References to ancient ruins, reinterpretations of models and materials from Mediterranean history and folklore. Designers draw on the imagery of the Italian classical tradition. To seek our origins with which to discover a new identity
Article Valentina Croci
In a historically variegated region like the Mediterranean, the concept of cultural syncretism is the one that best describes contemporary artistic expression. Likewise, Italy is a mosaic of encounters and exchanges of civilizations that have left behind archaeological remnants, fragments of material history, traces of folklore that become part of the linguistic research of design.
The theme of Italian identity as a cultural archipelago is analyzed in the “Palermo Atlas” edited by Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli of the studio OMA, presented at Manifesta 12. Through ethnographic, historical and sociological research on the Sicilian capital, this document underscores its fragmented identity, the result of cultural influences and political-economic exchanges that range from the European area and the Mediterranean all the way to Sub-Saharan Africa. Palermo becomes an expression, today as yesterday, of various local realities that reflect new globalized conditions.
In Italian contemporary design, especially experimental and limited projects, research on local realities, native cultures or folklore is a vivid presence, expressed through irony but also through the purification of the sign, leading to abstraction. For example, on the subject of the typical festive illuminations of southern Italy, we can watch the artist and design from Palermo Domenico Pellegrino, as well as the duo Analogia Project, based in Milan.
The former mixes palettes of Mediterranean colors, silhouettes of votive offerings and typical Sicilian decorations in luminous objects, between procession and fable, in a case of vivid decorativism. Andrea Mancuso and Emilia Serra, on the other hand, make discreet lamps that become suspended works of architecture, marked only by the graphic gesture underscored by the precious quality of the material: brass.
The studio Greece is for Lovers, founded at the foot of the Acropolis by Thanos Karampatsos and Christina Kotsilelou, plays with the idea of ‘Greekness.’ The duo mixes symbols, signs and icons from the past and present with stereotypes of their nation, narrating a fantasy world made of memory and desire. Their products include the Corner Shoppe tabernacle: a stylistic exercise between luxury and kitsch that links back to Byzantine imagery, made by local artisans with seashells and metals crafted by hand.
Regarding the recovery of local know-how and iconographic culture, the project Best of Italy of Coincasa, after Murano glass, chooses the ceramics of the Grottaglie district (Taranto) and has them reinterpreted by Serena Confalonieri, Sara Ricciardi and Roberto Sironi. The products include the Pupe by Sara Ricciardi, which dilate the geometric simplicity of the white Salentine flasks and reprise the typical signs of ‘al crudo’ engraving, with matte and glossy finishes.
A similar approach is taken in the Meltemi project by Gian Paolo Venier, made after a trip to the Greek island of Serifos, where the designer came across the Kerameio ceramics workshop that colors its items by oxidation rather than normal methods. As in other projects by Venier, the bond with history is a way of developing and updating sources, which in this case are the forms of the classical civilization of the Cyclades.
Not just antiquity as a source of inspiration, but also constructive processes; the result is a tribute to the history of science and technique. Giacomo Moor, for the gallery Giustini Stagetti, creates the Centina collection which references the scaffolding made for the construction of arches. Our impressions are deceptive here, because as in the keystones for the completion of arches, the elements of Moor’s system do not function through bending but through compression, overturning an age-old tenet of construction.
The work of the Roman artist Paolo Canevari is based on the idea of dialogue between past and presents, historical memory and everyday life. Through a courtly and at the same time anti-heroic language, he challenges historical truths and their simulacra. In the collection for Giustini Stagetti, Canevari recodifies the characteristic overlays of arches of the Colosseum to create furnishings that play with the sense of scale and the value of an extremely familiar type of imagery.
Likewise, the Chilean based in New York Sebastian Errazuriz continues the Antiquity series with the new collection “Anything you destroy, we will rebuild,” 8 furnishing items with which to rethink Greek and Roman classicism through everyday uses, uniting the world of sacred art and ancient iconography with that of anonymous, functional design.
The use of the signs of antiquity returns in the work of Analogia Project. The Viae collection of leather tables is based on the pavement of ancient Roman roads, while the Bestiary collection reprises elements of late Romanesque architecture in the simplicity of geometric forms, mosaics and decorative subjects. The removal of these factors from their context, and the game of scale, make these references abstract and enigmatic.
With the Ruins collection, Roberto Sironi reflects on the meaning of the ‘ruin.’ Struck by the destruction of the Roman archaeological site of Palmyra by ISIS, Sironi underlines the role of ruins and their capacity to express the distance between past and present. The anthropologist Marc Augé, in Le temps en ruines, writes: “Their incompleteness contains a promise. The sentiment of passing time […] a sense of time that is even more stimulating and moving because it cannot be reduced to history, since it is awareness of loss, expression of absence, pure desire.”
So Sironi designs a collection that mixes classical citations – fragments of capitals or columns, cross-sections of amphitheaters – with elements of the industrial age, like I-beams. All the parts, however, are the result of artifice: made in shiny bronze, the ‘modern ruins,’ and the ancient ones in Rima Artificial Marble, create a dissonant but ideal hybrid, erasing temporal distances, embodying the utopias of our time.