Touching the Edge
Italian designers seek to redefine consumers' relationships with objects
by Stefano Caggiano
A few years ago, Giovanni Delvecchio and Andrea Magnani worked together on a thesis project in Product Design in Faenza—a little northern Italian city famous for a long tradition of ceramic manufacturing. What the two up-and-coming art designers were doing, however, had nothing to do with ceramics. They were actually conceiving their Resign project, which continues to attract people interested in repurposing old objects into new designer items. Since Resign's inception, they've continued to blend art and design—unconcerned with boundaries. All of this is reflected in their current exhibition at the Swing gallery in Benevento, Italy, where the project titled "Hockety Pockety" features a series of new pieces contemplating the "magic and the arcane” elements embodied in everyday objects.
In a broader scope, many designers have been seduced by the magic or the mystical recently, and how that pertains to our relationship with ordinary objects. New materials like Sugru (a hand-moldable silicone that solidifies in thin air so you can magically mend scratched items) and 3D-printing technologies are changing the ways designers and manufacturers have been inhibited in the past. With wonder being such an active element of invention, there is a rebirth of magic in products when we aren't entirely sure how they were made.
According to Mike Kuniavsky, founding partner of the San Francisco-based experience design firm Adaptive Path, it all boils down to language. He proposes that we must replace the old cognitive computer metaphor of “desktop” with the metaphor “magic.” His intention is to make user relationships with technology, whose performance is in fact beyond general understanding, more natural. For that same reason, “magic”, “mystic” and “religious,” have become operational metaphors through which extreme designers such as Delvecchio and Magnani explore the roots of material culture.
For example, the dispenser for (holy) water “Francesco XXIII,” is made of metal, ceramic, moss and plastic, and was conceived for domestic rituals connected with the consumption of water. “Sheepper” is an elegant office chair inspired by the old story about a farmer whose donkey refused to pull a heavy cart, and features a sheep outlined on the backrest that instantaneously connects with ancestral rock drawings. The “First Supper Project” is a series of dishes with a decoration obtained by tracing the outline of consumed food between the first firing and the second one, creating a permanent glaze. “Angular Heaven” is an object whose structure comes from the buttresses of Gothic churches, designed to detach the shelf from the wall. These religious associations tap into our acknowledgement that every day elements of our life were the product of something less tangible: invention and inspiration.
For Delvecchio and Magnani, design is not a way to meet the market, but a means through which to touch the edge of material culture. It's something all of us face in everyday objects—without always being aware. That's why their hand-made projects look familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. They are overstepping the boundaries that drive our everyday lives and calling attention to the already in-use. In a entirely commodified world, one can't help but encounter so many objects. And when we scan the boundaries of human culture and the way people identify with the tools therein, the best means to do so is through design.
Object images by Andrea Piffar, portrait by Pasquale Palmier