A collection of stories from Iuav University in Venice makes the reader reflect on the meaning of Adriano Olivetti’s experience today
The mythical Olivetti. A near-entity that, from time to time, is evoked, sought, re-discovered (perhaps), meditated upon, contradicted, disavowed, idolised. In difficult and complex times, including from the perspective of the economy and of production – and as such, with regard to business ethics, culture and social responsibility too – it is almost obligatory to return to reflect upon Adriano Olivetti and his philosophy of production, as well as being a sort of (dangerous) trend. Accordingly, good directions are indispensable, in order to prevent us from getting lost along the way, or above all, from taking the wrong road. And good directions are precisely what the collection of articles entitled ‘Olivetti. Comunità, conflitti, intelligenze., forme di vita” (‘Olivetti: communities, conflicts, intellects, forms of life’) provide. Edited by La Rivista di Engramma of Iuav University of Venice, they are the result of a process of introspection and of questioning what the work of the businessman from Ivrea really means.
The collection takes its inspiration from the realisation that the ‘Olivetti question’ is an ‘open and multifaceted question.’ Here begins a journey of analysis and in-depth study, conducted in several stages, with the contribution of many. First, a series of seminar meetings, then a collection of 21 interviews, designed to establish ‘the horizon’ or the boundaries of the theme and the resulting discussions, and then three essays on three specific topics: the (almost unique) encounter between the industrial and the artistic avant-garde, the tension in Olivetti’s company with regard to ‘novelty’, or rather to innovation and change – not only in technological terms but also with regard to human and social issues – and finally, the reconstruction of the story of a specific instrument of knowledge, as the magazine Centro sociale was.
This collection of contributions represents a source of reflections, and prompts the reader not only to seek to understand what Olivetti did, but, above all, to try to understand the limits of this, as well as the drive and inspiration that such an experience can still offer today.
One particularly beautiful and engaging passage summarises the degree to which the Olivetti story is still useful today, and how we still need to reflect upon it: ‘Perhaps in that project, and in that humanity, there was something of the “impossible”, and we today should question this, the failed utopia that this “impossible” represents, in order to continue to feed not so much utopia as hope; something that is and, in political terms at least, must always be, the last thing to die.’
Olivetti. Comunità, conflitti, intelligenze, forme di vita.
La Rivista di Engramma, Iuav University, Venice, June 2019, no. 166