The course of an author's development is traced by the exhibitions devoted to him, be they large or small. The before (the exhibition) and the after (the exhibition) are never the same. Exhibitions are therefore intangible but impregnable bastions marking watersheds. The author arrives at them carrying a load of things he has done, thoughts he has had and things he has experienced, and sets off again with a new impetus. Visitors usually come to that same exhibition with an idea that is to some extent preconceived, and emerge from it with a new image in their mind, a portrait drawn in the round. If this does not happen something has not worked in the alchemical relationship between author, curator and exhibition space. In designing the layout of this monographic show at the Triennale, Lorenzo Damiani has chosen to hold a close dialogue with the location (see in particular the way the central pillar has been reinterpreted as a means of display), to reestablish a connection with the larger setting of the Design Museum (see the runners that emerge from «Lorenzo's place», tracing question marks on the floor) and to be ironical about certain peculiar characteristics (see the excessively long and shadowy exit tunnel, recast in the role of «the washstand zone of an expressway restaurant»). But Lorenzo does not stop here. In fact out of his analysis of the space comes not just the work of interior design, but a stimulus to the designer himself. In the interpretation proposed to us by Lorenzo, two «institutional» presences characterize the space set aside for the exhibition: the fire extinguisher and the attendant. While most people would have failed to notice such presences, this is not true of Lorenzo: so the attendant has been provided with an appropriate «Triennale Chair» whose back alludes to the glorious T symbol, but which above all is «fitted» with a mineral-water-bottle-holder and a book-for-whiling-away-the-time-holder; and the extinguisher, that extinguisher which the rest of us, when designing
an exhibition, try to conceal or at least move out of sight, earning an immediate reprimand from those in charge of fire prevention, has at last been given a place of honor inside an arched floor lamp designed especially for the purpose.
There is a popular saying that: «opportunity makes the man a thief», but what happens if the man is an inventor?
BUT WHERE HAVE THE INVENTORS GONE? LORENZO DAMIANI
The contemporary world is a prisoner to forms: opaque forms. The designer is their high priest. Focused on controlling the rounding of an angle, on choosing «prophetic» objects in the catalogue of the already-said. An «end-of-empire» design in which necessity no longer exists and continuous work on forms (the lines of a product) becomes functional to the survival of the species. It is a phenomenon that has intensified in recent times, but which is not unprecedented in the history of design. Indeed it is characteristic of moments of great standardization (such as the period of the «International Style»). Many years ago, Sigfried Giedion denounced this formalistic attitude as typical of European civilization, contrasting it with the (down-to-earth) pragmatism of the American tradition. As emblem of the former Giedion pointed to the designer, shut up in his own sophisticated but self-referential world; as emblem of the latter: the INVENTOR.
The inventor: a personage to whom we are no longer accustomed, but who once had a place in the collective imagination. The inventor: a figure inhabiting the limbo that connects myth to a rather cockeyed everyday life, true inventions to a bricolage that is essentially an end in itself. Patent offices all over the world preserve idiosyncratic testimonies to this creative fervor. Some of them completely useless and in any case, as we used to say, «obsolete» today.
But does the inventor, and his disappearance, have anything to do with the world of design or, rather, with the crisis in design? Can the inventor be proposed as an alternative model? With his paraphernalia of stills, screws and pipes, with his lack of interest in the look, with his shyness and reluctance to share his thoughts, can the inventor compete with the guru of form, the addict of style, the revolutionaries of the glossy magazine?
Can he be brought back as the model of an approach that does not see design as styling, but as a means of overcoming reality? Is it still possible to imagine a renewal of forms that moves by leaps and bounds, several meters at a time, and not in shifts of just a few millimeters?
