The film that reveals the history and anecdotes of the legendary Group 9999 of Florence

The “radical landscapes” told by Electra Rivers they are both a family portrait and a still image of an era, a cultural, social and political document of a piece of Italy, in the explosive transition between the 1960s and 1970s. There is the story of her father, in the film by the Italian director, journalist and producer, founder of the production company Rivers Studios, based in Lugano and New York. And there is the sense of a turbulent, seminal and innovative experience, rooted in Florence thanks to the talent of a host of creatives and experimenters. Those were the years of Radical Architecture – name born from Germanus Celant – under whose banner a series of groups that soon became influential flourished, from the Archizoom to Superstudiofrom UFO to Zzigguratwhich was joined by the research of some individual architects, such as Remo Buti And Gianni Pettena. And then they, the pioneers of Group 9999, that is to say George Birelli, Carlo Caldini, Paul Gauls And Fabricius RiversElectra’s father. It was only after the latter’s death that her story ended up, by chance, in her hands: it all started with the fortuitous discovery of some Super 8 tapes, a small part of a large dispersed, almost totally forgotten heritage. To which it was necessary to offer a future of conservation and enhancement, but above all an organic and reasoned form.

Group 9999, Vegetable Garden House

ALL THE UTOPIA OF AN EXPLOSIVE MOVEMENT

that ofRadical Architecture it was a creative and intellectual earthquake: through drawings, projects, publications, collages, videos, performances, actions and collective experiences, this heterogeneous movement aimed at a conceptual re-foundation of the architectural discipline, expanding its limits and rethinking its coordinates, methodologies, fields of application, theories, formulas, languages. Everything was, or could be, architecture. No longer a world apart, a circumscribed territory, an academic discipline; no longer solely and necessarily a practice aimed at building habitable spaces.
A lucidly utopian thought translated into irreverent, pop, visionary images, daughters of an extreme experimentalism, seeking a total architecture of which music, technological avant-garde, environmental themes, mass media, fashion, the art, cinema, publishing, changes in costume. Architecture as a process, as communication, as an unbridled imagination, not necessarily focusing on the concreteness of the artefacts, on the imperative of construction, and not submitting to the diktat of styles, conventions, standards: non-functional, anarchic, emotional, fun, irrational, called to reinvent common life, between daring planning and contamination.

Illustrations from the film Radical Landscapes by Elettra Fiumi
Illustrations from the film Radical Landscapes by Elettra Fiumi

A LONG HISTORY OF MEMORY AND RESEARCH

Elettra Fiumi knew little of her father’s youthful activity, which took place within a few years. Of him – citizen of the world, globetrotter, a life spent between his native Florence and the USA – he remembered the famous patent of the “Softitler”, a device invented after moving to Los Angeles: a technique for film titling, adopted internationally. And she certainly remembered the Florence Film Festival, of which he had been the founder, and which she had learned to attend since she was a child. The true extent of his artistic research had not been well in mind, however, until the day of her lucky discovery. A revelation, a door that opened onto a challenging and complex world, the beginning of a journey that immediately became a challenge, a commitment, a tribute. And of which, as in the best documentary adventures, the shape and conclusion were not immediately clear. “I spent a long, chaotic and complex period collecting my father’s archive from different places in the world and trying to find all the materials and footage“, Elettra said in an interview, reported on Designboom. “Then I digitized it. And then I kept finding more things. Slowly I started putting it together and making sense of it. I really didn’t know where I was headed for the entire first part of the film making process. I followed the leads I found and let my journalistic curiosity and pain guide me. A lot was therefore built during the same post-production. I had tried to write and rewrite the treatment but it just started breathing while editing”.
The director begins to interview her family, the former members of the group and various characters linked to that cultural milieu, recovering films, images, stories: after 10 years of work, a precious multimedia archive emerged, merged into “Radical Landscapes”, a film whose form already reflects the 9999 Group’s love for collages, illustrations and photography: hence the collaboration with the artist duo Fossick Project and with the authors of animations Alexander Santillo And Milly Miljkovic. But the idea of ​​collage basically dominates the entire development of the film, thanks to an editing made up of layers and seams, in which archival materials, graphics and current shots are combined.

Space Electronic © Group 9999, Carlo Caldini
Space Electronic © Group 9999, Carlo Caldini

THE COMPANIES OF THE 9999 GROUP

Between trips to India and the USA, the study of the theories of Marshal McLuhan, direct contact with the Californian counterculture, with the American metropolises and with the artistic and experimental movements of the time, the Group becomes the protagonist of the Italian architectural neo-avant-garde, redefining the role of the architect and the boundaries of architecture itself, in a futuristic mix of design, multimedia, rock music, underground culture, pop iconography, technological progress and environmental sensitivity. A work of a conceptual nature, largely conveyed through paper and photographic compositions, texts, happenings.
The Florentine event on the Ponte Vecchio on 25 September 1968 was memorable, in which the historic walls of the Lungarno became projection screens, hosting a mix of various images: an astronaut floating in the cosmos, the highways of Los Angeles, abstract and geometric designs… A radical way of intervening in the oldest and most monumental city space, opting for a light, immaterial, yet surprising form.
With the same revolutionary spirit, in 1969, the four opened a disco in Florence in a former garage damaged by floods, in Via Palazzuolo: inspired by the Electric Circus in New York, it was baptized Space Electronics and it was a place of great experimentation, between dance floors, performances, jam sessions, concerts and theatrical performances, frequented by personalities of the Dario Fo, Demetrius Stratos, Julian Beck And Judith Malina of the Living Theatrethe Area.

Paolo Galli, Wooden Boat, Florence, 1973. Photo by Giorgio Birelli. Archive 9999 - Ph. Facebook
Paolo Galli, Wooden Boat, Florence, 1973. Photo by Giorgio Birelli. Archive 9999 – Ph. Facebook

In 1971, together with Superstudio, they founded the S-SPACE – Separate School for Expanded Conceptual Architecture, which in a document they define “a non-physical place of production, elaboration and transmission of ideas, processes, events, apparitions, prophecies, memories, situations, existences. S-Space is experience and catalog for conceptual, expanded, impossible, imaginary and reflected architecture. S-Space is a global theoretical-practical system of experimental teaching for refining mental strategies”. And while they develop increasingly pressing reflections on the themes of nature and ecology, making them coexist with the technological vocation and with futuristic horizons, in 1972 they take part in the project Vegetable Garden House at the exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, curated by Emilio Ambasz at the MoMA in New York.
An iconic experience was then the construction of a sling, in Paolo Galli’s garden: a 12-metre wooden hull conceived as a community space, a symbol of that effort that creative and intellectual forces could oppose to the bourgeois system, oppressive bureaucracy and of urbanization imposed from above. An enterprise in full hippy spirit, of which a precious memory remains in the shots by Giorgio Birelli, taken during the construction site.
Elettra Fiumi’s film, supported by Women Make Movies, was developed with the Documentary Campus Masterschool and presented at the Dok Leipzig and the IDS Academy of the Torino Film Festival. He won a scholarship from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the collected material has been part of various exhibitions in international museums, from the Vitra Design Museum to the Design Museum Brussels, from the Canadian Center for Architecture to the Venice Architecture Biennale , from Palazzo Strozzi to the Museo del Novecento.

Helga Marsala

The film that reveals the history and anecdotes of the legendary Group 9999 of Florence