeed in doing so.

AV: Why did you say before that Pompeii scares you?

AB: I think that many of the inhabitants of Pompeii also died of fear, in the dark… Everything was falling on them, from the sky… At that point all you can wish for is to die, “explode”. But, in this death, in this explosion in which you meld into everything else, this great vitality of what is happening remains suspended. Pompeii accompanies death but, frighteningly, accompanies it towards life, in lightning time too! Everywhere, in Pompeii, things were not reduced to ashes: even the ashes in Pompeii have their own last, extreme vitality. The eruption of Vesuvius caused a roar of total musical disharmony, forerunning the experimental sounds of John Cage.

AV: In the Pompeian casts of human bodies, but also of animals, what remains are, in fact, the signs of muscular tension (due to thermal shock) expressed in the last moments of life, in which the last remaining trace a person leaves behind is that of energy, active to the point of spasm. A palimpsest of energy memories.

AV: Enveloped in an ash that is, in fact, fake, since it is a mixture of every living species, both organic and otherwise.

AB: Knowledgeable ash. If you think about it, what really remains of the “Latin metropolis” is, apart from this luxuriant ash, the voice of its poets, who continue to speak in this mysterious language, which when you hear it spoken fills you with trepidation, a terrible language because it is still alive, even if you only read it and pronounce it again in your mind. What purpose do they serve, in any case, poetry and poets? They serve no purpose. No-one pays the poets. No-one buys the poems. But when they collapse, what remains of these cities, these empires, their society, their politics, their economy, their art? Ashes, exactly that. And, together, if we are lucky, the poetry: in many cases, all that is left standing are the poems. The most useless thing, but the thing that – unpredictably –  is not overthrown, does not collapse, does not go down… And why? Because it does not have a physical texture, a chemical formula that can deteriorate, dissolve over time, like buildings and their decorations, bones and flesh. But it can spread, it can be transmitted between survivors, by word of mouth. A story that continues, even after the eruption. And this is why it is more resistant than other things. Indeed, this is why it is the only thing that endures, like everything else that belongs to the world of the useless……

AV: … Useless and, as you said before, unfathomable.

AB: A dripping. Which is something very similar to the archaeological materials tipped into the storage rooms of Pompeii that you showed me when you told me about this project and asked me to take part in it: a dust of life, that expresses an uncontrollable energy, but without explaining anything. But what does dripping explain? Nothing…  and it has no sense, it’s just a sign of life.

AV: I would, in fact, like to return to your definition of Pompeii as a dripping. Before we started our conversation, you showed me a folder with some of your early drawings, which you correlated with your possible definition of Pompeii as a dripping…

AB: I did those drawings between 1958 and 1962… [Laughs]… But if I start trying to explain…

AV: … It will be a disaster!

AB: Of course it will be a disaster!

AV: … Let’s digress then, if you want

AB: … Now it may seem like I’m digressing, but that’s not entirely the case. I was born in 1938, just before the war, and when I was only a few days old… I died. I was the last of seven siblings, and a certain Don Gonnelli took me to the Meyer hospital in Florence to be baptised. It was unbelievably cold – the way the world was then, it was always unbelievably cold – and I fell ill, I caught pneumonia. But there was a very old housekeeper in our house, called Ada, who came to my room while they were giving me the last rites and my whole family was mourning me as if I were already dead. She was holding a linseed compress, which was incandescent… “No, Ada, the baby’s dying”, they told her, to which she replied “Since I’ve got it here, let me put the compress on him”. This compress reactivated something, the slightest of movements. And everyone present exclaimed, at that point, “But… he’s still alive!”. From there, I gradually recovered, climbing the hill from death back to life. In short, a resurrection. But I remained a very delicate child, so much so that when I reached the age of first grade, it was decided that I would be home-schooled by a teacher who would teach me how to write and count. So all my primary schooling took place at home, and when I finally left home… I didn’t know how to study. In fact, I didn’t know how to do anything at all. Then I started being scared of the teacher, and of the other children too, so another series of health and behavioural problems started, ontological crises, you know, the kind where you feel like you’re in a fish bowl. The only thing I began to do on my own, instinctively (there were no child psychologists then) was to draw. I would draw all day long, getting better and better. I would concentrate, filling entire notebooks, while at school I continued to do very badly (I never learned to study), and I had to repeat my high school years, despite the tutoring… a disaster: if I had to go back to class, with the homework, the tests, I think I would fall back into the abyss. But in the end I passed, or was helped to pass. And since I didn’t still didn’t know anything, but I knew how to draw, and I did nothing but draw, I enrolled in the Faculty of Architecture, in Florence. At this point, everything changed unexpectedly: I was the first to graduate, with excellent marks. I had also sustained other legendary feats, such as taking four exams in one day and gaining top marks cum laude. Shortly afterwards, still drawing, we founded the group we called “radical”: Archizoom (Andrea Branzi, Gilberto Corretti, Paolo Deganello, Massimo Morozzi, Dario and Lucia Bartolini). We were a close-knit group that worked in an alternative manner, and this immediately aroused international interest. In a nutshell, a totally different story.  In which these primordial drawings, which we are now looking at together, are the traces of an event, which was banal but not entirely so, since it contains first a resurrection and then a metamorphosis…

AV: … Both experiences and expressions in their own way Pompeian, at least as regards the conversation we are having.

