The Mediterranean as a historic muse of design culture, a constant source of major cultural contaminations. As underlined in the work of many contemporary designers born in this geographical area
article Domitilla Dardi
In the history of architecture and design the Mediterranean has been a great muse and an almost obligatory stage of the Grand Tour of intellectuals of all eras. Le Corbusier, for example, repeatedly indicates the lessons of mediterranean architecture, with its dynamic volumes of full and empty parts.
But perhaps the most devoted disciple the Mediterranean was Gio Ponti, commissioned in 1961 by the engineer Fernandes to design the Parco dei Principi Hotel in Sorrento. Here Ponti fully embraced the Mediterranean and its colors as the point of reference, designing a previously unthinkable kind of luxury, a lively sequence of variations on a theme.
Instead of ostentation, he opted for uniqueness in the midst of multitude, with sober nautical lines in a marine landscape that seamlessly enters the living spaces. Sky blue, deep blue and white become almost obsessive motifs in the itinerary through smooth textures and reliefs, furnishings and architecture, interiors flooded with crystalline light, balconies overlooking the sea.
The geo-economic history of the Mediterranean was a perfect context for Ponti’s program of reconciliation between the crafts tradition and industrial production; a place where craftsmanship never really gave in to industry (apart from the heavy industry imposed by political logic), remaining a base even today for those who operate in that territory, finding precious opportunities for knowledge and reflection.
The Mediterranean, in fact, is still the great sea of culture and tradition, in which the ‘handmade’ somehow keeps pace with globalization (though with effort); but it is also a place of exchange among cultures bearing an intensity and complexity never recorded in any other geographical context.
Aware of these particular traits, various designers born in the Mediterranean area have continued to think about the fluidity of boundaries generated by physical and mental liquidity. One emblem of the crossing of cultures, an authentic archetype of the Mediterranean, is that of the Moorish heads of Caltagirone.
Driven by the renewed interest in Sicilian identity channeled by famous fashion brands, these artifacts of very ancient origin narrate the story of grafting between Arabian and Sicilian cultures. Many creative talents have looked to them for inspiration, from Piero Fornasetti to Ugo La Pietra.
The debut of the duo Formafantasma also involved the series of vases Moulding Tradition, a reflection on the origin of this ceramic archetype that behind the legend of the Palermitan princess and her beheaded cheating Moorish lover conceals an interesting case of iconography influenced by physiognomic prejudice regarding foreigners.
More recently, Gaetano di Gregorio, in his Doge’s head, has brought together Venice and Sicily, his respective places of residence and origin, in a contamination taken to a dual level: “Regarding the Doge,” the designer explains, “there are no stories of chopped off heads and basel plants, but his figure is the symbol of an extraordinary city that once dominated the Mediterranean, and of a democratic system not based on the cult of personality, which required the prince to donate a public work to the city with his own resources.”
The Imprinting fabrics by Carla Garipoli – developed for her thesis in the project Migra-n-ti for the Accademia Abadir in Catania, with the advisor Francesca Lanzavecchia – speak of an intertwining of experiences for which the Mediterranean becomes the crossroads. The young designer uses the batik printing technique for the Wax fabrics, with the aim of making traditional African patterns coexist with symbols of Sicily like the carretto or the orange.
The crossover becomes more complex due to the fact that the Wax fabrics, in turn, were the result of Dutch colonization of African lands, whose inhabitants are now migrating once more, following economic and political routes that are indicative of our historical period.
The Sicilian Giuseppe Arezzi, on the other hand, continues his work on design that has a debt not so much to the water as to the earth, the agricultural nature of his background, even when it is the object that migrates far from its sunny climes of origin, carrying with it an indelible genetic code of design. Solista, in fact, is a valet stand that enhances the qualities of the raw material with a discreet by incisive presence.
It is produced by the start-up Desine, which exports the history of carpentry of Grammichele, a small city with a hexagonal layout of Enlightenment origin (the only one in Italy, together with Palmanova in Friuli), which to reconstruct itself after a devastating earthquake in the 1700s, chose the path of crafts and created a tradition of carpentry that made it a worthy rival of the most famous centers of that craft in the north.
This is also the birthplace of DiSé, a production company working in Sicily and London, which offers furnishings based on reinterpretation of showcases for liqueurs or small wardrobes. Based in typological terms on the sober design of the interiors of the Sicilian countryside, these items are perfect for the requirements of compact size of metropolitan apartments. Bringing with them, perhaps, the aromas of woods that speak of Mediterranean history and warmth.
A similar spirit of contamination goes into the work of various designers on the Lebanese scene. In particular, Khaled El Mays has been focusing for several years on the translation of not only crafts techniques but also major classics into contemporary furnishings. As in the case of the Fishawy chair, based on the seats in the historic cafe in Cairo, revisited in a Mediterranean key by Thonet. Like its big sister from Central Europe, this is a classic item in public venues of Maghreb cities. Reminding us that true cultural migrations always happen in two directions, based on an exchange from which everyone has something to gain.