The Cult of the Machine
Italian Futurism, Fascism, post-war, post-war expats, metalworks, earthworks, workers – Industrial Italy Inspiration in fashion, literature, art, and travel. Guided by the Manifesto words of the founder of the Futurist movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti:
We want to sing about the love of danger, about the use of energy and recklessness as a common, daily practice. Courage, boldness, and rebellion will be the essential elements of our poetry. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes… is more beautiful that the Victory of Samothrace.
Taking us to 1919 Italy, 6397 brings us a contemporary jumpsuit, in the midst of an economic crisis where Futurist Ernesto Michaelles (Thayaht) created a practical, functional, and radical garment – the tuta. The garment was designed to take you from urban work to speeding through the Italian countryside on your motorcycle. The garment infuses elements of dark denim skinny jeans, a slim black suit, and a mechanic’s coverall. Now only if The Line sold a Moto Guzzi.
We’ll have to settle for the fictional Moto Valaria, the motorcycle ridden by the New York transplant earthworks artist Reno, her nickname from her hometown in the desert of Nevada. Reno, the main character in Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, is infatuated by speed, machines, and land-speed records:
The speed had felt right, even I had been afraid: to go fast was to conform to the logic of the steering, the speedometer, the gas petal. I knew the world, now, from inside the Spirit of Italy. I knew the feeling. To be the driver. To watch the mechanics in their white jumpsuits leap over the blinding salt toward the vehicle, faces jubilant. Toward me, behind the wheel.
The book is set in 1970s New York, in the realistic-but-fictional world of a Factory-esque art scene, with thematic connections to the Italian Futurists through the themes in Reno’s art, her boyfriend’s family ownership of the company that manufactures her Moto (the founder grandfather a Futurist and a Fascist, and trooper in the Arditi), her trip to Italy to visit his Lake Como wealthy family, and her eventual entanglement with a radical worker rebellion in Rome.
From a fictional New York earthworks artist to a real one, Beverly Stoll Pepper, a New Yorker drawn to post-war Europe, moved to Italy in the 1950s, rubbing elbows with the likes of Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Audrey Hepburn, and Martha Gellhorn. She made her artistic debut in 1962 with an exhibit of carved tree trunks at a gallery in Rome and later was one was one of ten artists – along with David Smith and Alexander Calder – to fabricate works in Italsider factories in Italy for an outdoor exhibition in Spoleto that summer. Still a working artist at 91 years, she has continued to steadily produce monumental works, primarily outdoor pieces in metal rooted to the each, drawing her inspiration from the hills of Todi, just north of Rome.
About the same distance from Rome, but along the coast, we head to Porto Ercole to the Hotel Il Pellicano, begun as a vacation villa built by a British-American expat couple in the 1960s. The five-star hotel is now part of The Leading Hotels of the World and home of Antonio Guida’s Michelin two-star restaurant, captured in the book Eating at Il Pellicano and Hotel Il Pellicano. The property is not only beautiful, but retains a vintage feel – slap the Inkwell filter on your vacation photos and there you are back to the British aviator’s post-war home.
Though Il Pellicano clearly isn’t for the worker, Pepper’s works featured at rich residences, The Flamethrowers a fictional history, and the jumpsuit crassly couture, they all somehow are from the modern period in Italy that captured the imagination of artists and expats and continues to inspire.