Glass speaks to Italian design duo FormaFantasma about their dynamic approach to design
The recent Peroni Collaborazioni series of design lectures at the Royal Institute of British Architects highlighted the work of FormaFantasma, a company comprising of an innovative Italian duo – Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin. Based in Holland, and utilising an organic process of production, FormaFantasma has successfully intergrated modern design with traditional Sicilian folkcraft.
FormaFantasma left their native Italy to attempt to understand their culture from an outsider perspective. They are Italian others examining their origins from afar in order to engage in a different kind of design. Their finished work is a surprise – a surprise for themselves, because of the nature of their creative process, and a surprise for their clients, who the designers say that they encourage to just “trust us”.
Through their products, FormaFantasma question contemporary ways of producing goods, by looking back into traditional methods of production and attempting to address matters of cultural identity and heritage. From just listening to them talk, the two designers’ teamwork is obvious, often with one designer finishing the other’s sentence, or swooping in to finish the other’s thought.
Why did you two decide to join forces and become FormaFantasma?
Andrea Trimarchi: We started working together when we were studying in Florence, but we were doing smaller and graphic design-related projects, and everything started really naturally. In fact, for this reason we applied as a pair to the Design Academy in Florence. We sent only one portfolio, because we wanted to see if we were good enough to work together. So we wanted to study at the Design Academy as a kind of test.
Simone Farresin: So we never did independent exams, and I think when they got the portfolio they were thinking, “Okay, what do we do now?” Then they accepted us in this way [as a duo]. We took all the exams and the graduation together. It’s a difficult question as it came about really naturally.
Andrea Trimarchi: And it’s good to work as a pair, because we share.
Simone Farresin: You have a kind of detached view from your own work.
What are your individual strengths as designers?
Andrea Trimarchi: I don’t know, actually!
Simone Farresin: I know yours. He’s much more organised, and he’s really good at making decisions, and I’m not. I think my role is to be “the wondering one”. I’m all the time, even in the last moment, thinking “Oh, shall we change this?” And you always need this kind of difference.
Andrea Trimarchi: From the design point of view, we are really on the same page. It’s nice sometimes when we start a project, and we think the same things, because the first thing we do when we start a project is do image research. We see most of the time that we are looking in the same things or collecting the same images.
Simone Farresin: When we are working on a topic and we collect it together, there’s a point of sharing. When we share it, we agree on what to keep or what not. It’s really an organic way of working.
Your work is in several ways a reinterpretation of folkcraft. What is it about this that serves as a catalyst for your designs? Why folkcraft in particular?
Simone Farresin: I think we have a complex relationship with folkcraft and tradition in general, so we have a drive towards it. I think it’s because it’s hand-made, so our work is rethinking traditional elements. I think what we like the most is the fact that those objects are not only actual pieces, but they’re symbolic. They’re used to symbolise culture or abstract elements, and we are really much interested in playing with that.
We are interested, when in playing, with the fact that objects are not just actual pieces, but they work also as tools to represent who we are as humans. We are really much interested in these aspects – traditional objects have the ability to represent cultures and be symbolic, and everybody recognises folk craft. In tradition it’s meant to represent a culture. So, for us as Italians, playing with those elements is a way to reinvent the culture represented through those objects. It’s a way of asking Italians to reinvent themselves.
Andrea Trimarchi: Yes,, because it starts from the root really. And I think that why we’re concentrating more on Sicilian craft is because, one, I’m Sicilian, but it’s also because I think in Italy a lot has been lost, and there are only a few regions which are really preserving a rural attitude.
Simone Farresin: We see potential in this poverty. In these regions – apart from a few cases because they also have huge industries, like petroleum companies – you don’t have anything. You’ll have plants, trees, agriculture, and tourism. So we think there is a growing opportunity for these regions to reinvent themselves, because they can just avoid all the mistakes that other industrial cities made before.
Your designs are often a response to questions you ask yourselves while looking to the past. Where do you draw the line between nostalgia and innovation?
Simone Farresin: I think the nostalgic aspect is the seductive element in our work, but it’s not there at all in the attitude.
Andrea Trimarchi: We never want to go back to the rural.
Simone Farresin: Sometimes people take it literally, that’s not at all what we’re talking about, especially in the way we work with it. We research in 3D; we’ll have online communities; or collaborate with other people. If there is a nostalgic element, it’s in the way things look, but its appearance, it’s not really nostalgic.
So far you’ve been focusing on product design. In the future would you consider a crossover to another field of design? If so, which one?
Simone Farresin: There’s so much to do. We will consider anything that we are asked. For instance, we have been invited to design jewellery by Chi Ha Paura for a jewellery design competition, but we are always sceptical about moving into other fields.
Which of your pieces do you have in your own house?
Andrea Trimarchi: None! They are always being exhibited.
Simone Farresin: Most of the time we are making it which takes time, so every time we make something … well, it’s never happened that we actually made one for us. So we take the leftovers – the more clumsy ones.
If you could pick a favourite to keep as your own which would it be, and from what collection?
Andrea Trimarchi: Oh, some pieces from Botanica, and probably some bowls from Autarchy, because it looks good when you put it with our stuff at home.
In your conference, you talked about education and about the importance of finding yourself as a designer. What advice would you give to student designers?
Andrea Trimarchi: To do what they like, and that is important, especially when you study design, because I remember – especially when we were in Italy – you always have to take exams, which you need to pass in order to get your qualification. I think this is the moment where you have to develop your own language. To enjoy it, even if it’s difficult.
Simone Farresin: It’s important to find yourself, but at the end of the day designing is about creating a work that wasn’t in existence before, and you need to do that with some stability.
You’ve previously said that while crafting the products, you let them do the talking and modify themselves as they are created, making your creative process dynamic. Do the end products end up being substantially different from what you originally envisage?
Simone Farresin: Not the feeling. There is always an element of surprise when we end a project; there is always a moment when we are like [makes a shocked facial expression] turning our heads and going “Really?!” And that’s amazing, because you didn’t know that that idea was in your mind, and that’s the reason we are doing design. That moment is ...
Andrea Trimarchi: Yeah, but it lasts for five minutes.
Simone: There is that specific moment when you realise that the idea was in your mind, and you didn’t know, and that’s magic. We always have a feeling, but it’s never precise.
It’s not about making something that you already wanted to create, it’s more of the object evolving on it’s own.
Simone Farresin: It’s really evolving, it really is, and sometimes when you look at it, you’re really surprised.