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Elena Trevisan Interview by Andrea Suma

MAC

Jul 1, 2020

I would like to draw an artistic profile of you so I ask you to tell me a little bit about your history, both academic and professional

My history and my passion began at very young age. At my grandparents’ house there was a chair by Franco Albini that I often played with. Now it is here in my studio to show her years and all the damage I caused her when I was a child. My grandmother, the artist in the family, used to involve me in everything related to the decoration of the house: I would choose the wallpapers with her, I would paint the carpets for her, developing a very close relationship with the textile material. When I was sixteen I decided that I would study architecture, a choice that was opposed by most of my family, who wanted me to be a doctor. I graduated from the University of Venice: it was a very important experience, not only for the teachers who inspired me, but also for the life and work experiences abroad that tool me to Portugal, Spain, France and Germany. Among these in particular I would like to remember the one in Lisbon, where I worked for Proap, an international landscape architecture studio directed by João Nunes: here I learned the descendent of scale, since the design method requires to start from 1:5000 scale tables to descend to 1:10 scale, or even 1:5, for the design of street furniture. After finishing university, I decided to put aside the usual thesis of design, to make one of research that consisted in the archeological study of the Tiber Island. From there began my academic career: always at the IUAV, I obtained my doctorate in architectural composition, working in the Imago Rerum group, a research group composed of lovers of the disciplines of design, both contemporary and ancient. My fortune, if you can say so, was to do my PhD without a scholarship and this forced me to get research grants, opening up opportunities otherwise unexplored. During the first year, for example, I participated in the application for a research grant from the European Social Fund whose partner was the historic Venini company.  The project was very interesting: to celebrate 150years of company history, it was decided to produce vases with rather complex geometries by Tadao Ando. The problem was that the first vases they made broke when temperature dropped: the geometry couldn’t keep the temperature change. The company therefore decided to experiment with new glass geometries that would succeed in this challenge. I participated and won, thus having the opportunity to design my first glass design object. That’s when my story as a designer began.

Do you think that these experiences abroad have contributed decisively to the formation of your current aesthetics?

Absolutely yes, especially because of my approach to learning: I do a lot of visual research, so that things “get” into my eyes. Art, more than architecture and design, is the element that creeps into me the most. Living in countries with an artistic culture unrelated to the Renaissance and Baroque has allowed me to get closer to contemporary art. In these places, native architecture is an expression of traditions that are very distant from each other.

Now let’s talk about your professional evolution

Three years ago I opened my studio in Venice. It was all rather stormy, because I was actually convinced that I would take care of the university career, for which I made many sacrifices: doing the PhD without a scholarship, counting only on research grants, means doing twice as much work. Back from Madrid, where I worked for eight months as a researcher a t the Polytechnic School, I completed my doctoral thesis. Afterwards, I expressed my desire to be able to put aside my studies for a period of time and concentrate only on my professional activity. My goal was to maintain both occupations. Unfortunately, this need was not understood and I was forced to make a choice that led me to abandon research. This was a personal displeasure for me, but it also gave me the right push to continue my studies, along with the lectures I give at the university.

Are you alone in the studio or are you collaborating with someone?

I work together with Stefano Benfatto, an architect like me, who has been with me since the beginning of this adventure.

Your first important collaboration was with Venini, which launched you on your professional path. Nut you also boast collaboration with Villari, Olev, Sitia and others. Would you tell me the story of how you came into contact with these companies?

