issue #26: inspiration-hunters
Caleido’s interview with Formafantasma, a design and research studio founded by Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, is the cover story of Issue #18, entitled: Whatever it takes. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here.
Diary of: @formafantasma
1. You define Formafantasma as “a research studio that investigates the ecological, historical, political and social forces shaping contemporary design”. in short: what are the three main vectors that are shaping Design Society?
I don’t think it is necessary to identify three reference vectors, because one is probably enough: ecology. The fact that we live in a time of ecological crisis means that we must ask ourselves at all levels – and not only within the discipline of design – how to live in a world that is facing a crisis. This also throws design itself into a crisis, as it is a subject that is inherently positivist and finds in progress the ultimate solution; and which is also based on material inventions. We see this situation as an opportunity, because it is precisely in times of crisis – let’s think for example of the post-World War II period – that design is at its best. Let us also remember the fact that the term “ecology”, not only has an environmental meaning, but also a close connection to social justice.
2. Many have called the last appointment (dated 2022) with Milan Design Week, “Formafantasma’s Salone”. Both for the number and relevance of the projects you presented (from the Symposium for Prada to the lamps for Maison Matisse). Where are you in your professional life? what are the most significant challenges that have forged your credibility and identity? looking ahead, towards which horizons will your work be heading?
To tell you the truth, we did not know that this was the “Formafantasma’s Salone”, which also makes us smile a little. As for the direction in which our studio is developing, there is a part that deals with research and another, that is more commercial. By research, we mean the Cambio project with the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London for example, but also the Symposium with Prada and teaching at the Geodesign department at the Eindhoven Design Academy. We are currently working on a new project for The National Gallery in Oslo, which will focus on the relationship with animals through wool. As for the commercial part, it is clearly the one where we make the most compromises, and which partly finances the time we devote to research projects. Our attempt is always to make both sides more radical, to make them meet and contaminate each other. We often also ask ourselves what our studio will be like in the future, but I must say that we would like to continue like this: to carry on the work we do with more and more consistency, therefore, with bigger clients and with finances that always allow us to adequately pay the people who work for us, as we already try to do.
The ecological issue is the one that interests us the most and we will always continue to dedicate ourselves to it. Then, of course, there are unrealized dreams. One area we would like to develop, for example, is the one related to non-human creatures, or as some say “more than human”. We are referring to animals or other living beings… We already deal with this subject in the Geodesign department at the Eindhoven Design Academy.
3. Yours is a dialogue between various facets of contemporary society. Imagine you were given the opportunity, with historical freedom, to carry out an “Impossible conversation”, who would you like to meet?
We would like to meet Alexander von Humboldt, he is a German explorer, geographer, botanist, and naturalist who was probably the first to raise timely and accurate observations on the impact of man on the ecosystem. On the design side, we can mention Adolph Loss who, despite a very turbulent private life (also marked by an accusation of pedophilia), was a truly interesting author, who shared provocative and at the same time very ironic writings. The personal sphere does not prevent us from seeing the design and interpretative capacity of a seminal author of the 20th century.
4. one of the aspects that characterises your design approach is the focus on sustainability (which really wide-reaching, i think of your low environmental impact site). imagine drawing up your own sustainability manifesto, which aspects would you consider to be most relevant? how does this philosophy interact with the fabric of companies you collaborate with?
This question is very interesting because it is extremely difficult to give an answer. It is indeed very complex to draw up a sustainability manifesto… Nevertheless, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery asked us to draw one up, which is now on display in London. The project is part of a group exhibition called “Back to Earth“, and we were specifically asked to write a manifesto on “how to do exhibition design in a sustainable way”, also focusing on materials and production techniques. For us, what distinguishes ecological thinking, especially when we try to implement it in collaboration with a company, as we are doing with Artek – a Scandinavian company founded by Alvar Aalto – is to be contextual: there are no recipes, and it is impossible to have manifestos that give a specific implementable programme. Obviously, there are basic guidelines that one could consider, but every ecological choice must be actually made according to context: there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Above all, there must be a great deal of dialogue between designer, manufacturer, and company – which sometimes may not be the manufacturer itself, but the one who edits the project. It is actually very difficult to establish genuinely fruitful conversations with clients. We have successfully managed to do this with Artek, as we were welcomed into the company and given the opportunity to study in depth what they do and their supply chain. We were also able to question it, contextualizing it in Finland: Artek in fact deals with wooden furniture, and the extraction of wood is mostly done in Finnish territory. The aim is therefore to try to understand how the two can interact in different ways, and how Artek can contribute to a real ecological culture within the company as well.