AB: Yes, exactly. This commitment to drawing, without knowing how to do practically anything else, saved my life. It regenerated me. Because it was all that I had, and I filled those sheets spasmodically.

AV: Without these drawings – which I have the impression are your first dripping, your first Merzbau – there would therefore have been no Andrea Branzi…

AB: Probably not.

AV: Your story helps me to understand, in fact, how you interpreted the fervid precariousness of Pompeii, its fragility intrinsic to its resilience, its matrix of experience and poetic expression or – to use an architectural metaphor – the connection between its load-bearing elements and its accidental ones…

AB: …For me Pompeii, too, and I say this ironically, is not dead at all, but rather coincides with a general resurrection and a metamorphosis that is anything but metaphorical. It is incarnate. A state of mind and of matters in which what has happened is in continuity with what is happening and what will happen. I’d like to tell you one last anecdote in this regard. My wife Nicoletta and my daughter Lorenza were in Pompeii a few days ago for an inspection in connection with the exhibition I am about to open at the Domus del triclinio all’aperto, as part of the Festival del Paesaggio and Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters. While they were doing the sound checks in a vineyard, in the midst of clucking chickens, a braying donkey and hammering blacksmiths… the tourists, who were passing by with their guides, following their pre-set itineraries and listening to all the stories they are usually told – this was for that, that was for this, who he was, what he did etc…. –, immediately stopped, as if taken aback by something that was suddenly familiar to them. Surprised that Pompeii was not a marvel of the past, but a city where you can still feel daily life going on.

AV: As in the structures you designed for your 2019 solo exhibition La Metropoli Latina, at Assab One in Milan, in which you imitated the walls of the Pompeian domus, while placing on them commonplace contemporary objects of little value, such as those that furnish our homes and enliven our domestic life, although entirely similar in function and attachment to those that you would have found in an ancient domus such as the Domus del triclinio all’aperto where your exhibition is to be held?

AB: Pop objects, of mass distribution and mass consumption. An overlapping, a cross-fertilisation, a desecration of the space and time of our habits of yesterday and today, so as not to resign ourselves to the fact that there is a beginning and an end. Pompeii is indeed a site and a state of desecration, continuous and pervasive: it is scary because if you listen, if you look, life is lived, free, and uninterrupted. Seeing and listening to Pompeii in this way is a liberation for me….

AV: Speaking of liberating yourself of something, what, in your opinion, should be added and what should not be added in a very delicate cultural and natural ecosystem like Pompeii? If you had to design or plan something in Pompeii what would you suggest?

AB: Something without sense. Looking again at those drawings, which are very similar to the ones I do now: they are still not justified. I keep changing the subject, techniques, materials, I’m interested in different things, and I do mostly useless things, inventing new ones every day. I stray, I digress, as we said before. A vital sign, which is any case my way of working, the only one I know. The confirmation that architecture, design, the profession, those thousands of questions about where my projects come from are irrelevant. They all stem from something else. Of a necessity which is, for the most part, unexplainable. I mean, if Alessi needs a pepper mill this is completely irrelevant. So I make a pepper mill, because in itself it is a work that is absolutely…

Nicoletta Morozzi: … Illuminating…

AB: … Useless…

AV: We should publish this diametrically opposed answer of yours, Nicoletta and Andrea: you Nicoletta saying “Illuminating”, and you Andrea saying “Useless”! [Laughing].

NM: Illuminating because useless, useless because illuminating?

AB: Yes, perhaps… a bit like these photographs of cheese…

AV: … I was just looking at them, during our conversation. Are they too useless and illuminating?

AB: I think that, more than anything else, they are beautiful. No? Who knows! … They were, in any case, produced as a joke, back in my university days when, listening to some painter friends who were commenting the works at exhibitions, I heard that for them certain works had a “flavour”, while others did not. They were using gastronomic terminology – which amused me then and still amuses me now – rather than other terms which might be critically more suitable and relevant, but certainly less synaesthetic.

AV: Just to digress again, I suppose. By the way, it’s nearly time for dinner. Shall we have a glass of wine with a little cheese? In the meantime, Andrea, Nicoletta and Lorenza, see you soon in Pompeii, where we will be able to continue our conversation…

 

Pompeii as a place of the dead but also of the living, of poets, of the sea and the volcano, of politics and eternal commerce…

Far from the Rome of monuments, Pompeii leaves scars that are silent, as deep as stone roads or as shallow as sheep tracks…

Exposed to the dazzling sun and the cool semidarkness of the houses, where gods are indistinguishable from slaves and poor art from rich art, masterpieces and farmyard chickens…

This is the Pompeii that scares me most, because it is too much like us…

In the villas, the dull light of the rooms struggles to penetrate the small alabaster slabs, illuminated by a few oil lamps that allow us to discover the mysterious myths and faces of the ancient Latins…

They speak in Latin, in fact, and recite the poetry of Catullus.

 

Andrea Branzi