Before answering these questions we need to spend a bit more time on the comparative analysis of the two figures: the inventor and the designer. Perhaps with the help of a few concrete examples. Such as… if the two of them were to be presented with a «coffee table» as a theme, the designer would start by defining a height (or rather a «lowness» nowadays), and then go on to determine whether it would be better to use, say, tubular steel with a square or a round section for the legs, and whether the top, with suitably rounded edges, should be made of brushed and waxed wenge wood or Emperador marble. Having made these «crucial» decisions (and, if he is one of the «new» generation of designers, made sure that the wood comes from a forest managed in a sustainable way and that the marble has been quarried in a manner that keeps its environmental impact to a minimum), the designer will then produce a series of virtual renderings in which the aforesaid table, placed next to one of Mies's armchairs in order to create a refined impression, looks out onto the Atlantic Ocean through a picture window and is thus able to assume its «historic» importance and its «full weight». And what would the inventor do instead? He would pose himself the problem of invention, i.e. of the surpassing of what already exists, and so would ask himself: «What does a coffee table usually NOT do?» After eliminating, through long and meticulous reasoning, all the frivolous answers like «it doesn't talk» (but there is absolutely no need for it to talk) or «it doesn't walk» (but it would be inconvenient if it did), the inventor would for instance come to the conclusion that, usually, a coffee table «doesn't blow air» and that this, in an age when the planet is overheating, might actually be a problem. And so he would set out to invent a table that is also a fan (Airtable, 2009).
Or what about a chair? If our ordinary designer were to receive a commission for the design of a chair, perhaps an outdoor chair (as an outside consultant), then as a cultured person he might take a look at the history of design, and in particular the extraordinary achievements of Scandinavian design, and eventually come up with an object that would bring the 1950s style of Finn Juhl up to date. And the inventor? The inventor might look instead for semifinished products that were perhaps intended for use in the open air, or even underground or embedded in walls, perhaps plastic drainpipes (if water runs inside them and there is damp all around them and nothing happens, then oughtn't they to suit our purpose?), and then join them together to make chairs that look like visionary plumbing systems (Tuttitubi, 2003).
And if it were a felt pad? Try going to the «designer», the one referred to above and to whom we have by now almost grown attached, and asking him to design a «felt pad».
He will look at you in amazement and then, being as we have said a cultivated man, will remember Gaetano Pesce's «Feltri» and will tell you that it's difficult to improve on them (and above all to reduce them in size), as they are already masterpieces. And when you talk to him of the felt pads that they sell at the do-it-yourself or hardware store to put under the legs of chairs, he will stare at you, intrigued by your practical skills and knowledge of logistics and, excusing himself, will cite an unidentified housemaid who had not informed him of the existence and necessity of «felt pads». And the inventor?
But the inventor lives at the do-it-yourself store, spent his childhood among the shelves of the hardware store, and can tell you exactly where to find felt pads, the white ones and the brown ones. Moreover the inventor knows about «scissors», knows that the felt pad is not enough... that you need scissors to trim it to match the diameter of the leg... and the inventor doesn't want to be a slave to scissors! And so he will invent a felt pad that has already been «trimmed» (Fel3, 2005).
Lorenzo Damiani belongs to the inventors' breed.
We have the evidence to prove it. In the first place Lorenzo does not base his design on the drawing, and this preserves him from formalism. Lorenzo uses the drawing, he is not dominated by it. He imagines things in their structure. He sees contemporaneously the components and their assembly and the end result. He identifies the parts and knows where to get hold of them, and he even knows, pace the Italian School of Architecture – from which he graduated successfully – how to put them together. But he also knows, once again in spite of the Italian School of Architecture, his way around the technical departments of companies, handling designs that are extremely complicated from the technological viewpoint (such as the OnlyOne washbasin mixer of 2006 which combines handle and spout in a single form).
And then Lorenzo doesn't do public relations, he isn't part of «Milanese high society», he doesn't hang around with journalists, he doesn't dress in black and when you meet him he doesn't tell you he has just conceived a «fresh» object or neither an irreverent one. When you meet Lorenzo he asks you how you are, and waits for the answer. This would be enough in itself to show that, on the Milanese design scene (i.e. on the Italian design scene), Lorenzo is the odd one out! But that's not all... a company that asks Lorenzo to design something (which doesn't actually happen all that often owing to the well-known fact that «young» designers, in Italy, have to «grow old» before they can get any work) runs the risk, after a suitable amount of time has passed, of receiving the answer that he is very sorry, but he doesn't feel that he has anything interesting to say in that specific area and so is going to pass up the commission (Lorenzo the masochist? Or just an example of that endangered species, the serious designer?).
Another peculiar characteristic stems from this ability to «say NO»: in the end Lorenzo's works come to resemble Lorenzo, as certain dogs do their masters.
The key to this is CONTINUITY. A continuity that has been constructed without digressions since 1995, the date of his first design.
Continuity is a value.
