Revisiting Enzo Mari´s „Proposta per una autoprogettazione“-project as a call to lay a critical eye on modern production by building a piece of furniture, with your own hands.
This is certainly not the first article on Enzo Mari´s low-tech furniture assembled of roughly cut wood planks hold together only by nails. But we at semmel&sauer think that a good story is sometimes worth to be told twice: These chairs and tables are not super comfortable, look edgy and sharp, a bit bulky maybe. But, still, they will teach you something about what form or shape means and how it evolves. Let’s give those who are hearing of this the first time a quick summary: In 1974 Mari published the said catalogue, containing 20 designs and construction plans for „easy to assemble furniture using rough bords and nails.“ Also provided with the note that anyone can copy these designs for non-commercial purposes and send photos of the outcome to his studio in Milan.
The wit of this furniture may not be its marvellous beauty or functionality, but that everybody who can use a hammer can build them at very low cost. So there is now excuse for doing not so. And what distinguishes it from any hobbyist do-it-yourself project is, that you should ask yourself some questions while building it:
First of all, why is not everything made of wood and nails? Well, because there has been some progress. Nowadays we have many methods of manufacturing that are actually much better in many ways. When it comes to wood, for instance, there are joints, glue or screws. And maybe there is a different material that is way more suitable for a certain use. But then, on the other hand, may some products be overloaded with unnecessary complexity? Why are even food products sometimes packed in three different kinds of plastic? When does it make sense, when not? So this is the point when critical thinking is setting in.
Next, why am I doing this by hand? It is tiring and less fun than expected. Is there no machine that could take on this? Well, there actually is. Machines are not evil, they are just doing their job. Usually, even faster and better than mankind. Only sometimes they are in the hands of evil people, but that’s a different story. Machinery already does make our life much easier in many ways. What a machine can do, no human should actually be forced to do. So could we all lean back and chill or work on what we like, while machines are doing all the boring stuff?
And last but not least, why do products look as they do? What is form? And can it exist separated from content? Well, it can, unfortunately. Nowadays it often seems that a product recieves its look rather from a certain fashion instead of „strictly corresponding to content“. Instead of highlighting the quality of an item, often the design seems to be something added after the process of construction is finished. This creates stupid, unreasonable forms, following a certain trend, simulating genuine beauty.
Mari himself proclaims himself that most people did get the message wrong: „Only a very small group, one or two pro cent understood the meaning of the experiment“
It was intended for encouraging a trend like DIY, furnishing student’s apartments or a rustic style country home.
Maris ambitions are somewhat post-DIY; a social experiment with the aim of challenging and provoking current production and products, embrace critical thinking, asking the right questions while experience something hands on; furniture that is teaching you something.
In the words of Guido Carlo Argan:
„Mari is not interested in the myth of the noble savage nor does he practise tribal cults; but perhaps he thinks, like Robinson on his island, that we live in the megalonecropolis of neocapitalism. To survive he had to start making the tools with which to build himself a place to live in. Mari is right, everyone should do design: after all its the best way to prevent yourself from being designed”.