12 Jun 2016

The shape of the future
according to Studio Formafantasma

By Stefano Guerrini

Andrea Trimarchi, born in 1983, and Simone Farresin, born in 1980, are the Italian designers who form the duo Studio Formafantasma, a name that is gaining an international audience thanks to works that are in the permanent collections of important museum institutions such as MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Victoria and Albert in London, the Chicago Art Institute, the Mak Museum in Vienna, to name a few. The two, after finishing a master's degree at the Design Academy Eindhoven in July 2009, decided to establish their headquarters in Amsterdam. From there they collaborate with many companies, even in the fashion world, including Fendi, MaxMara / Sportmax, Hermes. Intrigued by their path, as well as the esteem that they enjoy internationally, not surprisingly in fact in March of 2011, Paola Antonelli of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the critic Alice Rawsthorn have placed them among the studios that in the coming years will shape the design of the future, we have reached and interviewed them. Here is our conversation with Andrea and Simone.

How did your project come into being and how did you become "Formafantasma"? Why did you decide on this name?
We both studied at the ISIA and then the Design Academy of Eindhoven. We signed up there by sending a joint portfolio of our work and we were accepted as a team. We decided to continue our studies outside Italy because we found that the way designers of our own generation work in the Netherlands is more akin to ourselves and our way of exploring design as a subject. In Eindhoven we took a deeper look at our attitude towards design concepts and had the chance to do more research into topics that are not necessary or directly linked with mass production.
Which of your projects are you most fond of?
One of the projects we feel very attached to is called “Botanica”. It was commissioned by the Plart foundation and required a long period of research. Botanica sheds new light on certain polymers found in plants, which were used before the arrival of oil. It was risky but fascinating to dedicate a relatively long period of time to the research of materials that have practically disappeared.
The objects that form the ‘Botanica’ collection were designed based on the idea that the oil age in which we live never began. Almost like historians, we analysed the pre-bakelite period between the eighteenth and nineteenth century, when researchers and scientists carried out the first experiments on plants and animals, investigating the technical and aesthetic possibilities of natural polymers.
While we can now say that we are en route towards a post-oil era, the pre-oil era seems to have been rediscovered in the quest for sustainable alternatives. In our work, we see the past as a source of inspiration to allow consumers to look at the idea of plastic from a new angle, re-interpreting lost materials and techniques.
This project gave us a great deal of satisfaction. Until now it has been part of the permanent collection on show at the Moma of NY, at the Victoria and Albert of London, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Mak of Vienna and the Metropolitan of NY.
From a professional point of view, our encounter with the Libby Sellers Gallery of London and the O - Giustini Stagetti Gallery of Rome was of crucial importance. They gave us the space we needed to explore the underlying ideas of our work.
An Italian duo that lives and works in Amsterdam (if I'm not mistaken). What made you reach this decision? 
Before that we were in Eindhoven but we were really tired of being there because it has a very small-town atmosphere. We are naturally very attached to it: it gave us a great deal but we were ready for a change. Amsterdam is a beautiful city with a very high standard of living. We also love water. Towns and cities with a river or near to water are always special.
In what way, both creatively speaking and otherwise, do you feel Italian, and in what way do you feel distant from your Italian roots?
With globalisation, faster transport and the drop in air fares, distances have become much shorter. We will never be Dutch because have no need to. The almost forced migration of our predecessors towards many Countries in Northern Europe, or even Australia and the US assumed the need for radical change, to leave one culture behind and embrace another culture in order to survive. We don't have these needs. We don't even need a residence permit to live in the Netherlands. 
We don't know how our work would have been if we had remained in Italy. Naturally, it would be very different: we may be human, but we are still mammals and easily conditioned by our surroundings, though sufficiently independent not to let them dominate us!
Although there are very big differences between the Italian and Dutch cultures, we do not try to express the Italian spirit or national identity in our work, if not in a critical way. 
Why did you decide on this name?
We're very fond of the name Formafantasma because we decided on this name even before opening our own studio and moving to Holland.  It means that our research is based on very formal concepts (many of the objects we have designed allude to archetypes). As shapes are the result of a process, they can change, adapt and evolve time by time.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work? 
By isolating, observing and analysing aspects of everyday life. Also, we naturally travel a lot, which puts us in contact with very diverse settings. Creativity certainly requires stimuli but also long periods of digestion.
Who are you designer heroes and your points of reference and why? 
We very much admire the work of George Nakashima, C.Mollino, Gino Sarfatti, Hella Jongerius, E.Sottsass, Dieter Rams, Metahaven and many others. They all have their own distinctive style but in general, we like their approach. We admire Dieter’s precision in industrial production, Sarfatti’s use of light and Hella’s understanding that in the modern world, designing new products is not the only way to create. This can be seen in her work with colours and materials for Vitra, for example. We like Metahaven because they have a radical and political approach to work.
You have worked with certain fashion companies: which brands do you feel closer to?
We have worked with Hermès, Fendi and Sportmax. All three are not simply brands as they have roots in the production: Fendi and Hermès are particularly linked with leather goods and Max Mara with knitwear.
In general, what is your feeling about fashion and what are your likes and dislikes in this sector? 
The worst thing about fashion is that products have only a very short life span. At the same time, this is also a strength. A fashion designer now has to come up with at least four collections every year. There is no time for reflection, only instinct. This can generate absolute monsters or stunning garments! 
What are you working on right now?
We are currently working with a company on certain industrial products. We are also finalising a project for the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam. We're preparing the fashion show for Sportmax and in June we will be presenting the Delta Collection at Design Miami/Basel for the O - Giustini Stagetti Gallery. We are also developing a project for the National Gallery of Melbourne.
What about projects for the future? 
From November 2017, a new university MADE Program will be opening in Ortigia (Syracuse), in Sicily, where we will be at the helm of the “MAN MADE” design department.
The aim of the course is to respond to today's global environmental emergency through the research and application of both new production systems and digital information, alongside local and artisan systems. In order to understand the complex situations that characterise the globalised world we now live in, we first need to be able to rediscover and work with the things that surround us.
Design education here will involve research and experimentation to develop production methods which are closer to humans, aimed at the interests and concerns of people, animals and the planet on which we live.