by Mona Bavar
Design must be political.
Design must be critical.”
Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin are the trailblazing design-duo behind Formafantasma. The celebrated designers met while studying in Florence, Italy, and have been revolutionizing the design industry since then. As researchers, designers and socially mindful artists, Trimarchi and Farresin are building a bridge between the traditional world of design and the rapidly changing global environment.
Experimenting with the vast aspects of materials, the pair continuously pushes conventional boundaries, producing innovative, thought-provoking works that have been acquired by leading museums around the world including New York’s MoMA, Victoria and Albert, and Centre Georges Pompidou. In 2011, Formafantasma was proclaimed by Paola Antonelli of MoMA and design critic, Alice Rawsthorn, as one of the studios that would shape the future of design, a prediction which they relentlessly manifest through their innovative work.
Mona Bavar: How did Formafantasma come to be?
Formafantasma: We met during our B.A. in Florence, and from there we started working together, later applying to the Master at Design Academy in Eindhoven as a team. It was the first time this was happening and the head of the IM Master Gijs Bakker was so open-minded to understand that this could work. We graduated with a joint project. We had the name Formafantasma in mind since we started working together really at the very beginning. If you translate it in English it means "ghost shape". It is actually pointing out how our work is not driven by formal research but more by a conceptual approach.
MB: How do you both contribute to each design?
Formafantasma: In unison. Andrea is the decision-maker and Simone the wonderer.
MB: Where do you find inspiration for your ideas? What is your process?
Formafantasma: Every project is a different experience. The starting point can be a material sample or a concept that comes out during the development of a previous project. Usually one of us gives the first input and immediately we start to work together on it, discussing for hours!
We are not the type of designers that spend most of their time sketching forms… that is the last step. We start from a concept and we later create an archive of images and texts that help us to communicate our point of view on the subject to the other one. There is a lot of verbal and visual communication. The first maquette is almost a magical moment: we always find objects we have in our house or studio that we can use, stacked or attached to check the first proportions, and to have the first translation in 3D of all the time we spent discussing (and arguing!). That is an exciting moment.
We understand that this is quite unusual for designers, but often we write about our work in the middle of the process to refine our thinking and identify any weaknesses.
MB: What do you generally like to design?
Formafantasma: As designers, we don’t have any type of preconception: we like to play with the common boundaries between cheap and valuable, fragile and durable, light and heavy. Because materials stimulate all our physical senses, having the ability to evoke memories and feelings and to create an intimate and personal relationship between the object and the user.
We believe that some materials when used, reveal their own formal and structural characteristic, having a sort of “aurea” as consequences of the historical and cultural knowledge we have of the material itself. For instance, traditional art and design materials like woods, metals and stones, if used amplifying their aesthetic and physical proprieties, produce in the user a sort of “ancestral sense of respect”. They represent human history and the domain and the conditioning of nature.
MB: As designers, what are your objectives? What do you want to communicate?
Formafantasma: In general, our fascination for objects lies in their ability to represent human history and even possible futures. We see Design as a discipline meant to question and envision social-cultural and even political changes. Despite this, our projects always start from our own personal fascinations. The translation of these intuitions into design sees the transformation of these intimate ideas into more sharable concepts. We, as designers, work almost as filters - our projects are the result of a process of distillation. We always know where we start but never where we are going to finish.
MB: Can you speak a little about your most recent exhibition, Cambio and the message you wanted to communicate?
Formafantasma: When we spoke with Hans Ulrich Obrist more than a year ago about the possibility of doing an exhibition at Serpentine, he was very much interested in doing a design show that could display the way of thinking of designers more than showing products. He was also curious about the collaborative nature of our work. This invitation was perfect because we had always wanted to do an exhibition about our research process.
We decided to focus on timber because it offers enormous possibilities in ecological terms, it is a non-extractive material (compared for instance to minerals) but trees are also living species that contribute to the world much more than just providing wood. We decided to focus on timber because of all these different qualities. While taking such a diverse and expansive subject risks generalisation, we firmly believe in the necessity to read and understand design within its larger context, one that includes extraction, refinement, production, distribution and afterlife of things and materials.
For too long, design has based its development on essentially one big narrative: the idea of human wellbeing and its function as a solution to human desire. This indulgence of human aspirations has debased design and narrowed down its scope of intervention, and where it has looked beyond the production of objects, it engages only with the transformation of half-finished materials into desirable products more than questioning the infrastructure that facilitates this process.
Our aim was to better understand the level of complexity we are all working and living in, while at the same time offering clear reflections and design questions: How can the practices of observation and care towards plants – tuning into their life, features, behaviour and necessities – shed light on our ecological and entangled lives? What can we learn about climate change by analysing the anatomical features of trees? How would wood production change if we take into consideration their ability to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere? How can we as designers make more informed choices when deciding to select a wood-based material over another, beyond its aesthetic and functional properties? And perhaps most importantly, how can the imagination and 'elastic' approach of design be helpful in translating today’s emerging environmental awareness and scientific knowledge into informed, collaborative responses?
MB: What does it mean to be sustainable in the design world?
Formafantasma: We see sustainability as a chance to envision a different world, even if we prefer the word ecology. Sustainability is too often a word used by marketing to greenwash irresponsible production processes. Within sustainability, we should all find a utopia to aim for. We are interested in sustainability as a chance to rethink the way we live on the planet.
MB: How do you think the impacts of COVID-19 will change your industry? Have you had to make any changes to the work that you do?
Formafantasma: The industry will try to change as little as possible. The only obsession will be to regain what economically was lost. We, on our side, will try to make our work more radical - to discard as much as we can works that are not relevant.
MB: What is your prediction for the world post-COVID?
Formafantasma: Our prediction is that it will be even uglier. Funds to culture will be cut and there will be even more acceleration towards the easy, stupid and superficial as long as it sells.
MB: Any future projects you would like to tell us about?
Formafantasma: These days we are working on the exhibition design for a show opening in Venice organised by the Biennial about the history of the Biennial itself. Since architecture and art have been postponed, this show is meant to become a reflection on how the biennials have coped in moments of crisis. It is a beautiful show with many archival materials. The title is Le Muse Inquiete, La Biennale incontra la storia. It will open at the end of August.
MB: Do you have any suggestions for up and coming designers?
Formafantasma: To do what they like but to also realise very quickly if they have enough talent to work for themselves. If not to put the effort into finding the right studio where they can make a difference.
Click here to learn more about Formafantasma and their work.
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