Movie: in our second movie from the Peroni Nastro Azzurro talk with Italian designers Formafantasma they talk about the processes behind their projects, which include plastics made of blood and vases made of bread (+ transcript).
In the first part of the talk Simone Farresin and Andrea Trimarchi gave a presentation on their work as Formafantasma. In this second part they answer questions from Dezeen's editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs about their identity as Italians who've left to live in the Netherlands, how they design without sketching and the possibility of scaling up their conceptual craft-based work for industrial production.
Here's the full transcript of the second part of the discussion:
Marcus Fairs: Could you tell us where you’re both from? I mentioned at the beginning you’re from opposite ends of Italy. Simone, where are you from?
Simone Farresin: Yes, I’m from Vincenza. So I’m really coming from a design area, where design is produced. Kind of north-east.
Andrea Trimarchi: I’m from really down in the south, in Sicily. Where there is no design at all.
Simone Farresin: It’s interesting also the way we found ourselves getting to know design. I got in touch with design quite early when I was in high school.
Andrea Trimarchi: I started when I went to Florence because I started the first year of architecture and after this I decided to move towards the design field because it was more interesting. But actually I got in contact when I was in Florence. In Sicily I think still people don’t know what design is at all.
Marcus Fairs: And northern Italy is very industrial, one of the most industrialised parts of the world.
Simone Farresin: There’s a lot of craft too. But yes, totally, industrial.
Marcus Fairs: And the south is very agricultural and in fact it’s almost two different countries, isn’t it? There’ve been attempts to separate.
Simone Farresin: Yes, they always want to separate the north and south.
Marcus Fairs: But do you think your work is embedded in Italy? Every project that you’ve shown so far references Italy. Do you think you could have made those observations, done that work, if you’d stayed in Italy? Or did it require that you left to become emigrants in a way?
Simone Farresin: Totally.
Andrea Trimarchi: Yes. I think we had to go away from Italy to understand better what Italy is. Also the richness, or what stops people producing things there, especially for the younger generation.
Simone Farresin: I think it’s totally important that we are in Eindhoven. As we mentioned in the presentation, Eindhoven for us is seriously like a white cube. Where we have the time to think, while Italy is so much, design is everywhere, in a way. It’s kind of difficult to relate to it.
Marcus Fairs: And you mentioned just now Andrea, what is it that stops young people working? Because Italy does have this situation where there were the great masters, the great maestros and as you mentioned in your talk, you suggested even that it’s possible that they intimidated the younger people. They were so untouchable and so great that nobody was able to follow in their footsteps. Do you think that’s true?
Andrea Trimarchi: But actually I think it didn’t intimidate.
Simone Farresin: They’re shouting too much.
Andrea Trimarchi: But it’s not because they don’t want to. I think the younger generation...
Simone Farresin: ...are more conservative than the older generations.
Marcus Fairs: Because you also said it’s really easy to get lazy in Italy. So you left. You’re like many people that have left Europe, especially Mediterranean countries to look for a better life abroad, so in that sense you’re like every wave of emigrants that went to New York to set up. But your work isn’t about nostalgia for Italy, it isn’t like, oh, I miss my homeland so much so I want to preserve that memory in the work.
Simone Farresin: No, well, we still miss a good pizza when we are in Eindhoven, but apart from that we really feel we are European in a way. We are part of this generation that is really enjoying the ease of travel. So an exhibition about Dutch design, we talk about Italian design here, but it’s all organic and I don’t even think it makes sense anymore to think about design in terms of national identity. For Italy it still makes a bit of sense because it’s really production-based, so when you deal with Italian companies you’re really talking about it with a specific context.
Marcus Fairs: But your work still does talk about Italy. Why for example do you not do a project about Eindhoven or London or Iceland? Do you think this interest in Italy will see through your whole career?
Andrea Trimarchi: No.
Simone Farresin: I don’t know. It’s difficult to say.
Andrea Trimarchi: We don’t have any particular obsession.
