The primitive and the pastoral are concepts that characterize studies in radical design (especially that of the 70s). These concepts run parallel to this ethnographic observation of the peasant and rural world, both as a discovery of identity values, and as a documentation of cultures which might have been lost with the arrival of cultural and technological modernization: the interest thus focused on techniques, tools and traditional and pre-industrial materials where the relationship between man and matter is more direct.

In the history of Italian design the materials and techniques of craftsmanship are of fundamental importance for Italian designers during the 50s and 60s; from the Superleggera chair, with the rustic Vienna straw seat made by Ponti for Cassina, to the Tuscan ceramics and Murano blown glass by Sottsass.

The focus on craftsmanship by architects of the 60s counterculture was the result of a larger interest towards the “handmade”. That time witnessed the rise in popularity of the DIY.

Gio Ponti, Superleggera chair
for Cassina, 1957

In 1974 architect Enzo Mari, expanded this tendency for amateur production into a real programme with its own radical matrix. In ‘Proposta per un’autoprogettazione’, Mari invited the public to build their own furniture simply by following a series of functional drawings published in a freely distributed catalogue. By asking the consumer to build their own goods Mari hoped these would experiment a non-alienated mode of production free from the fetishised tie to goods.

Mari writes: "in making the object, the user realizes the structural workings of the object itself, which develops his capacity to critically evaluate the objects offered by the industry ( … ) both the operation and being habituated to the operation are equally important".

Enzo Mari, Autoprogettazione,
progetto per una sedia

The scythes

Enzo Mari’s “Why an exhibition of scythes?”, hosted by Danese in Milan in 1989, is a theoretical overview in the form of an exhibition focusing on many of the themes the artist held dear. He constantly contrasted the idea of a product with the concept of commodities but also concentrated on the idea of beauty as an absolute value; that which emerges spontaneously in those products in which everything is substance, such as scythes, that “are extremely beautiful”.
Their form, forged by man with iron and fire in the ages, has reached us after 5000 years of experimentation, perfected by centuries of usage by peasant and country folks, all of which have gradually rendered it so simple. There is nothing redundant or useless in their outline, their shape is sober and terse, the material is bent to its usage.

So the scythes are beautiful because they serve a real purpose, and the more primary the need, the more beautiful the form.
The peasant and blacksmith contribute to creating “a perfect project”, because both embody the values required for their survival, matters of “life or death”, as Mari described them because for them, work was (is) a genuine reason for living (dying).

Text extracted by: Enzo Mari :Perché una mostra di falci? by Daniele Greppi, “Inventario. Tutto è progetto” n.10, 04/2015, photographs Benvenuto Saba