An image is worth more than a thousand words. Especially when it comes to the story of beauty in our country. But if the words come from Andrea Illy and Davide Rampello, the creators of Panorama, the video installation shown throughout Expo at Piazza Gae Aulenti to narrate the uniqueness of Italy, they take on meaning that goes beyond narration and entertainment.
Because both these men have made beauty a cornerstone of their professional life: for Andrea Illy it is an ideal combined with goodness, a guiding principle in his role as president and CEO of Illycaffè, and as president of Fondazione Altagamma; for Davide Rampello it is a true mission in his work as a cultural organizer and educator.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR APPROACH. WHAT IS THE IDEA OF BEAUTY YOU SEEK?
Davide Rampello: We’re talking about a concept that has taken on changing meanings in human history. I believe the first to use the term beauty was Sappho, talking about the moon. In Spartan culture, on the other hand, beauty meant dying for one’s country. In the Renaissance the concept of beauty did not exist, while the concept of making was important. This can be seen in the comments of Aleandro Alberti, a friar from Bologna who in the 1500s made the first grand tour of Italy: he was impressed by the making and preciousness of things, but he never applied the idea of beauty to them.
The term emerges in the 1800s, in a series of debates on aesthetics in which Benedetto Croce was one of the protagonists. For me, everything that is the result of creativity, ingenuity and know-how is beautiful: from Brunelleschi’s dome to footwear, to a machine that permits a technological invention. This is what I wanted to convey with Panorama. Brunelleschi’s dome was made by order of the wool merchants of Florence, who wanted to make their city more beautiful. This means they felt a sense of belonging to their territory, since they were willing to spend to beautify its image…
Today, unfortunately, there is a big fracture in our society, no unified vision. The harmony that used to exist between professional categories and beauty is gone, and beauty is a concern only of the creative sectors; this is because we no longer have a sense of belonging to a community. Today we are amazed by the genius of Leonardo, but once upon a time Italy contained many such personalities. Just consider Bernini: we know him as an architect, sculptor and painter, but he also wrote comedies and directed them. These were personalities who did not necessary know everything, but had the sense of the whole. The projects Andrea and I are doing are attempts to develop precisely this kind of overall vision to things.
Andrea Illy: I prefer to stick to a more scientific, rational plane. I don’t know exactly what beauty is; for me it is essentially a way of measuring things. Our knowledge takes its cue from nature, and in this sense we think beauty means something without defects, all the forms of symmetry, like crystals and leaves. We see something without symmetry as being defective. The second principle behind the idea of beauty is harmony, which has to do with proportions. So we judge the goodness and beauty of something based on a series of measurements.
Beauty, besides being a yardstick, becomes a form of language: the more cultured you are, the more you can grasp beauty and express it through creativity. Italy, together with Greece, is the country that has received and developed the gift of a sense of beauty, hence its great cultural power. These are principles I recently expressed in a book, entitled “Il sogno del caffè”: from dream to happiness by way of goodness and beauty. Goodness not just for the senses, but also for the body and spirit. And beauty is a form of language to express goodness.
D.R.: Also the project of the Refettorio Ambrosiano, which we have organized for Expo, is based on these principles of goodness and beauty, which I think are fundamental. Why did we get good designers and artists involved in the project of a dining hall for the poor? Because I think it is not just what you offer that is important, but also how you offer it. Beauty is also the gesture we make.
A.I.: Figurative beauty as nourishment of the soul: it is the same idea we developed with the Panorama project, to express a concept of nourishment that goes beyond food for the body. Until the end of the 17th century the word beauty did not have a figurative meaning, but referred to the concept of goodness. It is no chance that we say: he’s a beautiful person… Beauty refers to a spiritual dimension.
YOUR EFFORTS ALSO PROVE THAT ART AND CULTURE IN GENERAL CAN BE A TOOL, A WAY OF DOING BUSINESS…
A.I.: I work on Italian style with Altagamma, which represents the leading names in the Italian creative industry, for which beauty is a core business. But in Italy there are also incredible examples of excellence in the machine tools industry or pharmaceuticals, which pay no attention to style, but through beauty can communicate the quality of their products and services. In this sense, beauty becomes a language, the expression of the brand. Beauty also ought to be a tool to reinforce one’s credibility. Those who express their roots through beauty try to build something that can remain in the future, allowing them to gradually enrich the cultural heritage that forms the basis of their identity.
D.R.: Culture is man’s capacity to cultivate himself. Man cultivates himself and evolves, gaining more self-knowledge. An endless pursuit. For example, I have understood that if something seems boring it is only because I haven’t been paying enough attention. Actually everything is interesting, because anything can help me get inside something else.
This is why I have worked on Padiglione Zero, to narrate the evolutionary path of man, but also the best of Italian arts and crafts, which are part of this evolution: carpenters, smiths, sculptors, painters, writers, directors, composers, musicians. And when I had to approach the theme of the taming of plant species, I decided to photograph all the seeds that are part of man’s agriculture, and to do it in keeping with a narrative of beauty, putting the seeds and plants in chromatic order, because I was struck by how beautiful they were, inside and outside, when one looked more closely.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN COMMON? WHAT HAS BROUGHT YOU TOGETHER ON VARIOUS PROJECTS, INCLUDING PANORAMA?