Simone Farresin: It’s really coming from an intuition. It’s not a conscious decision in what we do. I think it’s a way of dealing with Italy. Because you are growing up so much when you study design in a situation of constraints, in a way. So moving out for us, it was impossible not to relate, to digest it almost. I guess we are digesting Italy.
Marcus Fairs: You mentioned about how the young generation in Italy are now maybe quite conservative but yet if you’re a young person in Italy there’s so much to make you angry, isn’t there? I mean the political situation, the economic situation – so why do you think there is this passivity in the young people in Italy?
Simone Farresin: I think it’s a cultural problem, a general cultural problem. And it’s a combination of things. You know like if we talk about design, Italian design has been great for so many years and then you have the postmodern movement and the idea itself of postmodernism, and also almost the impossibility to go beyond it.
So I think nowadays design is interesting in the Netherlands. It’s almost a natural process, I think, of things that go till the end. We also feel that things are changing. We changed prime minister and that already is something. So we hope different people will start work in different ways. Not thinking only about industrial production, wondering more who they want to be as a designer.
Andrea Trimarchi: Yes, this is a problem actually. The problem is the education because when you do education in Italy they have really great educators but they never tell you to find yourself as a designer. It’s only about to become a tool for the industry.
Marcus Fairs: To follow a methodology? To fit into a system? Not to change the system but to become part of it.
Simone Farresin: Exactly, but it’s strange because the history of Italian design is certainly not about that. So it seems something went wrong in translation.
Marcus Fairs: Exactly, because your tutors at your college were Archizoom who were radical, crazy, proposing impossible cities.
Andrea Trimarchi: I remember the lessons from our teacher were amazing but after it we had, like, seven hours of Rhinoceros or programming. So yes, I think something probably went wrong.
Simone Farresin: Now that we’ve moved abroad and we talk again with them it seems we can better understand what they meant.
Andrea Trimarchi: But they were always telling us, why don’t you do something else? Why don’t you move?
Simone Farresin: But then somehow you have so many other layers that tell you that you shouldn’t do, you shouldn’t be too wild, somehow.
Marcus Fairs: But one thing I find particularly interesting about your work is that there’s this critical element to it. There’s a braveness to it. You’re talking about immigration. You’re talking about colonialism. You’re talking about the possible end of the plastic age. And these are quite big political subjects and yet the objects you produce are really beautiful, and strangely beautiful. They are forms that aren’t familiar. It would be maybe easier to tackle those issues with a really ugly thing that shocks you and makes you feel a bit sick.
Simone Farresin: Yes, I know. This is something that a lot of people mention about our work. It looks beautiful and seductive and then in the second moment you get the other layer beneath it. I think it’s just an attitude we have, and I think it’s also where our work is different from the older radical generation where they were much more brutal in their approach. I think it’s also part of our intimate way of working.
Marcus Fairs: So in other words you’re not looking at these subjects with anger or with frustration, it’s almost like curiosity.
Andrea Trimarchi: It’s a sort of record.
Simone Farresin: We are reflecting about it. We don’t have answers. When you have answers you can also pretend, you can be much more brutal. We think we are raising questions and you can raise questions also being gentle.
Marcus Fairs: And how do the forms emerge? You mentioned that in Botanica that the form came from the materials you were working with but what is the process you use? Do you sketch or do you first get the materials?
Andrea Trimarchi: No, we never sketch.
Marcus Fairs: Put them on the cooker and wait for the explosion?
Simone Farresin: With Botanica it was kind of like that.
Marcus Fairs: So tell me the process. Obviously you have the brief for Botanica and you decide that you want the work to explore plastics before plastics, pre-Bakelite you described it as. So tell me the process you go through. Is it research for months and months and months and then experimentation and then... ?
Andrea Trimarchi: The first things we do usually is to write a text.
Simone Farresin: We need to communicate between each other so we use like maps of images of existing things. We write and then we have long discussions because we’re only two. It’s really an intense process. And then it’s almost a process of condensing elements. And it goes through images, texts and the material research. And it’s nervous frustration because especially when you have projects like Moulding Tradition and Colony where the concept is really precise so it doesn’t grow by making, as for instance Botanica.
