The box comes with the truck. She is pounded at the feet of the newly married couple with the sentence: “Here is her house.” The rest is slapstick. The silent film (1920) with Buster Keaton in the lead role of a craftsman who is not fit for a craftsman tells of the failure of the do-it-yourself principle. First it rains through the roof, then the house cannot withstand the wind and becomes a carousel – finally the couple flees. Leaving behind a pile of boards that looks like it’s gotten into the chopper. Including a declaration of surrender: “for sale”.
If you want to transform Enzo Mari’s thinking and work into a picture, then it is this: The Italian designer, object artist, lecturer, theorist and almost communist, who died this Monday at the age of 88, has this surrender, unlike many of his Companions never accepted. Most importantly, he never sold himself.
What doesn’t last at least a hundred years is no good
His legendary project “Autoprogettazione” (freely translated: do it yourself) from 1974 is therefore also a direct response to Buster Keaton and the eternal failure of the world of things. Mari wanted to reinterpret this failure as an act of self-empowerment. But that’s why he soon came to the conclusion: “I work for the factory, not for the boutique.” For the factory, but above all for the people. His project: In return for the postage reimbursement, you could receive instructions from him for making simple furniture yourself.
This is furniture that can only be made from raw wooden boards with the help of a hammer and nails. In this way, the designer wanted to raise awareness of things. Once he said in a similar way: What does not last at least a hundred years is no good. And what you cannot do yourself in case of doubt is nothing. This way of thinking, thing-friendly, people-friendly, surreal, does not fit into a time when more and more goods are being manufactured faster and faster, which are becoming more and more fashionable, to be faster and faster – to be replaced more and more quickly. It’s like the Buster Keaton carousel: a trap.
When the concept of sustainability was still attributed to forest science, Enzo Mari was already lecturing on it. He was a sharp critic of a design that made a monkey. So he said, “Design is dead.” For him, good design was something like this: sustainable, durable, unpretentious, usable, affordable. And yes, not least beautiful. Because in the end, but that is now a sentence by Hans Kollhoff, the things we love are also the things we keep.
His furor was directed against a world of appearances that would be obliged to be
Born in Piedmont in 1932, Mari studied literature and art in Milan in the 1950s before turning to industrial design. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, Mari founded his studio in Milan, still a world hotspot for design in addition to the Corona hotspot. Alongside Sottsass, Mendini, Castiglioni and De Lucchi, Enzo Mari is one of the most influential Italian designers.
The fury of the great grumbler was directed against a world of appearances that was nevertheless committed to being; and against a longing for beauty that exhausts itself in confusing the beautiful with the new. Which did not prevent him from inventing particularly beautiful things. What you can count on the stackable canvas chair “Delfina”. And the inclined litter bin “In Attesa”. That can be translated as “in expectation”. There is no wastepaper basket in which one would rather throw useless things with the casualness of Michael Jordan. The estate of Enzo Mari is not one of them. In 2016 he announced that he would bequeath his work to the city of Milan – on the condition that it would not be shown for 40 years. The design world is not yet mature enough for this. We are waiting. Enzo Mari is not only left with his work, but also with his idea of a better life.