A conversation on design orthodoxy, Credenza.

Is it possible to believe in design? Does anyone dedicate its own life to design? Does design have priests and devotes? And on the contrary, can we deny the doctrine of design? Can we be heretical towards design? Let’s stop here. There is no need to evoke the theology of design to describe Credenza, by Editions Milano.

Let’s just say that sometimes we need to take a step to the side to move forward, to change our way, or simply to follow a personal and unpredictable path. Editions Milano, through Credenza, reconciles the orthodoxy of Patricia Urquiola’s contemporary design and the heresy of Federico Pepe’s art as a form of communication.

The story is all about pieces of furniture that can be displayed close to a wall or in the centre of a room. Their main function is not only to decorate or to store, but to create a presence within the space. Their design is technical while the raw materials are fully traditional. Credenza is a creative dialog on design. It’s a constant exchange among several actors that lead to the conversation that follows, held in Milan in Patricia Urquiola’s Studio.

By Paolo Ferrarini

Paolo Ferrarini: How did this project start? What was the creative glint?

Patricia Urquiola: I think all started because of a curiosity. Glass is a material that has always fascinated Alberto, especially in its handcrafted and local dimension.

Alberto Pellini, Editions Milano: For more than two years I have dreamt about creating something with the windows of the churches. I had this fixed idea. I wanted to transform them into an object and I shared it with Federico with whom we work since quite a long time on various projects. We talked about it at length, without knowing where it would have lead us.

Patricia Urquiola: Was it such a vague thought?

Alberto Pellini: Yes, it was! Federico and I often meet just to share ideas and vibes. But one day I said to myself “I must do it!” So I called Federico and I told him: “Let’s do it! How about sharing it with Patricia?” Federico replied: “Let’s go, let’s talk about it with her!”  I was looking for the perfect match. And I always have fun putting people together. When I came here to convince Patricia I brought with me just the pictures of the Sainte Chapelle and a piece of stained glass. The result I was longing for was the same.

Patricia Urquiola: When I hear about glass windows I think about Cologne’s Cathedral and its amazing contemporary work. Gerhard Richter’s big glass windows are impressive, all entirely based on the repetition of a square pattern. His works have deeply inspired me. He’s a master in all his projects. But if I go to a trattoria and I see glass doors, I think of those who work in this field and of the low quality level they sometimes have to deal with. Making the right match takes a long time. With people and with materials as well. Ideas need the right maturation time, I think this is really important. Sometimes it looks as if these ideas come up quickly, instinctively, though good ideas always require time. Sometimes they just live with you, they remain still in you for a long time.

Alberto Pellini: I then started to look for the artisans who produce glass windows for the churches, as I was ready to make this dream come true. I wanted an antique hand crafted technique. I contacted an artisan and he immediately came to introduce himself. He couldn’t wait to work on a different project and his excitement made me understand that our direction was the right one.

Patricia Urquiola: In any field, people who work with an artisan attitude have a great open mindedness towards what is new and different. They are never scared.

Alberto Pellini: Do you know what is our luck? We are free. Today we may think of glass and tomorrow we may fantasize about ceramic. This way we are credible and not credible at the same time. And when an idea comes up, it strikes us.

Paolo Ferrarini: And how did the design process begin? Was it a choral project? How did you face the creative phase? How did you split the assignment?

Patricia Urquiola: We met and we started sharing opinions on furniture. We immediately thought I would design the structure and Federico its graphic customization and a part of the art direction as well. We decided to develop all together, as when we built my Studio’s website. While preparing its launch as well as the presentation of my monograph, he sent me hundreds of drawings for more than one month and I replied drawing on his sketches. We experienced this communication via images, words or pages of books. We got along very well and we understood that between us there was big respect and fun. We also have in common the passion for Duchamp’s The Large Glass with his “Broyeuse de Chocolat”, made of two large plates of glass mounted in a sturdy frame.

