A “how-to” guide (or: the cultural event in the age of technical reproducibility)

Stefano Mirti, in: Torino Geodesign: mobilizing the collective intelligence, Stefano Boeri, Stefano Mirti, Lucia Tozzi, Editrice Abitare Segesta, Milano2008).


A few years ago, Hans Obrist started a project called “DO-IT”. It was an online collection of artworks described from the perspective of process instructions. From (Marina) Abramovic to (Franz) West, hundreds of artworks were expressed in a “how-to” form. Detailed instructions were provided on how to build the artwork without having to go buy it in a gallery of go to the museum. This was a conceptually seductive project. It did not tell you the motivations or inundate you with theory or even images, but simply explain how to build yourself a Gilbert & George piece (rather than a Paul McCarthy one) on your own, in your home garage.

We’ll attempt a similar approach here. We will try to describe the Geodesign project in the form of a series of instructions that could (in theory) make it possible to envision recreating the same event in other places and in other conditions. To get to the point: in this world obsessed with copyrights and international patents, if someone should get the fancy to take this format and replicate it in another place, we would all be delighted. Indeed, copies or replications would be an unmistakable mark of success. So, let’s start from the essential ingredients.

1. A strong, enthusiastic public administration ready to experiment is to Geodesign as the fojot (terracotta pot) is to making the classic Piedmont dish bagna cauda. It is the heart of things. It is the tool you really can’t do without.

2. The entire public part should have the qualities listed above. From the regional councilor to the mayor, by way of a few others councilors, ending with a team of first class specialists.

3. Within the public administration, you should have a point of contact. In our case, it was the organizing committee of Torino World Design Capital. They should be people with whom communication flows easily and understanding is immediate. The idea that Italy will be saved by young people is a huge idiocy. And yet, having a director of the TWDC some thirty years old, makes things easier…

4. Popular saying: “…everything is possible. At a price”. By its nature, the process itself is tiring, taxing, and never-ending. Another essential step is an organizing sponsor that can provide a sufficient (and certain) budget. Enthusiasm (industrial quantity of it) has to be backed by money. I mean, if it wasn’t for Trotsky finding the money, it’s not like Lenin could have ignited the Bolshevik revolution himself…

5. The curating team is another major piece of the puzzle. First of all, a group is preferable to a single person. This gives you a chance to work based on differences. People who know each other, discuss and argue with total freedom, loosely and gladly (projects need tension; it is not always peace and love).

6. Another important ingredient is a calendar. Why a calendar? Because calendars measure time in months and years. They force us to be patient, and their nature reminds us that ambitious projects need preparation and organization on incredibly long timeframes. We live in a world dominated by clocks. Here, it’s different. More like a marathon than a hundred meter dash.

7. The logistical organization is another key aspect. Going back to the bagna cauda metaphor, we could say that logistics are the salted anchovies. You can have the greatest and most brilliant ideas in the world, but if you don’t have a team of trusted people ready to take on the challenge of the constant physical effort, you won’t get far.
Hundreds and hundreds of meetings, mediations, adjustments, phone calls, Excel files and so on. As in all projects, logistics is the substance. The important part of the iceberg is hidden.

8. Then, let’s see, the incestuous relationship between the world of design and the world of media…. There’s not much to say here. The June issue of Abitare, which serves as a catalogue, pretty well sums up what we mean by this.

9. Another ingredient that can be a little hard to come by it mythopoeia: myth-making ability. As J.R.R. Tolkien explains: you take traditional mythological themes and mix them with classic archetypes and add copious amounts of narrative skills. Rather than forming new myths over centuries and centuries of oral tradition, we can make them in short order. Needless to say, we’re talking about design here and not Celtic sagas, but this is precisely the process: carefully mix characters, companies, names of the great legends (contemporary and historic) of design, combined with unexpected elements and unplanned plots or characters.
Contemporary design is openly narrative. It is its ability to tell stories, invent new worlds and identities, to charm and draw the “reader” (the “user”) into unknown, unexpected worlds that they had never before imagined.

10. Lastly, meticulously document every single step of the project. This should be done form more than just the record or cause we like the idea of history. No, the real reason is that exhaustive documentation becomes shared knowledge. It can be circulated; it can be reworked, cross-bred and reused by others (which is the real cultural value of the process / project as a whole).
A few links for the extra curious:


Recipe for bagna cauda:

Journal of two years of work in the form of an atlas

Analytical material for the entire proces

Geodesign project on Torino World Design Capital webpage

Videoclip of the exhibition

See all the projects

From Geodesign to design in the global world (a conversation between Jon Banthorpe and Stefano Mirti).

(image on top: Dante Giacosa, Fiat 600, 1955)

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