Collaborative artistic theory and practice. ‘Le ragioni dei gruppi’: Gruppo 70

by Giuliana Pieri and Emanuela Patti

In 1962, the journal Questo e altro, in a position article, questioned the traditional boundaries of literature:

Quali sono oggi i confini della letteratura, tra l’arcadia e il proclama, il laboratorio e la denuncia, il soliloquio e l’elogio? […] proprio qui, nella domanda che sopra ci siamo posti, quali siano oggi, i confini della letteratura, è da ricercarsi il tema centrale della nostra rivista, che si propone di organizzare attorno ad esso un libero repertorio di testimonianze d’ogni natura, affidando agli uomini della letteratura il compito di definirne, oggi, limiti, significato, valore. In questo potremmo confessarci illuministi della letteratura: che crediamo nella ragione letteraria’. Cfr. ‘Perché Questo e altro?’, Questo e altro, 1 (1962), 56.

The piece pointed out the need to open up the field of literature to critical and creative interventions in order to encourage a reshaping of the confines and reach of this disciplinary field. Not unexpectedly, in the early 1960s, group work and interdisciplinarity featured prominently in the theory and artistic practice of many Italian poets and writers. By challenging the traditional understanding of literary inspiration and creativity as individual and verbal activities, they called for an open dialogue between artists from different disciplines as a strategy to renew poetic and literary language.

Gruppo 70, an Italian neo-avant-gardist group of artists and critics, played a crucial role in opening up the genre of poetry to the performative and visual languages of mass communication. The group included, among others, Lamberto Pignotti, Eugenio Miccini, Lucia Marcucci, Luciano Ori, Ketty La Rocca, Giuseppe Chiari, Emilio Isgrò, Roberto Malquori, and Michele Perfetti. They renamed their poetry poesia tecnologica, as a means to focus on the key nexus of art/technology/culture.

One of the questions we discuss in a recently published article* regards their political engagement with mass media and how this translated into interdisciplinarity: in other words, what rationale/ideology underpinned their interdisciplinary/intermedia practice?

The answer is to be found in the interconnection they saw between poetic expression and industrial world/mass media society. In addressing one of the most debated topics of his time, namely the relationship between the arts and industry, Pignotti argued that the latter was not a separate entity, something out there, that was to be found only in the machines and factories we usually associate with industrial production. Rather, through its technologies, industry had become pervasive in our imaginary through the material aspects of our daily lives, from our food to our entertainment — this is what he meant by ‘l’industria che non si vede’, the industry you cannot see. As Pignotti highlighted, the assumption was that poets could no longer ignore that industry had an impact on the aesthetical relationship they establish with objects — as Pignotti provocatively argues, ‘the poet should ask himself whether the flower of his dreams, isn’t perhaps made of plastic before releasing his imagination at full gallop’. Hence, poets, Pignotti argued,  should modernize poetic language in such a way that it could both incorporate and critically reflect on these new languages and values.

At a practical level, interdisciplinarity and group work that emerge in one of Pignotti’s key theoretical writings, ‘La suggestione di Gordon Flash’, were suggested in the following terms. Rather than operating exclusively within their own areas of specialization, artists develop their work in a relational field in which all the experiences of their time converge. They act synchronically, not diachronically. They use what Pignotti calls technological languages (‘l’assunzione di linguaggi tecnologici’): the language of advertising, journalism, narrativa rosa, thrillers, science fiction, humour, logic-science-mathematics, bureaucracy, business, economy, law, and so on. They also encourage the use of new and more powerful means of communication (‘l’urgenza di nuovi e più potenti mezzi di diffusione’), including poetry read via loudspeakers at stadiums and painting exhibitions shown along the motorways. This is also how they conceived their collages, based on sampling materials taken from newspapers, comics, fotoromanzi, and advertisements, through découpage, which can be traced back to the legacy of the historic avant-garde movements, which were coming to the attention of a new generation of critics and artists in the early 1960s. This is an aesthetic strategy which, to some extent, recalls indeed the artistic forms of the historical avant-gardes, but also some of the mesh-ups and transmedia practices of the digital age. Yet, there are significant differences between the three phenomena.  We will explore them in the next posts.

* This topic is further explored in the following article: Giuliana Pieri and Emanuela Patti,  ‘Technological Poetry: Interconnections Between Impegno, Media and Gender in Gruppo 70 (1963-1968)’, Italian Studies, Volume 72, Issue 3 (2017), 323-337.

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