An Interview With Italian Designers Formafantasma.

An Interview With Italian Designers Formafantasma.

by Andrea Carloni and Eleonora Spilli – May 2018

I am glad to start this new initiative of conducting interviews on The Tree Mag with Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, founders of Formafantasma, an Italian studio with young designers who have already achieved prestigious results.

Every one of their projects is the result of extensive research that translates into an essay of philosophy or anthropology. Formafantasma has had confirmation of the quality of their projects throughout the years thanks to the acquisition of some of their works in major international museums including the Moma and the Metropolitan in New York in addition to their collaboration with international brands such as Samsung.

“Our slogan is: the nature of the form must fit the setting”

Let’s start with a question that I’m curious about: Where does the name Formafantasma come from? Thinking about this name, and knowing that it belongs to a designer studio suggests that the form is ever present but doesn’t necessarily need to appear as the main aspect. Could this be a reasonable interpretation?

Yes, exactly. Often we’re attracted by the processes that determine the form instead of the form itself. Our slogan is: the nature of the form must fit the setting. The shape changes according to its surroundings. To use our creation for Flos as an example, where our objective was to create light rather than simply designing a lamp from which light irradiates.

At the moment we are working on a project for Samsung, who already have their own brilliant designers. Our role is not to create new objects, but to stimulate their designers to expand their vision towards the future and therefore enable them to imagine a framework within which their creations can be utilised.

Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin

Your creations could be considered both designer objects and works of art. In the last few years it seems that the research in the design world comes from artists who manage to walk this fine line and maintain a balance between the two. What do you think?

This is a question we’re often asked. Let’s make it clear: we design. But at the same time we like to be free to take on a project as artists would, in fact we work with many art galleries. I believe that today, unlike past years, and particularly the sixties when there were groups of radicals, it’s difficult to be innovative in the furniture sector. On another topic, regarding working with light, research and technology can find a connection. One of the main problems is that many companies don’t understand that each new product fills a new necessity and new horizons in the future. Why design a new chair if we don’t consider the way we sit. A project is not just an object to be sold, but the entirety of the process that contributes to the outcome. I believe that one of the most fascinating tasks for a modern designer is the elaboration rather than just the form. On this note, I’d like to add that our work also consists in holding seminars and conducting formation courses, that gives us an opportunity to meet and get to know new designers, many of whom have an approach similar to ours in facing new projects, where the final form is only one aspect of the project, perhaps not even the most important.

DE NATURA FOSSILIUM, Monti Silvestri, 2014 Basalt, brass, electrical components, lava sand. Each piece: H35 x D35 cm
DE NATURA FOSSILIUM - Stromboli, 2014 Occhio di pernice basalt, lava rock, brass. H30 x W40 cm

“Why design a new chair if we don’t consider the way we sit.”

“Why do we not think beyond the functionality of a smartphone, and concern ourselves also with the impact it will have on the environment?”

Something you said about your 2017 project, Ore Streams, that made quite an impression on me, was that you claimed that in the not too distant future there will be more metal on the surface of the Earth than there is underground. This is because so much ore has been extracted from the Earth for man’s use. Beginning with this concept, and through culture and recycling, design becomes an educational instrument that can be used to embark upon an approach regarding what’s new. In this project, like the others, the object is therefore not just the end result, but like in art, it could also be a means of expression?

This project focuses the attention on a few problems. Among which, is the fact that often no thought or consideration is given to the objects’ lifespan, and eventual disposal or the way in which it could be recycled. Why do we not think beyond the functionality of a smartphone, and concern ourselves also with the impact it will have on the environment? This project has a much more practical second phase that will be launched at the Milan Triennial where, in collaboration with several partners, including ONU, with whom we have drawn up guidelines to improve the development of the objects with the aim of facilitating their eventual disposal. To give an example within smartphones there are different types of electric cables which contain different materials, but for the equipment used to dispose of them is unable to differentiate these differences. If we instigated colour-coding for each type of cable they would become identifiable and the material would be reusable.

ORE STREAMS - Table, 2017

In your Charcoal project, an almost forgotten process: the production of slow-combustion coal, becomes at the same time a reminder of history and a means of constructing a series of new objects. In this case particularly, the form is almost beyond your control. Would it be right to assume that your creations are more easily understood intellectually rather than the sensorially?

The most important aspect of our projects is the statement. This is the result of in-depth research. We were fascinated, with the Charcoal project, by the creative process without control over the form. For some, this approach where the designer loses control of the form could be for some, a contradiction. In this project we have pushed the envelope, letting the material speak for itself and leaving the form to its own devices.

CHARCOAL - Glass bottle, 2012 Carbonized oak log, mouth blown glass. H33 x D7

In a few of your projects, like Moulding tradition or Autarchy we see explicit political content and sociological visions. Could your designs be considered not just an educational means, but also a channel to vent social criticism?

Design must be an instrument of censure.

Design must be political.

Design must be critical.

Although we like to say that we have not had teachers, in this case I must say that Enzo Mari was one. Obviously for him the issues were different because the historical period was different; nonetheless, we fully share his vision of using design as a political and educational tool. Designers have a real impact on the world more than anyone else. Design in the broad sense is the basis of the world; we are constantly surrounded by objects. Architects in this sense have always claimed most of the attention. 

MOULDING TRADITION - Flask, 2010 Unglazed ceramic, jacquard ribbon, glass, printed paper. H24 x W17 xD6

“Design must be an instrument of censure.
Design must be political.
Design must be critical.”

In the Craftica project for the Maison Fendi, you use leather as a starting point to create a link between human being and nature, and from here find out ancestral memories about the birth of humanity. The result is almost primitive forms. This like other projects are the result of extensive research in various area. How do you manage all this information and convert it into objects?

As we have already said, research is the essential part for us. For example with Flos, the project is the consequence of 5 years of studies.

The first project’s phase is to create internal blogs to gather information, then we start discussion with the team- groups, in some cases we have involved more than 150 people! The whole process goes on in progress with phases of positive research and stalls. Convinced of a holistic vision of the design process, the way in which we operate leads us to an almost magical moment from which the object sprins.

CRAFTICA - Scallop spoon, 2012 Cow, perch and salmon leather, wood, metal, scallop shell. Various dimensions

A last question. You are Italian and  your training is also part of it. Why did you decide to leave your country?

We did not escape.

In Netherlands there are schools, including the Design Academy Eindhoven where we graduated, with a vision of the project closest to ours.

Another important aspect is that in the Netherlands there are, thanks to the support of institutions and politics, many initiatives that help young designers to enter the world of work.

THE TREE MAG – The Fruits of Ideas