Carlo Mollino Architect and Storyteller is the first in-depth study of his architecture and artistry. Including a magnificent portfolio, based on extensive research, which features: drawings, photographs, and documents.
Furthermore, it contains the pictures realized in 2016 by Pino Musi, as well as essays by Guy Nordenson and by Sergio Pace.
The book finally analyses Carlo Mollino’s importance in 20th century architecture and culture, being able to use storytelling as the quintessential essence of his distinctive buildings and photographic works.
In our in-depth interview, the curators of the Museo Casa Mollino, let us discover more about the volume and the unique museum dedicated to his life and art.
I would like to start by asking you how the Museo Casa Mollino - of which you are curators - came into being and what aspects of the Turinese architect it highlights for visitors.
The Museo Casa Mollino was born in July 1999 when the engineer Aldo Vandoni, who had saved the flat after Mollino's death, retired and chose Fulvio as the best custodian and conservator of the House. At that time the significance of the House project was not even imagined, and it remained enigmatic why Mollino had lavished so much energy, money and work on a flat that he made virtually no use of, despite its exquisite location on the banks of the Po.
Work began immediately, lasting many years and ideally never completed, to find the furnishings that had been lost over time and restore the house to its original state, as far as possible. At the same time as collecting the first data, questions began to be asked about the significance of the flat for Mollino.
In 2006, on the occasion of the Mollino retrospective that we curated at the G.A.M. in Turin and at Rivoli Castle, the House truly opened to the public with guided tours.
Casa Mollino was, first of all for us, the instrument to enter Mollino's mentality, to understand his way of working in a symbolic form, an understanding that does not live of rationality but of experience that has to be 'felt' and lived in first person.
In the same way, for visitors Casa Mollino works as a sort of planetarium, an immersive experience that leads inside Mollino's fantastic imagery.
Your work dedicated to Mollino is immense and constant. How do you go about your research?
The research work is really constant and continuous, it has been going on for 21 years, without being finished. Historical documents are the foundation of this investigation: Mollino's writings and private letters, his books, all kinds of documentation such as photographs, brochures and catalogues, drawings, and of course the direct testimonies of people who have told us about Mollino have been fundamental. The visitors themselves have helped us a great deal over the years, offering us interpretative cues or cultural references of all kinds. When you focus on a cue, such as a shell, you then follow up with general research into the most varied sources.
What peculiarities of his work, in your opinion, reveal its greatness to those who approach it for the first time?
Of course, the first quality of Molino that is disconcerting is his Renaissance eclecticism: artist and engineer both at great levels, sportsman and intellectual-professor, theoretical and practical. A complete figure.
Another extraordinary gift is his command of space: his furniture and architecture are three-dimensional, moving, sculptural. Especially in the field of 'design', in my opinion, Mollino remains unequalled for these qualities.
I like and am interested in Mollino's concreteness in knowing how to lead culture, stories and objects to a real and practical experience of life, never abstract or an end in itself.
You have just published a monumental volume with an emblematic title. When and how did the soul of the architect and that of the storyteller meet in Mollino?
Frankly, I think that an innate quality inhabits Mollino's psyche: that of the writer who feels the desire, if not the need, to write. He had a temperamental predisposition to create and tell stories. Between 1933 and 1936 he did this by writing two short novels (Vita di Oberon and L'Amante del Duca), then he expressly decided to switch to telling his stories using the language of architecture and no longer that of the written word. For Mollino, the linguistic aspect complements the functional aspect of architecture: a building is not just a theatre, a house, an office... it becomes a story.
How did you manage the choice of texts and photographs for the monograph, in an attempt (perfectly successful!) to analyse every aspect? What can you tell us - also - about your talent as a photographer?
At the beginning of the work, we scoured every possible drawing and photograph in the archives relating to Mollino's architecture, over 10,000 images, most of which are fortunately housed in the Mollino collection at the Politecnico di Torino. Of course, we also drew on our extensive archive set up by Fulvio starting in the mid-1980s. A punctilious bibliographic research work was done to consult every possible historical publication on Mollino architecture.
In 2016 Pino Musi conducted the first complete photographic campaign documenting with his authorial gaze all that remains today of Mollino's architecture.
With these materials in hand, the three authors, Michelangelo Sabatino, Pino Musi, Napoleone, dialogued to skim and arrive at the final choice with a collective work. The intervention of graphic designer Marco Walser was a bit unexpected and he intervened in the final phase of pagination, contributing to the final choice.
An emblematic photo shows Mollino at the age of about five with a camera in his hand... from that moment on he would never let go of it, until 1973, when he was still shooting with a Polaroid camera when he passed on to another life.
The 444 pages of his book, The Message from the Darkroom, are the clearest testimony to his great passion and knowledge of photography.
One aspect that jumped out irresistibly during the production of the book is the exceptional coincidence between photography and his skill as a draughtsman: his beautiful drawings seem to be the fruit of photographic footage, as if he had internalised a photographic gaze so that he designs a building as if he had it in front of his eyes and his camera at that moment.
His great familiarity with the photographic medium led him to a craft of cutting and stitching the image, through the extensive use of retouching, chemical, pencil, airbrush; of cropping and choosing the frame of the images; of photomontage and collage.