But then you have a precise idea and then you need to deal with a specific element that you need also to use. So the design process is almost more a process of restraint. It’s not about creativity or sketching or going wild. But it’s more a process of refining ideas and wondering which is the right decision, which element to keep, which element to skip. So it’s a kind of slow process. When it’s a material study it’s much more about intuition I think.
Andrea Trimarchi: Also it is quite scary because for instance when we were working with Botanica most of the materials they were really ugly so we were not able, at least at the beginning we were not able even to think about objects with it.
Simone Farresin: We thought they were ugly. We were looking at them and we were thinking, God, this looks like a cookie, but we kind of liked that. And the other one was looking at kind of amber-like, Tiffany, art deco, so we were kind of really sceptical about finding a way to use them. But when you have all this frustration then there is a moment where you just embrace it. And you go for it. But that’s always the last moment. There is always a moment of frustration and then things go the right way.
Marcus Fairs: So it sounds like an editorial process as much as a design process. It is interesting because nearly all the Italian designers I’ve spoken to, or the non-Italian ones that work in Italy, they don’t do the northern European design thing which is to sit down and draw.
They almost design in their head and then they go to the artisan or the craftsman or the metal worker or the carpenter and they sort of describe what they want, in the Italian way – waving their hands around a bit. And often they then go away and then the craftsman interprets and they come back and they say “Is this what you want?” and they go “Yes” or maybe “A bit wider, a bit shorter”.
Simone Farresin: I think it is a bit like this. Of course we also work a lot within the studio so when you engage with materials you have a lot of hands-on kind of processes. But otherwise it’s exactly how it works. For instance we have interns now. When you have to speak with them it’s really sometimes confusing because we manage to understand each other but then when we have to explain what we have in mind to them it’s much more complicated.
Andrea Trimarchi: It gets more complicated when you also have a client because we are not able to explain what we are doing.
Simone Farresin: We hate that. We hate to explain to clients what we are doing. We are most of the time trying to convince them they have to trust us.
Marcus Fairs: Because otherwise they come back to the studio after two months to see how you’re getting on and there’s just a big mess of melted lava.
But you did also say towards the end of your talk that you’re starting to talk to manufacturers, to brands and that’s really fascinating because your work up to now has followed the traditional Dutch designer’s path. You do this kind of work, the autonomous work, the self-developing work because you have no client. You have no factory. Now what happens to you with this highly politicised, highly craft-based, highly personal Italy-based series of objects when say Magis or Cappellini or someone like that comes to you – what happens?
Simone Farresin: Good question. We don’t have a specific answer.
Marcus Fairs: What I mean is, you’re not against the idea that these thought processes could end up in a mass-produced object.
Andrea Trimarchi: I think when you work with a company it will be different. We need to find out in which way we need to work with them but I think we’ll be not about copy and paste as a way of working. I don’t think you can. Of course it would be nice, you know, the research we did for instance with the plastic material, it would be nice if a company would embrace this way of thinking like Kartell – it would be a perfect project for Kartell. I think it would be a really different kind of behaviour or approach.
Simone Farresin: I think we need to find our approach towards that and also, talking with these few companies we got in touch with, we understand how this is really traditional Italian design. It’s never about you as a designer going there, sketching something and giving it to them. It’s really about a collaboration. Our work is often context-based, so what we are interested in is really collaborating. Otherwise, if it is about for us seeing our studio, forming an idea and going to them, well then we do what we are doing now. So we are really interested not to apply a system but to collaborate with these companies.
Andrea Trimarchi: And challenge them.
Simone Farresin: And it’s a challenge for us too.
Marcus Fairs: So you could imagine just as the way you visited a village in Sicily and discovered these crazy pastry ornaments that you could go to a factory and discover - with your fresh eyes - discover something that is happening in that company that maybe they didn’t utilise before.