A.I.: As we said, beauty is not superficial, glossy, figurative. These are aesthetic stereotypes, which you can find, for example, comparing the advertisements of many brands, which all seem equal and do not express the unique personality people are seeking. If it falls into standardization and copying, the cultural and creative industry fails in its mission. This is why I believe, in my role as an entrepreneur and as president of Altagamma, that to express true beauty it is necessary to have a strong cultural background. And this knowledge is a bottomless well, in Davide: not by chance, but because he has studied for thousands and thousands of hours.
WHAT IS THE GOAL OF PANORAMA?
D.R.: To reawaken the love of Italy in those who see it. What strikes me most is that every time, at the end of the screening, people clap and often seem very moved. In our country, people are still addicted to life and beauty.
A.I.: There are two objectives: to create pride, but also awareness, because beauty is our true economy. Italy has nothing else to sell, if not its beauty and its culture, which is exactly what the whole world expects of us, and no one else is capable of doing as well as we can. But the world has a very stereotyped idea of Italy: Armani, Ferrari, Rome, Florence, Venice, and that’s about it. The stroke of genius done by Davide was not to film the things everyone knows about, but to discover hidden treasures.
I recently agreed to be part of the board of founders and directors of a foundation called Italia Patria della Bellezza. I did this with two goals: the first was to favor a reawakening of pride and awareness of the culture of beauty in Italy; the second was to contribute to a census of the heritage of beauty scattered all over our territory, which is almost impossible to reconstruct. Today no library, catalogue, portal, application exists that allows you to know everything you can find in a given place.
It’s like having a bank account but not knowing its balance. We need to start a path, to make a guideline. Because if it is true that Italy essentially has to sell its beauty, then a vision is needed that will allow us to construct an image identity for the brand Italy. I believe that the image Panorama communicates in 10 minutes is something absolutely new and original.
D.R.: Then there is another important thing, a record Panorama has allowed us to reach, with great impact for the future. For the first time, a series of associations – the Ministry of Economic Development, ICE, SIMEST, City of Milan, Chamber of Commerce of Milan, Chamber of Fashion, Federlegno/Salone del Mobile, Altagamma – have joined forces to produce a project. I hope this represents just the beginning of a renewed desire to do integrated projects to boost the image of the Italian dream.
DAVIDE, TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ITALIAN TERRITORY AND THE VIDEOS SHOT FOR ‘STRISCIA LA NOTIZIA’ THAT ALLOW YOU TO NARRATE THE PLACES OF OUR COUNTRY, SEEN THROUGH NATURE, FOOD AND ART…
D.R.: This is a project of true knowledge. Every time I meet one of the personalities to whom each episode is devoted, I realize that behind every little thing, every little story, there is a whole network of people, a system of knowledge, an extraordinary discovery. It could be a breeder of livestock, a farmer, an artisan… every personality reveals knowledge rooted in the territory in which they live, knowledge that is precious to enhance that place. You can also see the incredible variety of Italy. The poet Peter Russell wrote “every man is a human race.” This is a marvelous truth, exemplified by the knowledge each of these personalities unveils.
WITH PROJECTS OF COMMUNICATION CONNECTED TO THE WORLD OF CULTURE AND ART, ILLYCAFFÈ HAS SPREAD AN ELITE CULTURE ON A POPULAR LEVEL, MAKING DESIGNERS AND ARTISTS KNOWN TO ORDINARY PEOPLE FOR THE FIRST TIME. I AM THINKING ABOUT THE COLLECTION OF ARTISTS’ CUPS, BEGUN 23 YEARS AGO, AND STILL EXPANDING.
A.I.: With the art cups we wanted to add a sensory component, that of sight, to the polysensorial experience of coffee, made of taste, smell and texture. Sight is a much more immediate source of pleasure than the other senses. The eye decodes electrical signals that go directly to the brain, while taste and smell, which are more basic senses, are chemical signals that are translated into electrical signals, losing speed and intensity of the sensory experience. The we add touch, which depends on mechanical sensitivity translated into an electrical signal.
This has led to other projects, such as the one on synesthesia last year at the Triennale, together with Ludovico Einaudi. We started with laboratory work and the neurosciences, and each of the nine ingredients that go into the Illy coffee blend was associated with a color, and then with a note indicated by Einaudi. In this way we proposed a holistic experience of coffee, where the blend was sampled together with nine colors that mixed and the melody Einaudi composed for the occasion. This is the type of experience that goes beyond coffee, which we like. There is also another reason why we are interested in developing these experiences: the fact that from the Enlightenment on, coffee has been the official beverage of culture. A vocation that should be reinforced, developing contents that are a source of inspiration.
WHAT NEW PROJECT ARE YOU TWO WORKING ON NOW?
A.I.: A new, important challenge: to make the Expo become part of the heritage of the country, enriching its image and its identity. I am talking about the future use of the site, but also of its cultural legacy. It is important to find a strong idea.
D.R.: It is a chapter that should not come to an end, but continue. It will not be easy, but it should be done.
interview by Gilda Bojardi – edited by Maddalena Padovani