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They live in Amsterdam but only because they crave isolation. While they’re considered star designers, deep down they still aren’t convinced it’s their ultimate calling. Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin are known as Formafantasma, which means “ghost form.”
When I met these founders of one of the world’s most innovative contemporary design studios, I discovered that looks can be deceiving. Charming and direct, Andrea and Simone talk with passion about their work and the poetry that’s hidden in the name of their revolutionary project. They strive to upend clichés and break the mold by letting materials speak for themselves. Research and comparative studies are the basis of their work, while the innovative use of materials is their hallmark.
Before meeting these two, I was worried about what kind of ego two stars might have after achieving critical and commercial success at such a young age. But I was relieved to discover that this sharp and spontaneous pair are the kind of people you immediately want to be friends with.
In a feature on your work, Vogue gave you credit for a kind of revolution in the concept of design, which puts materials above the end product and gives more weight to the process rather than the form. How aware were you that you were creating this revolution?
Simone, a Veneto native with a dark mustache, gives his response.
S: Absolutely unaware, or rather, it was strategically unplanned. I believe our attention to materials was at first almost instinctive and intuitive. Over time – and especially in independent projects – it became a specific interest that stemmed from the fact that the design process has always been very concerned with giving shape to materials without showing much interest in where the materials actually come from. This is a problem because most of the issues in contemporary production have to do with where we decide to take our materials from. Attention has to be given to factors such as the environment and sustainability.
Andrea, who is three years younger with Sicilian origins and fine features, echoes this sentiment.
A: To sum it up in one phrase, the attention that we have for materials is continually growing as a conceptual concern.
The name Formafantasma, meaning “ghost form”, describes your work: the idea of the hidden form, perceived but not totally visible, concealed until the very end. Can you tell us about the poetry behind the name, and how it forms your identity?
A: We teach in different academies [Ed.: including the Eindhoven Design Academy and the Syracuse Academy of Fine Arts] and we are seeing a change in the issues that interest the younger generations. People are no longer engaged only in designing an end product but also in understanding all the issues that surround the design. Perhaps we are one of the voices of this generation but there are obviously others as well. Though I can’t remember how the actual name came about… Did we come up with it together?
They both laugh and I take the look they give each other as one of understanding. It’s clear how in sync they are as they finish each other’s sentences.
S: I remember we were on a bus coming back from Siena, where we’d been at Palazzo delle Papesse for a contemporary art exhibition.
A: Yes! It started as a joke and then became almost a manifesto. We are a little strange. We are not designers who sit and draw, for us drawing is the final part of the process.
You call yourselves strange, but preparing for the interview today I found that in design courses such as those in Milan, your work is part of the curriculum. Did you know that? What’s that like?
Simone immediately gives a calm response.
S: We knew about other courses, not the ones in Milan! I think it’s fairly normal: it was old-fashioned when design schools only spoke about what happened 40 years ago and not about contemporary work. To enter into an academic environment doesn’t necessarily say anything about the merit of our actual work, but it does show that we now play a part in the story of contemporary design.
Behind Formafantasma are the individuals: Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin. How did you get started?
S: We met in Florence where we both studied at ISIA, [the Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche]. At the time I didn’t have much interest in product design. When we met, we started working together, or rather, talking to each other about design, almost without even realizing it. Then we decided to do a master’s degree at the Design Academy Eindhoven and we enrolled as a team. In June 2009 we graduated and in September of that year we opened our studio. It was all very… fast!
They say, “Fast,” in unison, amused at thinking back on that moment.
A: During those years at the academy, with every project we were interested in justifying what the product would be able to do in the end. We also provoked each other to figure out what we could be in the future. That time at the academy was like a trail over a few years to work toward the projects that came to us later on.
What are three representative pieces of your work?
They look to consult each other, and quickly whisper between themselves.
S: I would say Moulding Tradition, which was our graduation project and has a political theme [Ed.: the work is dedicated to the subject of immigration and is inspired by Sicilian ceramics]; Botanica is one of the first pieces of work where experimentation is very important and touches on themes such as ecology and its relationship with history, which are recurring themes in our work [Ed.: a collection of pottery made with wood fiber and resin]. More recently Anno Tropico, which means “Tropical Year,” covers research on light and so is much more connected to the product, and we’re still working on it now.
A: Anno Tropico was our first solo exhibition in Italy, at the Spazio Peep Hole in Milan.
S: I also have to mention our next project that will be presented in Australia this December, which has to do with the industry of recycling metals and its relationship with electronic waste.
What are the steps of your planning process? How are your creations born?
A: It depends on the client’s request. The thing that is definitely common to all our projects is the research part. It’s difficult to receive a commission to just design an object. We don’t care about simply giving shape, we write the project, and this is common to all our work, we conduct research that can take longer than what it takes to actually bring the object to life. We are very reflective.
S: If we have to simplify, I’d say that the starting point is the discussion between Andrea and I. Words are at the base of all our projects. We do a lot of discussing!
A: Yes we do. And before we draw, most of the time, we write. The form is something we leave out at the beginning. It’s something that can always change, depending on the context and the project we are working on.
S: We talk among ourselves and then rewrite the brief because we rarely go by the book when following what the client presents us with: we take the original idea, and then make proposals from other points of view. And finally we address the text. We don’t like designing from a distance and we design in different ways for every project. At this point we start to collect images in order to communicate visually. And then from there follows the materials, samples, models, etc.
To be continued…
Interview by Anna Mezzasalma. All the pictures by Margot van der Krogt for Polpettas On Paper.
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Italian original text available on the paper magazine Polpettas On Paper #TWO.