Just after winning, in 2016, the Red Dot Deign Award in the Design Concept category with the design of an armchair, Sitia contacted me because the owner liked the design very much. They asked me to design a modular sofa, a request that I actually felt a bit distant from my ropes at the time. I tried and succeeded, so much so that I won the Silver A’ Design Award. I also designed a coffee table and a lamp for them. I collaborated with Linea Zero, because the artistic direction of the company at the rime was the same as that of Sitia. I designed Queen lamp for them, so recently I also made the outdoor version. The lamp is made of polilux, a very complex material, which looks soft but must be used in a rigid sense: it is a stretch sheet whose elasticity changes if it is stretched and put into tension. But the real difficulty was to create an object that could be assembled by the end user in 48 seconds and whose pieces could be sold inside a very small box. This was therefore the real challenge: to entice the user to mount a lamp that has a much less affordable cost than the well-known low cot furnishing accessories. I was presented at Olev last year. For Andrea Lanaro, owner of the company I worked on design a lamp with a particular aesthetic. Having a training as a researcher, I called here in the studio some “non-expert”, to whom I asked what were the needs that, according to them, a lamp should meet. Some gave importance to the use of eco-compatible materials, others expressed their blame for all forms of exploitation of work in the production line and sales, others focused only on functional aspects. I proceeded in my research by studying the occasion in the history of design when ethical design was involved, in particular the lamps and spaceageprojected kitchens after the launch of Sputnik. In the same period, I was touched by the photographic exhibition organized in Venice in 2017 by Irving Penn, in particular by the cover of Vogue in April 1950 that portrayed a woman wearing a wide-brimmed hat. The lamp for Olev therefore has a stronger aesthetic reference to all these historical and artistic stimuli. To this I wanted to add a careful study of sound: just as the holes in the walls of the churches let sound in but not to let it out, thus avoiding the echoes, the lamp I designed for Olev is also equipped with a micro-perforated sheet metal that give it some proofing capabilities. The one with the Villari is a very beautiful story. If Venini is considered the leader of glass the Villari is considered the Lamborghini of porcelain with a retro taste. I also have what I would call a real artistic perversion for Jeff Koons who created with the help of Cesare Villari, the famous porcelain statue by Michael Jackson. So I introduce myself to Barbara Villari and proposed a collaboration. She initially declined the offer because it was a bit difficult for them, as historical company, to invest the in a name that was not yet fully established. However, last year, while I was travelling to Barcelona she wrote to me asking me to draw for her. So I found myself working with porcelain for the first time: a complicated and very fragile material, even more so than glass, having the characteristic of retiring in firing 12- 15%. This is an element that must be taken into account when drawing: everything must be imagined slightly larger. For the realization of this collection we produce the mold with a 3D printer; then we built the plaster cast where we went to throw the porcelain. It was very interesting, also because the company gave me full freedom to experiment.

Your working approach is therefore based on continuous research. Are there other products with a strong innovative charge that you would like to tell me about?

Surely I would like to talk more about the projects I did for Venini, where I could touch the limits of glass. It is in fact a material that can have different densities, with a complex chemical composition. At first I did a lot of research, because I had imagined very complex shapes. At that time, I was involved in a research project in the field of design and sketching: O had been chosen by the Cini Foundation to study design sketches of Peter Shire’s glass. Glass. These were drawings that represented strongly asymmetrical geometries that strongly stress the glass and compositions of separate elements: this would make the nose twist of any glass purist who, notoriously, disdains the use of glues. Thanks to that experience I was able to really know how far you can push the glass and, above all, I understood one thing: if you want to remain faithful to the material, you have to go along with it.

So what is the interaction between art, design and materials?

As Sottsass said, design must be reproducible in several numbers, otherwise it is art. Shire’s glass design are basically works of art, as unique pieces in which the designer took liberties with the material he was dealing with, to bring out the formal characteristics. In front of a piece by Venini, instead, what is appreciated is the very high quality of the glass.

Today you deal mainly with product design, yet you have an architect’s training that would allow you to do what you want: “from the spoon to the city”. Do you plan to expand your line of action in the near future?

Absolutely yes, also because I marry the Scarpian idea that above architecture are the architecture of interiors and landscape. It has already happened to me to design the interiors of a store during my studies at university.

In your story, what has been the vector that has given you visibility more than others?

Some fairs, especially the Salone del Mobile, and magazines. With regard to the latter I would like to point out that I much prefer them to socials, places where in my opinion there is not a real awareness of design or where the latter is sacrificed to give more prominence to the influencer of himself.

And what about awards?

I would be inconsistent with what my personal history tells if I told you that awards have not affected my growth. Competitions give a lot of visibility because they are bounced on magazine and networks of all kinds, but there's a difference between winning a Compasso d’oro - my dream - and winning the Red Dot Design Award.

You are rightly very ambitious. What are your projects in the pipeline?

I can’t tell you much, but lately I'm working on a project that takes into consideration the theme of women, a subject that touches me closely: just think that for almost all the companies I have worked for I was the first woman designer. It is a carpet with a purely figurative figure, in which the owner of the company has seen an important investment opportunity.

The whole interview can be found in the July-August 2020 issue of MAC Magazine.

Press Elena Trevisan Interview on Mac

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