Responsible design is the big issue right now, and Enzo Mari and Gabriele Pezzini have come in strong with the exhibition ‘Che fare’ (what to do) at the Gutharc Gallery (Paris), their search for the standard as the one creative stance that is aware and civic-minded. What they seek is perfect balance between constraints of marketing, production and manufacturer’s culture, in an attempt to evolve a form that is efficient and durable – a standard that survives passing fads and decorative caprices to impose a reference. The line they take is direct, unassuming and exacting, moving counter to the constant clamouring for ‘something new’. Let us invite you to an exclusive preview, put together by the designers themselves (also available in italiano and japanese).

Che Fare
Enzo Mari and Gabriele Pezzini

This small exhibit stems from the idea of comparing the work of two authors who agree upon several aspects of their working practices in spite of having been formed in very different periods of time.

Design was originally conceived by a dozen authors (architects, artists, entrepreneurs) in the ‘30s in Germany, and by the same amount of people in the ‘50s in Italy. All were permeated by the utopian ideology of Socialism and humanistic culture, like the public, that understood and appreciated their works. It was a small avant-garde group, horrified by the “art pompier” and in pursuit of the utopia of labour as a means for the transformation of man. Thus, each design was meant to convey the idea of standard (from the French “etandard”), as an allegory of the values of a society still to be transformed. And they naively thought that the honest intelligence of a product could positively affect the needs and therefore the market. This utopian stance was in line with the material and ideal post-war atmosphere of reconstruction, shared by all Europeans. By the mid ‘60s, the first signs appeared of mismatch with a society which was barbarized by weak thinking and made obtuse by the “global exploitation” of the domination of commodities. By the ‘70s, that kind of poetics was almost incomprehensible.
All those who are proximate to the essence of design today are aware of the unstoppable decay of what is produced. However, even in non-market driven contexts, such as the realization of museums, essays, ambitious exhibitions, objective criticism does not emerge.

This is also due to the excessive proliferation of radical or traditional mannerism, contaminated by unconscious individual precepts or by cynicism. Things are still being produced and they are still being called “design” even when they should be called “art pompier” instead, or, more generously, “decorative art”. Things don’t have to be, they should only appear to be, thus corresponding to the infinite induced needs imposed by the domination of goods. Design entails the contemporary presence of three entities: the author, the entrepreneur, the public. But, where are Mart Stam and Achille Castiglioni today? Where are Adriano Olivetti and Bruno Danese? And the people? Most of them watch “big brother”. One may object that this is notorious, that others have already described it better and that I should restrict myself to carrying out my job as a designer…but nowadays this is almost impossible if I refuse to produce “art pompier”. So, I know of around a million realized “designs” per type (of chair or lamp, it doesn’t matter). Each “design” had to be or appear different. This implied different project approaches (“well-to-do”, “radical”, “protesting”, for interiors, for exteriors, office, home, cheap, luxury, etcetera).
Each of these approaches was realized with alternative technologies (iron, plastic type A, B, C, D, E, F, etc., wood, lamellar, bamboo, etc., forging, deep-drawing, presswork, etc., aluminium, carbon, titanium, etc….That’s enough. Every single choice was only put in place to achieve a different appearance….This obsession explains, with no rhetoric on the poetics, the reason for art pompier and decorative art. A part of the products seems to be almost decent, but it is only a mannerist reproduction of pre-existing projects….I’m often asked to come up with a new project.

Yet, if it has to be new, how can it be done? I know thousands of pre-existing examples for each approach and relatively to each technique. It is impossible to do it! When someone asks me for a new project, I always reply that I accept so long as I’m not paid with an unlikely 1% rights on the sales price (in Italy). I ask to be acknowledged an hourly fee, like any technician or consultant, and have always been denied this.
I have often proposed to dedicate 10% of the yearly investments companies spend on their foolish experimentations to a strategic project entailing a decent realization time, not limited to just a few weeks. I’ve always been denied this. I have often proposed…That’s enough. So, whoever calls me appreciates my competence but I can only work if I give that up…

Does this emptiness refer to my person only? What are the other million “designers”, most of them young, doing? Those that schools are incessantly graduating, with the same industrial methods as goods are constantly produced? All of them, maybe unclearly, wanted a non-alienated job but the majority doesn’t find one…Some think that ”art pompier” is the avant-garde of a new culture…Others, on the contrary, dream of a possible transformation, working on essential simplicity, but everything has already been projected and those specialized in “Big Brother” are not fond of simplicity.
Gabriele Pezzini is also permeated by the idea of “standard” (unfashionable today) and hard-headedly intends operating in that direction. In our conversations, we have agreed upon the fact that a product comes to life in the dialogue between a “designer” and an entrepreneur. The “designer” is responsible for the shape, and the quality of this always emerges from a global project which, particularly today, corresponds to Utopia. Entrepreneurs are not just responsible for the economic aspects of the product’s realization, but also of how to impose it on a fiercely competitive market. A good product can be realized when a practical and efficient entrepreneur embraces at least 20% of Utopia….Gabriele Pezzini knows well that this happens very rarely so…But we have reached such a state of abjection that some kind of change, at least behavioural at first, may seem possible.

Enzo Mari, August 2009

Enzo Mari used to hold the Planning/design course when I attended ISIA in Florence, but he wasn’t one of my professors, so I was only able to follow some of his lessons secretly, by sneaking out of other courses. We met in 2006 when we were both members of a jury in a competition for young designers and, facing the void we were both ascertaining, we started considering what to do. We said goodbye with the commitment to try and do something.
What drew us together is undoubtedly the determination to defend the principles we believe in, at all costs. We are both drastic in our vision of the projects but in the two cases it structures on deeply differing premises. Enzo Mari, to whom very few can be compared, is he who exactly defined the perimeter of what is called Design, an abused term today that justifies all sorts of mannerism.

He has been a radical and coherent self-educated person since the beginnings; I belong to  that new generation of designers which, as Enzo Mari says, has been unlucky enough to go to Design school.  In my way, I have followed my own self-made education, away from courses, trying to understand the justness of the project through the most diverse experiences. This approach has lead me to become radical through subtraction.
The parallelism that we trace in this small exhibit goes beyond the exposed products. These represent us and are a pretext to compare two generations that share a vision and discuss over the same issues. CHE FARE (WHAT TO DO), the title of the exhibition, poses a clear question, although it does so without using the question mark, as we probably know there is no answer. The uncertainty on what the project will be and on the drift of society, on the future of many young people who are facing this profession/passion today, is evident enough and cannot be hidden away any more.

Gabriele Pezzini,  September 2009


“Che fare”
Enzo Mari / Gabriele Pezzini

from 9 january 9th to 20th february 2010

Galerie Alain Gutharc
7 rue Saint-Claude
75003 PARIS
+33 (0)1 47 00 32 10.
www.alaingutharc.com

www.gabriele-pezzini.com

Interviews, High Res and captions on request