Ame­ri­can In­te­rior

AD (Italy) - - Englishtexts. - pho­tos words M— A RIO BEL­LI­NI GA­BRIE­LE RO­MA­GNO­LI

IN 1972 BEL­LI­NI SET OFF WITH TWO FRIENDS AND A HAS­SEL­BLAD TO DO­CU­MENT THE LI­VES OF AME­RI­CANS FOR MOMA. THE PIC­TU­RES WE­RE LOST. NOW «AD» PUBLISHES THEM FOR THE FIRST TIME.

The im­pos­si­ble uto­pia of a new way of life. Ex­cep­tio­nal people sur­roun­ded by or­di­na­ry fur­ni­shings. Or­di­na­ry people li­ving in cra­zy pla­ces. Mobile

«ITALIAN CI­TIES ARE THOU­SANDS OF YEARS OLD, BOOKS OF STO­NE. AME­RI­CAN CI­TIES, APART FROM NEW YORK, ARE MADE OF PA­PER».

homes fa­ste­ned to the ground. Gu­rus in ten­ts in the li­ving room. The nai­ve dreams of Ame­ri­ca in the 1970s. Shot with a Has­sel­blad. Do­cu­men­ta­tion lost and found 42 years la­ter by Ma­rio Bel­li­ni, ar­chi­tect, 80 years old. He was 37 back in 1972, Nixon was pre­si­dent, Italy was go­ver­ned by Al­do Mo­ro. The classic coast-to- coast, New York to Ca­li­for­nia, a trip made by mil­lions. But this one in­vol­ved three men with grea­ter cu­rio­si­ty, and the bles­sings of MoMA. Their ta­sk was to do­cu­ment the “Ame­ri­can homes” of ce­le­bri­ties and eve­ry­day people. Bel­li­ni wel­co­mes me in­to his home, al­mo­st a mu­seum of con­tem­po­ra­ry art, ju­st back from Qa­tar, one of the la­st hea­vens of ar­chi­tec­ts, whe­re the­re is still room and funds to crea­te. He says he on­ly has va­gue memories of his Ame­ri­can odys­sey, but it’s a lit­tle white lie: along the way he tells me pre­ci­se na­mes, pla­ces, anec­do­tes.

How did the idea of this tour come about?

«I was in New York. MoMA had in­vi­ted me for the ex­hi­bi­tion on the New Domestic Land­sca­pe of Italy, a great ti­tle in­ven­ted by its cu­ra­tor Emi­lio Am­basz. Gae­ta­no Pesce and I we­re the two young de­si­gners in the show. They asked us to crea­te so­me­thing for the oc­ca­sion. I brought the Kar- a- su­tra, a spe­cial car, done with Cas­si­na. I had no­ti­ced that space wa­sn’t used ve­ry well in cars, so I ad­ded coun­ters and cu­shions, to ma­ke it mo­re li­va­ble».

You wan­ted to dri­ve to Ca­li­for­nia in that car?

«No, we we­re mu­ch mo­re prac­ti­cal. We made a deal with a car ren­tal com­pa­ny and a ho­tel chain. I put up half the mo­ney, Cas­si­na ad­ded the rest. We brought Fran­ce­sco Bin­fa­ré along, who was wor­king in Cas­si­na’s de­si­gn of­ce. And Da­vi­de Mo­sco­ni, an ar­ti­st, pho­to­gra­pher and flm-ma­ker. They bo­th had long beards. Sca­ry. I was mo­re nor­mal».

What we­re you looking for in Ame­ri­ca?

«The ru­le and the ex­cep­tion. How or­di­na­ry people li­ved, but al­so people who could in­vent their own li­ves and homes».

Let’s start with the regular folks: what did you fnd at John Doe’s pla­ce?

«Cer­tain con­stan­ts. One was the lit­tle al­tar. Usual­ly on the left, at the en­tran­ce. A wall with a li­fe­ti­me in pho­to­gra­phs: family, ho­li­days, pe­ts. We took cruel por­trai­ts of the ho­meo­w­ners in front of it. Then spa­ces. Eve­ry­thing was bigger: rooms, fur­ni­tu­re, land, the house, be­cau­se eve­ry­thing co­st less than in Europe. With respect to the Orient the­re was a clear sen­se of hor­ror va­cui. The homes we­re pac­ked with all kinds of junk ».

