Interview with Lapo Binazzi

Lapo Binazzi, Photo: Maurizio di Lorio

Interview by Artúr van Balen, March 2018


Artúr van Balen: How was the UFO group formed? How did you come up with the name of the group, and does the name tell us something about the philosophy of UFO?

Lapo Binazzi: In October 1967 we had an intensive brain-storming session and we decided to start making Urboeffimeri. We asked the telephone service English name for ›UFO‹ was. We decided to stay in the group until real UFOs landed on planet earth. So we thought we were immortal. But in fact the group disbanded by the 1978 Venice Biennale.


AvB: In the 1970s, there was a trend of ›pneumatics‹ were in. When did you and the UFO group first start experimenting with inflatable structures? Who were your influences and predecessors? What fascinated you about the inflatable medium?

LB: The Faculty of Architecture in Florence was occupied by the student movement. We started to realize the Urboeffimeri on a 1:1 scale, to compete with the monuments and historical architecture in Florence, and also to participate in the student demonstrations. Umberto Eco was a teacher and a friend of ours. In 1971 he became the supervisor of our thesis.

UFO., »Urboeffimiro Nr. 6«, Florence, 1968, Foto: Archive Lapo Binazzi

Anyway we were fascinated by ›Opera aperta‹, ›Diario Minimo‹ and his teachings on semiology, later known as semiotics, with ›Struttura Assente‹ (›The Absent Structure‹). We also admired James Joyce with his works Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Everything for us was polysemic.

Urboeffimiri/Skala 1:1

AvB: As I understand from articles, U.F.O. occupied the Faculty of Architecture in Florence between February and June 1968 and performed seven interventions in public space, so-called ›Urboeffimiri/skala 1:1‹. During the occupation you also enjoyed the teachings of Umberto Eco, who developed his semiotic theory and analysed the sign language present in the urban environment. In Umberto Eco’s 1967 essay ›Towards a Semiological Guerrilla Warfare‹ he also called for a subversive practice in the wake of centralised media control, as a way to preserve human freedom. Can you explain the idea behind the ›Urboeffimiri/skala 1:1‹ and what the aim of the interventions was? Can you elaborate on the influence Umberto Eco’s teaching had on this? Could we for example understand the interventions as semiological guerrilla warfare, as early forms of culture jamming?

UFO. »Urboeffimiro Nr. 5«, Florence, 1968, Foto: Archive Lapo Binazzi

LB: Colgate con Vietcong was an example of free association and the crossing of two languages, those of the news media and advertising. Maybe we learned from ›The Hidden Persuaders‹ by Vance Packard. But we crossed other languages as well, such as those of the news media and television programs, with the pieces ›W il mago Zurlin-Piao‹ and ›Potele agli studenti‹, ironically imitating the Chinese pronunciation.

Urboeffimero no 3

AvB: I very much like the toothpaste-rocket object with the quote »Colgate con Vietcong«. As I have participated and made many inflatables with activist groups, I have noticed that political groups often want to formulate precisely what the protest is about. This clarity helps to identify political strategy, but as an artist I find this form of communication really quite boring, as the poetry and the sexiness is lost, which is actually important to attract more people to the social movement and not to merely »preach to the converted.« How did you or the group come up with the wordplay »Colgate con Vietcong«? Was this the result of free association or is there a method behind the work?

LB: Of course I agree with you, that political protest can sometimes be boring. So we had the idea to make a homage to the student movement by placing a video camera in the entrance of the faculty, recording the movements of the students entering and exiting the faculty, with the title of ›Student Movement‹. In the end we didn’t realize it. The problem is that there was big struggle between us and the extra-parliamentary movements for ›cultural hegemony‹.

Urboeffimero no 6

AvB: On the internet I found film footage of ›Urboeffimero no 6‹. Your caption reads: »We arrived in the Piazza del Duomo like pre-Ghostbusters, inflating the big ›S‹ with the electricity taken from a cafe in the square. We were inspired by the feasts of the Renaissance.« What was the protest about and what association did you intend to draw upon with the feasts of the Renaissance?

LB: Our Urboeffimero no 6, a big ›S‹ of the word ›supermarket‹, was taking at the same time as a student demonstration. So the Urboeffimero was shared with the students, and ultimately it became a barricade against the police.

Urboeffimero no 7

AvB: Urboeffimiro no 7 intervened at a religious procession and ended with discussions, and Umberto Eco distanced himself from the action. Can you elaborate on the discussions?

LB: Urboeffimero no 7 was also called ›Chicken Circus Circulation‹ and was part of a ›Superhappening‹ in San Giovanni Valdarno. The procession was another happening by our friend, folk singer Antonio Infantino — who recently passed away. So the public in the square was already excited to see him. Our happening proposed a confrontation between plastic chickens from the planet Venus, arriving on the roof of the Palace of Arnolfo di Cambio, and the roast chickens, food symbolic for Valdarno.


AvB: You recently participated in the exhibition ›Radical Utopias‹, that was on show in Palazzo Strozzi, together with architect contemporaries such as Archizoom, Remo Buti, 9999, Gianni Pettena, Superstudio, UFO and Zziggurat. What was the radical utopias movement about? Why use this label radical?

LB: There is an internal debate among the radicals, whether a ›radical movement‹ existed or exists or not. Many of the protagonists say no, but I am still convinced that it is very difficult that something involving 30–40–50 participants with different positions, but connected with the same ideas of rebellion to academic culture, in the same historical period, can be merely defined as coincidence.

AvB: In your text together with artist designer Lisa Batacchi ›Cultivate the exception and not the rule‹ you talk about Florence in the 1970s as a need for ›imagination as a political experience‹. For me this resonates with the Paris ’68 slogan »All power to the imagination«. Is this need for imagination as a political experience specific to the 1970s or does this apply to today as well? How would you describe your vision of utopia? And has it changed since 1968?

LB: Our need for freedom was and is very strong. ›To cultivate the exception and not the rule‹ is a manifesto against conformism. So often I repeat that we were very lucky to end in a dead end. We learned from all the mistakes and all the successes. These are the foundations of every utopia.