Therefore, rather than drawing up a manifesto, it is necessary to take the time to conduct specific research, not only for the development of materials, but also for a contextual analysis of the entire supply chain, and an excellent dialogue with the client: the latter must in fact understand that the issue cannot be resolved at the product level but must be tackled at a much more strategic level. What a designer can often do is to design an object, but if the whole way in which this object is conceived, produced, and distributed is not the result of a more holistic reflection… very little is achieved. So, I would say that the answer can be a good dialogue, a more holistic view, and an attempt to solve ecological issues not only at the product level but at a more strategic level.
5. This Issue of Caleido is entitled “Whatever it takes” (a quote from the now former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi): are there any battles, professional or personal, that you are fighting?
Our entire practice reflects this statement, in the sense that we try to find the necessary space in our work to have the kind of attitude needed to wage relevant battles. We put this into practice especially in teaching at the Geodesign department at the Eindhoven Design Academy, where we can be more idealistic. We can consider design not only as a tool of industry, but also as a tool in the service of ecological and social justice. That is where “What Every It Takes” is really put into practice in our work.
6. design first and then materials, or vice versa? the creative process often starts from an artistic vision that uses materials, i am thinking of fabric in fashion, as a medium. while this process has given rise to many innovative designs, it also generates waste. do you see the possibility of using another design philosophy, a bit like the oriental tailors who have created clothes within the constraints of fabric for thousands of years (i am thinking of the kimono or the sari, which are constructed from modular blocks of fabric), i.e. starting with the material and then making the design?
We believe that starting from the materials does not necessarily lead to waste. On the contrary, when starting with the material, there’s often a more defined vision of how it can be applied, where it comes from, who works it and why it makes sense to apply it in a context rather than another. Our Western vision, which of sees and judges everything through dichotomies – matter and form, or idea and form – has major limitations.
We prefer a holistic vision, which is, however, quite difficult to maintain when you are asked not to by the client, who would like you to focus on delivering a project or invites you to be “free and creative”. But what does being free and creative means? We are not 19th century artists who wish to live in a gilded tower, isolated from the world, waiting for an epiphany to come from the sky: you have to work contextually and holistically, in order to read things within their own context. That of the kimono is an incredible example of a complete understanding of a project, which stems from an understanding of material, form and use: it is precisely this whole vision that can lead to a more sophisticated project. It is clear that in contemporary times it is very difficult to have this kind of vision, but it is necessary to aspire to a more holistic practice, which sees design within a more complex interpretation. The positive aspect of the discipline of design is exactly the fact that it encompasses social, artistic, individual, authorial, and even political innovation: it is precisely when this complex dimension is embraced in its entirety that a genuinely interesting project comes to life.
7. according to fabscrap, a non-profit textile recycling company, “for every kilo of clothing fabric we throw away as consumers, a company throws away 40 kilos” (in the form of rolls of new fabric, or textile waste). How could companies utilize these materials?
As far as waste fabrics are concerned, the uses are endless; because if a material is still usable, it can be repurposed and reapplied in different ways. The best option would be to reutilize it within the company. In fact, the secret of ecology is probably a sense of responsibility: finding a closed cycle where it can be reused is the best solution. It is at this point that the idea of a universal, standard project no longer works, in fact, the best way to recover textile waste is to think in small quantities, to conceive a project that is adapted to that specific material, and not an abstract one, channeled solely through the creativity of the author. This is where we talk about creativity and contextual design. Very often, we have also seen this with many fashion companies: the sustainability team works independently and separately from the design team: if the two parties do not communicate, there can never be a real sustainable project, designers will never know about the real needs or opportunities that are provided, for example, by waste materials.
8. ever since i was a child, i loved visiting charming residences and meticulously planning their renovation, visually imagining every detail. so, talking of your personal life, what are some very personal passions, outside of your profession, that distinguish you?
As far as our passions, not to be boring, but clearly our work is our passion, and like all passions it also involves pain, as it does in work as well as in love. Another thing we are certainly passionate about is films and literature. We read a lot of non-fiction. Furthermore, we have a dog we love very much, called Terra. We realise that we are very passionate about animal-related studies, both naturalistic and philosophical ones.
9. let’s try a new format: ask a question to the GUEST of the next issue of caleido, which we will not publicly REVEAL for now. what would you like to ask her?
We know the guest very well, as we studied at the Eindhoven Design Academy. First of all, we would like to say hello to her, then we would like to ask her what she thinks the future of education will be, also in relation to the economic problems that students have to face in order to pay for their studies, such as student debts.
10. What is an object in your home that you would never go without? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a photo taken by you?
Not long ago we got a hold of a photo of the artist Joanna Piotrowska (@janka_piotrowska), with whom we have also collaborated on a project called Sub Rosa. She is a friend who we care for very much and we would never go without this beautiful work of hers.