Continuity is rare because it presupposes that element of rigor which does not allow you to make compromises. Continuity is something Lorenzo has in common with designers like Paolo Ulian and Konstantin Grcic, and that distances him from the ones who every now and then produce masterworks and more often just works, from the ones who hide
a very basic professional practice behind demonstrative projects.
So Lorenzo Damiani, with this natural bent of his for doing things, is the most «foreign» of Italian designers. As we have pointed out, Lorenzo has a passion for components, is familiar with semifinished products, knows what already exists and uses it to go beyond the existing. But it cannot be argued, to confute one of the most common stereotypes in the critical interpretations of his work, that Lorenzo is a functionalist. On the contrary, Lorenzo is an anti-functionalist, or rather is intent on going beyond function. When all is said and done functionalism is a relaxing aesthetic in which demand and response coincide without any wandering from the point. Where there is no fear and there is no surprise and the objects – «Bromazepam objects», «Prozac objects» – do their duty politely. Lorenzo's objects never do their duty, or at least never in the first instance (see the light bulb in a transparent blister from which it should NOT be extracted: Packlight, 1995).
They are gymnastic objects, interactive objects, perhaps at times "dangerous" objects, perhaps at times «borderline» objects.
Almost always objects constructed out of simple materials because, without realizing it, Lorenzo is a follower of Gio Ponti when he argued that there are no «rich» materials and «poor» materials: only the time and intensity devoted to the design makes them such (little time = poor object, a lot of time = rich object).
But Lorenzo is not a minimalist either. For minimalist, the few true minimalists, every sign is a ritual, every slight deviation entails a choice. Rather Lorenzo is the last follower of Man Ray, tireless defender of the objet trouvé. Yet he is no surrealist; more of a brutalist.
And there we have it. Lorenzo Damiani is, notwithstanding his angelic appearance, a «well-mannered brutalist» (thinking about it, Munari too was, despite his angelic appearance, a well-mannered brutalist!).
Lorenzo wants to see-and make us see-things: inside and outside. The mechanisms, the guts of things, but also the beauty of their container, of their carapace. Interior and exterior, because the antinomy of hiding and revealing (innards and skin) is fundamental for Lorenzo. We are thinking of that cross designed as a cavity capable of holding a candle: so that the symbol of hope shines inside the symbol of sorrow (Luce, 1999).
But now, to go back to where we started, the moment has come to tackle the crux of what makes «Lorenzo Damiani an inventor», the concept of «typological hybridization» (table-fan / mirror-table / vacuum cleaner-pouf / armchair-suitcase). A tendency that is highly distinctive of Lorenzo's work, making it practically impossible to compare it with that of other designers. First of all, it is necessary to make one fundamental aspect clear: Lorenzo «works by grafting», he does not practice «the doctrine of the convertible».
The convertible is «born to pretend», in the first place to pretend not to be convertible, and then to pretend to be intended for a larger or different space from the one in which it is actually located. In short, the convertible embodies petty bourgeois play-acting.
Lorenzo's objects have nothing to hide. They do not pretend. They don't conceal a core made of folded mattresses. They do not feign being something different. They are something different.
Lorenzo's objects are, in their polysemy, sincere (and here too they resemble Lorenzo: Lorenzo is also sincere).
Certainly they often have a dual use, but in the way that often happened with mythological animals. Lorenzo's objects, in contrast to what many critics believe, are not convertible. They are griffins: half eagle and half lion. They are centaurs, or hippogriffs. From every hybridization a new story is born. A story of objects, a story of modes of behavior: for example the fable of the man who turned a table on its side and made a fan (Airtable, 2009), or of the other one who hid a suitcase, always ready for use, under a chair (Poltrolley, 2007). For functions are born out of patterns of behavior.
And Lorenzo looks at people's behavior, even the less strict – and therefore perhaps more human – like the habit of giving a present you don't want to someone else. Prompting him to come up with the ribbon designed in 2009 to give dignity, and sincerity, to the parcel containing a recycled object. Designed in the knowledge that the «chain of use» is at bottom the only 100% environmentally friendly form of recycling (100%, 2009).
But Lorenzo's objects do not even have, as is often claimed, a «double meaning». The «double meaning» is like the «convertible», it implies the prudery of the bourgeoisie. Lorenzo does not use double meanings, he doesn't wink and he doesn't allude. In his objects there is no trace of eroticism, nor of the pornography of concealing only to reveal, ogling. Instead Lorenzo works a bit like Darwin, investigating and inciting the mutation of the species. Pushing typologies into new sequences of evolution. Lorenzo, the genetic inventor, retains, in his eyes and in his hands, the ability to astonish us.