Federico Pepe: I started sending to Patricia all I had, as I wanted her to start experimenting. I didn’t know how she was used to work so I shared with a her a huge amount of work so that she could find something useful to start from.

Patricia Urquiola: He?s just like that, and it?s great. Some of the graphics he had already produced, others he modified for the project.  And all at once, the creative sparkle came, and it was beautiful. We spoke about cupboards, but then I thought we should concentrate on smaller pieces of furniture, somehow more ?kind? but always with a strong presence… maybe a small credenza (a cabinet). From that moment on we really enjoyed ourselves, because a credenza is quite a precious object, at the same time container and contained. As it always happens, this kind of work brings you to a multitude of results. Of course it probably won?t happen that all these micro-collections will effectively come to life. First you create, then you choose, and at the end you will present only one or two amongst all of them you have imagined.  But they remain open stories, maybe next year a more figurative work will appear. This is why the project was named Credenza (Italian word meaning both a cabinet and one’s belief) and Miscredenza (unbelief) because at a certain point we identified this object, named credenza in the furnishing industry, that immediately found a link with our will to believe (credere in Italian). To believe in the ancient techniques that today are abandoned, to believe in a world that has been long forgotten. Speaking of belief, we naturally came to the concept of unbelief. The stained glass window is polychrome and is linked to the concept of light. The idea of transferring it to a small object that lives inside a house, rather than imaging it for something where the natural light would shine trough form the outside (which would have been the most logical thing to do), is an act of an unbeliever. We wanted to work on it as if it had its own light, like a little animal. We liked the idea to give it its own inner light.

Paolo Ferrarini: Normally stained glass windows tell stories. But your graphics look abstract. Is there a story behind? Do they tell a story?

Federico Pepe: At the beginning I thought about using the images as in the classical stained glass window concept, only instead on the Saints, Jesus and Mary, I would have put criminals and prostitutes? the unbelievers. Of course this would have created a strong impact, with reactions difficult to imagine, and my feeling was that this kind of approach would have made it difficult to develop the concept. With abstract graphics the pieces are beautiful, they are clean.

Alberto Pellini: If you take the classical stained glass technique, the one with faces and stories, it belongs to the Church. I wanted to take Federico’s art, the one of graphics and patterns, and bring it on the pieces of furniture created by Patricia.

Federico Pepe: But this remains a commercial project. Patricia, you are one of the most famous designers today, the products you imagine are bought and sold worldwide. Their appeal is undeniable. Alberto?s idea was to take a very traditional artisanal skill, and use it on a product that could be appreciated and purchased.

Patricia Urquiola: Actually, when you work on these small, artisanal collections, not following the logics of industrial production, you already know that the project will be a kind of manifesto of what you believe in. I took the whole project, this matter of belief and unbelief, with a certain dose of irony. I wanted to keep all our different points of view and mix them up. We thought if would have been interesting to show the belief (Credenza) and it?s exact opposite, the unbelief. We really played with this concept, as we are on two completely different sides, Federico is the belief, and I’m the unbelief. Or maybe I?m the belief, as I?m really attached to the product, and he?s the unbelief that creates chaos, why not? In my work, I spend a great deal of time to try and understand, along with the companies, the correct techniques to be adopted and the use of innovative, contemporary materials. Working with industrial companies, I have tried to understand how their machinery works, in order to maximize their technical possibilities, or to find new ones. But in this case, we are doing another kind of research. We keep ourselves attached to a traditional artisanal technique, but at the end the object is a little “unbelieving” in a way that makes it modern.

Paolo Ferrarini: From a function point of view, the rounded back part of the vertical cabinet is quite an “unbeliever”.

Patricia Urquiola: The back part is round, and we also created a structure that makes the cabinet narrower towards this round back.  t is a very simple piece of furniture in metal sheet with a metal structure. We designed it as something that is born as a bi-dimensional drawing of a tri-dimensional work? it?s a game, there is unbelief! Then there is the screen, it?s a funny piece.



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