Carmelo Baglivo, an architect who set up the multi-disciplinary agency IaN+ with Luke Galofaro and Stefania Manna in 1997, has become known for his extraordinary collages that mash-up historical utopian ideas, post-war Italian film and contemporary references to create powerful new imagery. uncube asked him about his use of collage, how it relates to his ideas on architecture, and how it feeds into his work at IaN+.
Can you explain your interest in collage?
I like how collages use domestic and familiar representations, they are created using recognisable pieces of everyday life. For me collages don’t build an image, but deconstruct it; they show architecture with no function, place or structure.
I think collage has been the ideal tool of the historical avant-garde, because it’s an instrument immediately capable of handling and measuring reality. With collage you can just add or subtract: you can make something new from what you have. You can reinvent the past and create new connections between things and people. I see each collaged image as taking a clear political position. I don’t think they are neutral.
I’m also interested in representing exactly the opposite of the three-dimensional simulations of architectural renderings, which are emptied out of any theoretical interpretation of the image. Today we are at the point where a lot of built architecture has surpassed the spectacle of its own representation. What is the sense of paper architecture, unless it represents something else? We need to provide new ready-to-use imagery. Collages are very immediate; they let you communicate straightaway.
How do you see collage’s relationship to built architecture?
My images are not architecture; otherwise they would probably appear as academic exercises. They aren’t meant as visions or provocations, but reflections made public. In them the city is represented outside any ancient-modern juxtaposition, without history, but as a place momentarily timeless, pure: the city of abstract places rather than of abstract images.
You often use architectural capriccios and utopian ideas from the past as the basis for your collages. What do you see as the role of utopia today?
Architecture has always played an important role in imagining the future, a future that nowadays no longer seems so far away given the speed of change. The loss of the future has also made utopia lose much of its appeal, at least of its imaginative power for social or other revolution.
According to Erasmus: “The best ideas do not come from reason but from a clear and visionary madness”, but it is difficult to believe that nowadays as a society we can rely on visionaries. Within the Western world, utopia seems to belong to the past, or occurs only within isolated communities. Utopia is elsewhere. In the Far East they are experiencing the utopia of shaping a new world without wondering if it’s good or bad – the imperative is to build.
Now the utopia of architects seems to be related only to pragmatic issues, and its realisation only a matter of time. The future does not seem to interest us, we have delegated it to others or to other disciplines, from where we get ideas and resources. Ecological thinking seems to be the only utopian ideas catalyst at the moment, but it struggles to offer new social and architectonic structures and to free itself from the apparatus of rapidly dating technologies.
Architectural utopias are often attempts to rationalise the contemporary city, highlighting its irrationality through an abstract model of reference, as with the mathematical processes behind parametricism.
Do you see drawing and collage as feeding back or informing your practice at IaN+?
With built projects it’s not always possible to reflect on what is happening around, because one is too focused on a single goal: to build. But at IaN+ we’ve always been engaged in architectural research and theory, never approaching architecture using just formal solutions as a starting point, but investigating society’s needs through the use of drawing and diagrammes.
Using collage is an attempt to free architecture from the increasingly exhausted aesthetics characterising our commodified world, where the obligation is always to invent new forms. It’s an attempt to bring an end to the show-off period in architecture, and to think of architecture in terms of implementable and non-iconic buildings.
- Rob Wilson