Simone Farresin: That would be perfect actually. But that’s not often happening. Because companies don’t really understand this. At least so far we saw these difficulties to understand how much you need a playground when you are a designer. They often want you to give a proposal and for us that is a bit boring.
We like it much more when there is a challenge and when they even give you restraints. Because then you can start a discussion. Then you can say like “No” instead of when they are like “Give me a proposal” then for us it’s kind of, we get bored. Because we go back to Eindhoven and then we are again in our studio and that’s not what we like in collaboration. We like a discussion. So we need to manage to get this kind of approach or these kind of discussions.
Andrea Trimarchi: Also now is our really perfect moment for work with industry. Because for the lighting industry for instance, I really think this is changing with OLED and LED. With a normal manufacturer there are new materials, we need to find alternatives for plastic. It’s an exciting moment.
Marcus Fairs: And as you say, you were talking about the change in lighting technologies but also manufacturing technologies, some of the most popular and talked about exhibitions in Milan during Design Week last week involved little desktop rapid prototyping machines, involved robots that manufacture but at a much lower price than ever before. It was about designers, like people are talking about open design where designers have access to technologies directly without having to work with a big factory in China or a brand. But does industry interest you? I mean you’re interested in Sicily and Mount Etna and straw and bread, but what about robots?
Simone Farresin: You saw we have a personal fascination but you know we are also really curious in general, so what we are trying to build up is an attitude and not a style or an obsession for certain specific things. Then also, when you are working with companies, there is a specific context that you also need to respect. So Italian companies have a huge heritage that you need again to face and to understand how to fit. Especially at the beginning.
I think we understood how much it’s important to start first maybe with a product. Then from that moment on you can start to trust each other because the relationship you can build with Italian companies is really a personal kind of relationship. You know Italians, it’s really about family and getting to know each other. So when you work with companies you can push certain boundaries but I think it’s also a process of knowing each other personally first.
Andrea Trimarchi: And we are also really interested in technology. Actually I think we are quite flexible.
Marcus Fairs: And when you exhibit in Italy ... or when you talk to these Italian companies or even when you just go to Italy and talk to journalists what is the impression the Italians have of you as two Italian boys who left the country and are almost holding a mirror up in some ways to their society. What is their reaction?
Simone Farresin: They complain about Italy of course. They say, “Oh, you did so well you went abroad”. You know, those kind of random kind of discussions, but they are also really happy I think to see young designers, Italians, approaching design in a way that is different.
Andrea Trimarchi: In any case I think they are also really used to having us international people. Most Italian companies work with international designers. So of course it’s an issue but I think it’s not a big issue.
Simone Farresin: But for sure we notice how much you’re interested in our work because it’s so much not reflecting what is happening nowadays in Italian design. So that’s for sure it’s an advantage for us.
Marcus Fairs: Well, it’s an amazing story. Tell me how old you are?
Simone Farresin: 32.
Andrea Trimarchi: 29.
Marcus Fairs: And they graduated from a Design Academy in Eindhoven less than three years ago. So it’s really quite an extraordinary story already. What are your ambitions? What do you hope to achieve maybe next week or next month or next year or in your lifetimes? Do you have a sort of idea of what success is or where you want to go?
Simone Farresin: Well, first we want to finish the projects for Basel. To go back to the studio and make sure that the people we are working with they will be happy with what we are doing. To keep on working and be interested in our work. You know, it’s so easy with design to get kind of stuck in certain system.
For instance we realised how much it is important to say no when you get a proposal. To be kind of focused all the time on what you are interested in is so difficult. Because you have so many, you know, different ways of working, you have so many different requests. So in this moment for instance for us what is more important is to stay focused. And Eindhoven is perfect for that because we don’t speak Dutch, so we don’t understand what people say around us. We don’t have the buzz of Milan around.
Andrea Trimarchi: Yes, we live in this bubble where there is no crisis of course.
Marcus Fairs: You can’t read the newspaper or understand the TV.
Simone Farresin: It’s a tiny little bubble, our design studio. And we like to keep it that way. That’s our goal anyway.
Marcus Fairs: Well, it’s a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.