His is a contagious astonishment, a wonder capable of becoming our wonder.
That's where the inventors have gone!
Triennale Design Museum
MINI & Triennale CreativeSet
But Where Have the Inventors Gone?
23 september – 25 october 2009
Edited by Marco Romanelli
Graphic Projct GB studio
The CreativeSet exhibitions are a project directed by Silvana Annicchiarico
Triennale di Milano
viale Alemagna 6 - Milano
The Aesthetics of Surprise
Almost all of Lorenzo Damiani's objects have one thing in common: they are surprising. They amaze, they catch off-guard, they disorientate. And often, immediately
They do not surprise you in the way that a magician, or a conjurer, can do: they are not "top hats" out of which white rabbits or colored silk scarves are pulled.
Rather, they are objects capable of doing things you would not expect them to do.
A pouf, which you expect to be able to sit on, turns out to be a vacuum cleaner as well. Pipes used in plumbing, which you expect to provide a hermetic seal for flowing liquids, become the modular structure of an outdoor chair. A table proves capable of functioning as a fan. And the weave of a rug is also a map of the world.
Another surprising characteristic of Damiani's work is his use of materials. Discards
from the working of glass become the precious and unique core of unprecedented
one-off pieces made in the workshops of the master craftsmen of Murano. The shavings produced in traditional carpentry become the seat of a new model of chair.
And we could go on. Let's be clear: we are not talking about yet another version of the readymade. Damiani is not the latest epigone of the poetics of recycling or reutilization.
Rather he is an alchemist, a chemist, a geneticist of objects: someone who uses his know-how and his alembics to try out unheard-of grafts, to probe the functional limits of a typology, to explore the possibility of fusing several types and several functions in a single artifact. His work represents one of the most resounding refutations of the apocalyptic, ritual and by now even a bit grotesque lamentations of those nostalgic and elitist snobs who – in the name of a mythical lost past – accuse contemporary Italian design of being minimalist, frivolous, fatuous and inconsistent. If we look at Damiani's work – as well as that of other designers of his generation – without prejudice and without blinkers, we cannot fail to see how the lesson of the great masters of the past – from Achille Castiglioni to Denis Santachiara – pulses and vibrates and resounds in it, but adapted to a context, a culture and a society that are no longer the ones in which those great figures operated.
And if this were not the case, then Damiani would not be able to surprise us in the way he does. For what makes him so surprising is a mix of intuition and culture, of tradition and unconventionality, of knowledge of what exists and awareness of the need to go beyond it. Of never being willing to accept commonplaces. Imposed limits. Banal visions. Damiani is so deeply accustomed to working in this way that he has even managed to surprise us in the layout of the exhibition that the Triennale Design Museum has decided to devote to him, pushing the limits of the space and looking at it from a wholly unprecedented diagonal perspective that makes the CreativeSet – the place where the exhibition is staged – a different setting from the one defined by the uses to which it had been put previously. In demonstration of a coherence that has now become method, rigor and, perhaps, even hallmark of his style.
Lorenzo Damiani. Born in 1972 at Lissone and lives in Monza. In 1999 he graduated in architecture from Milan Polytechnic and later took a master's degree in industrial design at the Scuola Politecnica di Design. He devoted himself to furniture and product design and has worked with many companies, including Campeggi, Cappellini, Montina, Acqua di Parma, Abet Laminati, Erreti, Omnidecor, Coop, Illy Caffè, IB Rubinetterie,
BBB EmmeBonacina, Skitsch, Tabu and Tod's. In 1998 he won the «Progetto Giovane-Compasso d'Oro» prize and in 2001 and 2008 received honorable mentions, again at the «Compasso d'Oro». In 2001 and 2007 he was given a Good Design Award by the Chicago Athenaeum and in 2001 and 2004 won first prize in the «Young&Design» competition staged by Rima Editrice. He has held two solo exhibitions: «Il Doppio Senso delle Cose», organized by Cristina Morozzi at the Milan Trade Fair in 2003, and «In-Coerenza» at the Otto Gallery in Bologna in 2004. He has taken part in the Salone Satellite in Milan several times and is a constant presence at Opos. His «Flex» and «OnlyOne» designs are now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Architecture and Design in Chicago.