The com­pa­ri­son with Italian homes of that pe­riod?

« Ame­ri­can kit­chens we­re bigger, with a coun­ter for ea­ting. The­re we­re big clo­se­ts, in­stead of the classic war­dro­be in front of the bed, whi­ch I ha­ted. Abo­ve all, the­re was the idea that a house is not fo­re­ver, that you could mo­ve, to ano­ther city or ano­ther sta­te».

And in fact the Ame­ri­cans al­so have mobile homes...

«We saw plen­ty! It was de­pres­sing! They bought them, but then the fear of so­li­tu­de made them put them in parks, all li­ned up, fa­ste­ned to the ground, with me­tal ga­tes on the win­do­ws. End of the adventure».

The ex­cep­tions? The fan­ta­sies?

« Mo­stly fan­ta­sies. Al­lu­sions, mo­re than reality. Li­ke the house of Hu­gh Hef­ner in Chi­ca­go: look at this pic­tu­re, the big cir­cu­lar bed, the pro­jec­tor, all sta­ged. Erotic advertising. Even the bun­nies, if you think about it, simply al­lu­de without doing: the es­sen­ce of Ame­ri­can Pu­ri­ta­ni­sm. Then the­re’s the stu­dio of An­dy Warhol…».

Ano­ther di­sap­point­ment?

«In a way. The art re­vo­lu­tio­na­ry had Art De­co fur­ni­tu­re. It was a loft, but the decor was qui­te tra­di­tio­nal».

But at the time uto­pias we­re all the ra­ge: new li­fe­sty­les in new si­tua­tions...

«We saw that too, as we hea­ded we­st. We vi­si­ted the Ar­co­san­ti community crea­ted by Pao­lo So­le­ri, ju­st as they we­re un­vei­ling the fr­st ar­ch. The sky was clear, the­re was a slight bree­ze that made all the bells ring. But that too see­med li­ke an idea, not reality. In Los An­ge­les we ate in a ma­cro­bio­tic re­stau­rant, The Sour­ce. The food con­tai­ned ho­ney, and Mo­sco­ni was al­ler­gic. The ow­ners put us up till he felt better. We found out the­re was a hip­pie com­mu­ne, squat­ting a house aban­do­ned by actors in Be­ver­ly Hills. Mat­tres­ses, mir­rors, not mu­ch el­se. The­re was a tent in the par­lor whe­re the gu­ru re­cei­ved di­sci­ples».

Did anyo­ne re­fu­se to let you in?

«We wan­ted to see the Church of Sa­tan. We have been cal­ling for an ap­point­ment eve­ry day, from a phone boo­th. But Sa­tan never an­swe­red».

Is the­re a bor­der­li­ne bet­ween uto­pia and mad­ness?

«Yes. And you have to be ca­re­ful not to cross it».

What’s left of tho­se dreams?

«Not mu­ch, but so­me­thing re­mains. They never ca­me true. Ar­co­san­ti de­cayed, the hip­pies va­ni­shed, but they left a mark, cau­sing small chan­ges. If any­thing has chan­ged it is al­so thanks to tho­se ra­ther extreme at­temp­ts. To in­vent new ci­ties and ways of li­ving in them is a bit nai­ve, even cru­de. In the end, we live as Ulys­ses did. The­re are on­ly li­mi­ted di­fe­ren­ces bet­ween our hou­ses and tho­se of the an­cient Ro­mans. Italian ci­ties are thou­sands of years old, books of sto­ne. Ame­ri­can ci­ties, apart from New York, are made of pa­per ».

So they can die, li­ke De­troit?

«I’m afraid so».

But why has this ama­zing ma­te­rial never been pu­bli­shed?

«It’s a sad sto­ry. I was not sup­po­sed to do­cu­ment the trip. The others had that job, espe­cial­ly Da­vi­de Mo­sco­ni who had a movie camera and flm, as well as still ca­me­ras. When we got back he put it all in the frid­ge, and the­re it stayed. Then he pas­sed away. We asked his wife and she said she didn’t know whe­re the flm was. Fran­ce­sco Bin­fa­ré is still ali­ve, but he has mo­ved too many ti­mes. So it was up to me… I had the­se sli­des sta­shed away. My wife Ele­na was the one who wan­ted to dig them up, to scan them and sal­va­ge them».

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