Thursday, 23rd August, 2018

A Journey Round Your Room

In the streets of Palermo, around sidewalks and other liminal spaces, the interior often mixes with the exterior through a variety of precarious constructions. In this subtle place, space becomes the background of mysterious yet necessary structures. The phenomenon of chairs left outside house doors is perhaps the most constant example: extension of the interior? Internalization of the outside? Waiting? Lucia–tells the Sicilian writer and anthropologist Elsa Guggino in A Body is made of Syllables–every night before midnight, had to be taken away from home: “the spirits did not want me inside, so that if I brought myself outside to sleep on the chair in the alley, I slept quietly.” Other times, precisely because of the condition of “not having a home”, as recently in a migrant reception facility in Casteldaccia (PA), chairs fly out of the window, by means of dissent, along with tables and beds: the exterior becomes the interior emptied out.

Interior design, wrote Palermitana architect and professor Anna Maria Fundarò in a column about this theme for the Giornale di Sicilia (1983–1985), “is a broader and more articulate cultural and operational context than those of the sole distribution of furniture in a space […] that side of interventions that from the particular to the general and vice versa end up involving the totality of the space.” Throughout the same column, she explained this passage (from particular to general and vice versa) through the words of her friend Alessandro Mendini: “what is the difference between me, my relation with my jacket and my relationship with a room? There is only a difference in distance, because both are dwellings; The defense that man needs, that the interior provides, is not only physical protection, it is also psychological, where architecture is understood as a concave space, not as a convex monument.”

Anna Maria Fundarò presents her dissertation, University of Palermo, 1960.

It was this relationship between concave/convex, interior/exterior, room/antechamber, object/wall that Anna Maria Fundarò analyzed in her column. Convinced that certain extraordinary environmental (and local) qualities would have been erased by the most “discrete domestic civilization”, the column urged in various ways to destabilize the “necessarily superfluous” quality of Interior design. In other words: to leave the territory of rituals, signs, cultural behaviors (the socio-psychological-formal territory) to arrive at an equally profound knowledge of the art of building, tools, technique and uses of materials. “The bourgeois”, wrote Sicilian writer and playwright Vitaliano Brancati, “is that figure that can reach all backgrounds, except immensity”. Anna Maria Fundarò, we can say, shifting the attention from the social to the object, gave back this dimension to Interior design.

On September 16th, 1984 she opened one article scathingly titled The place of the woman is in his house with a quote by Dacia Maraini: “Beyond the white curtains that curl up against the windows, beyond the windows cleaned by patient hands, […] inside those invisible walls, what’s going on? It is a question that I used to ask myself as a young girl, stretching my neck towards the illuminated windows of the house opposite to mine. And even today […] I have not solved the enigma: given four walls, given a set of objects made of iron, wood, plastic and given a human being, how the person is transformed in contact with those objects and how these objects are transformed in contact with the person?”. The enigma (the immensity?) of the domestic landscape seems to be defined by an excess of confidence: “continuous frequency makes outlines opaque, smoothens the corners and reduces sensitivity to solicitations.” Too much familiarity involves a drastic loss of value of the objects: the concave is the negative of the convex (and vice versa).

In another article, a few months later, Fundarò suggests an exercise to try to reconnect to the ‘mysterious immensity’ of the dwelling; She proposes to undertake, at least once in our life, a journey into our home, perhaps blindfolded as to escape the trap set by our ‘accustomed eye’: “we could thus feel the shapes that fill out our daily environment: discover the textures to the touch, the heat and cold of the materials, the crowding and the solitude of the objects, mentally identifying their exact position.” Attempting an interpretation, the interior space seems to be in fact contained within “invisible walls”. Suspended between inside and outside, we understand that we are more blind inside our homes, far away from what is more intimate to us, and at the same time curious and attentive precisely when outside of them: the contact with the interior happens through the exterior.

The apartment where Anna Maria Fundarò lived for many years before her untimely death, in via XXII Gennaio in Palermo, today is her archive. As her husband Mario Damiani recalls in an interview with Office for Metropolitan Architecture for Manifesta12: “Keeping the archive in its original position makes it possible to make connections between the documents and the places, the buildings and the artifacts.” Here the external (public) space, through the documents of its theories and constructions, sets us in contact with an interior, intimate space. The inside is filled by the outside: the photograph is inside, framed on the sideboard next to the chair, on the right side of the window.

‘Roma Chair’ by Franco Zanini at “Plastic Field”, Palazzo Franchetti, Venice, August 2018.

Colophon: Nostre Signore del Fuori (Our Ladies from the Outside) is a complementary column to the performative work of Nora Turato,
published in the Giornale di Sicilia every once in a while throughout Manifesta 12. Written as a series of eight microhistories of women related to the city of Palermo, this column aims to explore the theme of the outside through ‘minor’ voices, mumblings and mutterings, popular myths, clichés and platitudes, potential forms of reflection on the linguistic and cultural syncretism of the city.
Edited by Andrea di Serego Alighieri. Italian proofreading by Emilia Cantieri.
Typesetting by Robert Milne. Contact: editore@ourladiesfromtheoutside.org