Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Exploring Mortality with Designer Federico Santolini

Italian designer, Federico Santolini creates beautiful and thought provoking graphic, furniture and product work both independently and with his colleagues in the Dorothy Gray Design Firm in Bologna.  Mr. Santolini brings this conceptual design perspective to fine art as well.  Among his pieces are some that address our mortality in ways that allow us to visually connect and explore some of the overwhelming and unknowable issues surrounding life and death.  My thanks to Mr. Santolini for allowing me to share his work and his thoughts here on The Daily Undertaker.   

cristal cest
Pat McNally: Your work challenges us to think and see in new ways about the world around us and our place in it.  In particular, three of your projects are of great interest to me.  In Cristal Cest (nest or basket), what appear to be ordinary marble cremation urns are enveloped in wire cages.  In Dust print / Mandala, a design with spiritual connotations becomes visible on the floor through the unintentional participation of visitors by picking up the dust from their shoes.  In La Condition Humaine, an aquarium’s restricted view becomes an analogy to the limits of our perception and potentials.  I’d like to hear about each project in detail, but first, what is your intent in challenging your audience in this way?  What do you hope for us to gain through our interaction with your work?

Federico Santolini: The three works you've chosen are very different and they had distinct developments, because they were projected for different ends in different ways.
Cristal cest is one of my personal projects; Dust print /Mandala was realized by myself and Dorothy Gray Design Studio, the one I work with; la Condition Humaine was nearly completely developed by Giovanni del Vecchio, one of Dorothy Gray Design Studio members, I just joined this project marginally. As a designer, I come from the product design field, so in my work the physical object and its function are fundamental, and I use the object itself to express concepts. From the object importance, I work on the interaction between it and the audience. When I want to express a particularly complicated concept, I prefer using stereotyped objects, neutral ones, because through them it's easier to make the concept more comprehensive. I applied the same reasoning to the materials: I often prefer using classical ones, because it's easier for the audience to enter upon familiar terms with them. I love when the object makes you think and force you to think about what you're doing in a specific moment and what you're using to do a particular action.

cristal cest
PM: An urn is seated at an angle within a complicated wire framework that seems to have no relation to the form of the urn.  Obviously, the fact that the object within is an urn indicates to us that this piece is saying something to us about our mortality or our existence after death.
My reaction to the piece is to contemplate what there is present in and around the urn that could be described by this larger space, and I think of all that must take place in our existence that is unknown to us.  Perhaps this is the shape of some part of the person that cannot be contained within an urn.
What drew you to incorporate these elements together?  Do you have any thoughts about this piece that you’d like to share?

FS: Your personal interpretation of Cristal cest is really interesting. My intention is exactly to stimulate reactions and thoughts to those who approach my projects, enriching their value and meaning. I had your same idea of an external expansion of the internal urn contents, but what I really want to express is the urn's palpable holiness, at the same time protected and enhanced by the wire framework. I basically worked on a visible and tangible urn locked up in a nest structure that protects the urn, but, differently from a casket, allows the audience to touch and see it. Moreover the urn seems unstable, but it's fixed and supported by its protective cage.

Dust print / Mandala  working with dirt....

PM: A mandala is traced upon the floor with some adhesive material.  Right away we are reminded of incantations and the calling forth of supernatural forces.  Indeed the forces are gathered in the form of visitors bringing the dust of their shoes to inadvertently bring the mandala into being.
Dust reminds us not only of undesirable and unclean substances, but also of the dust we are said to be made of and must return to.  What I love about this piece, in addition to your clever manipulation of these ideas, is your use of the kinetic forces of bystanders, and the creation of beauty with a substance that is usually thought of as something that is anything but beautiful.  What were your thoughts in creating this piece?  What kind of reactions did you get from people as they realized their role in bringing this work to life?

FS: You've completely picked up the basic idea of this project: creating something from nothing, or better, from something usually considered as tiny and not desirable as the dust is. This work is also more provocative because realized during a contemporary art fair, where the audience expects to see and buy important works of art, not to create one through the dust! To be created, the Mandala needed many days and the passing by of many visitors. The mandala was at the art fair entrance. The first visitors didn't even understand what they were creating! The others, fully appreciated this work, participating in a stupefied and interested way, walking many times on the Mandala to bring more dust and taking pictures.

La condition humaine
PM: An aquarium is seemingly combined with a tombstone.  The legend etched on the marble tells us everything we need to know as we take in the small sliver of the aquarium that is actually open to our view.  Again, we seem to be confronted with the fact that as humans, we are aware of only a slice of what there is to know and experience in the world.  Just as we see only a slice of the spectrum of light, the greater part of the life and activity of the aquarium is hidden from our view.  Again we are confronted with our mortality because of the clock ticking on the wall, and the similarity of the inscribed marble to a tombstone.  Is our limited understanding due to the brief nature of our existence?  What is there that we cannot see just because of our other limitations?
These are questions that may not be new to us, but they are certainly brought out for us to ponder in a new and very visual way.  Ironically, you are showing us that we cannot see.
What is it about the limits of our human condition that you would  like for us to contemplate?  Would you hope that we took action because of these realizations?

La condition humaine Acquario
FS: As I told you before, I brought my contribution to La condition Humaine just during the concept phase. The idea of working on an Aquarium was a Giovanni Delvecchio's one; he's one of my colleagues at Dorothy Gray Design Studio, and I consulted him before answering your interview. The basic idea was working on an old aquarium using unusual materials and technologies for glass, like marble and carving. This beginning idea has started all the processes that you've well described: we wanted the audience to think about what an aquarium represents, a little world/ecosystem that, as owners, we can control, populate or upset. It's up to the audience evaluating if identifying with the aquarium owners or with the unaware fishes. The idea of hiding the aquarium view with the marble tombstone it's a provocation connected with the human capacity to see/understand the world around us, symbolized by the aquarium, and the possibility to show it to the others.

La condition humaine Acquario
PM: Thank you Mr. Santolini, for sharing your thoughts and your compelling work with us!    

La condition humaine Acquario

Please visit the Dorothy Gray website for more of this wonderful work.

Designer Federico Santolini

Originally posted on THURSDAY, JANUARY 27, 2011


Sister Shirley said...

What beautiful and thoughtful work. I especially love the urn, both in concept and creation.

Goneferalinidaho said...

Thanks for sharing that. I sometimes have problems with concept art, but these pieces are very interesting.

Charles Cowling said...

He won me over.

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