Life beyond the ordinary

By | Art & Design
Andrea Branzi Wall bookshelf, 2011 Toulipiè, crystal Image: Riboni Courtesy of Nilufar

A bookshelf, a table, a chair, a wardrobe – they are the everyday objects that constitute the interior landscape of our homes or working environment and to which our lives are imperceptibly intertwined. Their role goes often beyond the fulfillment of their purpose and their functional (and even aesthetic) qualities – they are the invisible partners of our ordinary life and experience of space.

Walt Disney production Fantasia pictured our childhood dream of animating everyday objects alongside the thread that those could take over the humankind. On the other hand modern philosophy and psychoanalysis have extensively addressed the relationship between object and subject which has also become indirectly the key aspect through which art historians often read and interpret modern and contemporary art production.

Åbäke and Martino Gamper 100 Chairs ©Angus Mill

Artists and designers address the question with a creative approach, offering the most interesting and unique interpretations. London-based Italian designer Martino Gamper certainly belongs to this category and his work as product designer and maker stands out for originality.

The upcoming show opening next week at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery,  entitled Martino Gamper: Design is a state of mind (5th March – 21st April) sees once again a designer in the role of curator of more than just a collection or exhibition. The designer draws a journey into the impact of furniture pieces in our lives, both displaying a collection of his original shelving pieces and also using them to assemble and showcase our personal way of collecting objects, taking design pieces from the personal archives of Gamper’s friends and colleagues such as Enzo Mari, Paul Neale, Max Lamb & Gemma Holt, Jane Dillon, Michael Marriott, Sebastian Bergne, Fabien Cappello, Adam Hills, Michael Anastassiades, Andrew McDonagh & Andreas Schmid, and Daniel Eatock. Other objects to animate Gamper’s living shelves will be a collection of contemporary furniture catalogues from all over the world.

Michele De LucchiMontefeltro, 2008Oak frame, walnut elements, linseed oil finishingImage: Amendolagine e BarracchiaCourtesy of Nilufar

Michele De Lucchi Montefeltro, 2008
Image: Amendolagine e Barracchia
Courtesy of Nilufar

As a historical grip and to enrich the journey through the shelving systems created by the Italian designer a group of other shelving pieces designed from the 1930s to the present day will be on display with works ranging from Ettore Sottsass to Gaetano Pesce and from Franco Albini to IKEA.

The exhibition, like Gamper’s work, seems to offer that different view of furniture design that challenges any preconception and stereotype about modern product design. Gamper’s work has always traveled borderline fine arts and sculpture using reclaimed material and techniques of assemblages in an alternative way from his colleagues. The originality of his pieces is often achieved through the combination of very different shapes and material of “found” objects and through the effects and emotions they evoke on their users. As unique pieces these products differentiate to one another as individual (even if interdependent) entities. They seem to initiate a dialogue with the users as well as with each other.

This utopian and fascinating humanization of objects can eventually be read as opposed to the tradition and theories of modern design. Without blurring the inheritance of functionalism the show clearly denies the superiority of function over form (as well as other aspects attached to the objects including the emotional ones) that dominated modern design, revealing the importance of other values and qualities of everyday objects. Rather than nostalgia for a pre-modern past or disregard for practicality, the exhibition, defining design as a state of mind, challenges designers and users to think differently about the role these objects assume in our life path and existence.

Rather than re-adjusting a hierarchy between human and non-human (or even denying a difference between object-subject like recent theories such as “object-oriented ontology” suggests) the exhibition aims at reflecting on the role of design beyond the object itself, as something that survives its essential purposes and material limits to invest our lives and culture at a broader level.

How does Gamper challenge the stereotypes about design? Is design defining and being defined by life experience/emotional context? 


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