The only
true art is
our life

Zeno’s Conscience

Superstudio’s project “Zeno’s Conscience” (aka “Confessions of Zeno”) was an anthropological investigation of the life of Tuscan farmer Zeno Fiaschi that was part of a more extensive study called “Extra-Urban Material Culture” from 1973 to 1978 by employing anthropological observation and recording techniques to examine and document the materials and tools of Tuscan peasant culture. Starting from an analysis of the relationship between form and function of everyday objects, the project developed as a presentation of useful tools to interpret the behavior of the individual and his primary needs, objects and rituals to counteract the transformations taking place in the contemporary city. As part of this research, the group will focus on the figure of seventy Tuscan peasant Zeno Fiaschi whose member of Superstudio Alessandro Poli had met him after buying a house close to his as a summer residence. Poli makes a real “fieldwork” between 1975 and 1976 by photographing and documenting annotations, sketches and diagrams about Zeno’s life from his home, his earthly properties and his surroundings. Superstudio’s interest in the life of Zeno was not limited to understanding the dynamics of rural activities through his experiences; it also extended to his specific ability to live in a totally self-sufficient way. Zeno lived only by means of his own manual labour. He only used things that he could repair or build by himself, employing materials available in the same environment in which he lived. Zeno made all the tools he needed with his own two hands. For Superstudio, Zeno represented the possibility of living in total autonomy. Through an analysis of his life, they tried to build a survival guide, a grammar of a culture of self-sufficiency based on the techniques of reusing and recycling. Superstudio’s research ultimately concluded with the declaration that “the only true art is our life”.

As Poli later described it, “Zeno’s objects and utensils were paradoxes he had built for actual use and not for display . . . that arise from an entirely self-managed relationship between the individual, society and the environment”). “In 1973–1974 we thought we would dedicate ourselves to a type of work with the students of the University of Florence. With Alessandro Poli a research on the subur- ban material cultures started. We were interested in simple objects of use, farm to- ols, crafts and buildings without architects: we were seeking the roots of creativity. This investigation led us to fieldwork first throughout Italy, and then in other countries, such as Greece through We were interested in simple objects of use, farm tools, crafts and buildings without architects: we were seeking the roots of creativity”.

Text extracted and processed by: #14: SAN ROCCO’s “What’s Wrong with the Primitive Hut?”