Atelier Biagetti: design as performance and metaphor

Alberto Biagetti and Laura Baldassari are inspired by the obsessions of the world they live in. Their creations’ expressive functionality triggers an emotional short circuit that makes design more than a way to meet a need, and turns it into a chance to reflect, enabling new interactions between physical and psychological space. Atelier Biagetti come out with one collection a year, showcasing the running themes of collective rituals and cults. In 2015, their “Body Building” series transformed fitness equipment into collector’s items, spotlighting the eternal search for the perfect body. “No Sex” analyzed the obsession for sex and constructed a transcendent and futuristic rehab center, a place to detox and seek refuge from a hyper-sexualized society, where objects (handmade in Milan in limited edition) are ready to activate unexpected memories and connections. This year, the trilogy ends with “God”: an exploration of money as our divinity, bringing us apparent power and happiness. Alberto Biagetti and Laura Baldassari have different backgrounds – design for him and opera for her – but are able to build a virtual stage where objects and observers act according to ever-changing rules, always telling new stories. We asked them about their work and innovative approach...

What are you working on at the moment?
We are focused on new initiatives and exhibitions scheduled for next year, including a very ambitious “conscious” project for which we are scouting the right partner. We also continue to work with different architects on site-specific projects, primarily in the United States.

You decided to create one series of objects every year, almost as if you were developing new concepts in fashion. Why?
We think it’s important to tell a story, and the current trilogy had to have very distinct episodes. We are not interested in designing new products per se: so many exist already, more or less useful. Setting up a whole scene where objects are like characters in a movie, activating connections between bodies, space and memory: that’s much more interesting to us.

How do your projects begin?
They begin when we least expect it, often in the car while we are simply throwing thoughts back and forth, talking about little obsessions that have become the new virtual spaces we are immersed in. After that, our work becomes surgical: it’s interesting to use an existing alphabet with a completely unexpected point of view, so that each story speaks through pre-encoded forms, universally recognized clichés everyone knows. We work on the very DNA of a specific situation, and start imagining the scene, the people who live there, the objects that interact with their body and relate to their psyche. Then matter emerges spontaneously. Every story has its temperature and its own level of saturation, brightness and texture, just like a painting in a way.

How much of yourselves do you put into the projects you create?
In every project we first put our whole set of habits and creative imagination, without limits, in complete immersion; then we take a step back and see everything from the outside, looking for a synthesis that is based on the tightest of balances.

How would you describe your aesthetics?
We are not attached to any particular aesthetics: we want to be like mutants seeking simplicity. The “No Sex”, “Body Building” and “God” trilogy curated by Maria Cristina Didero was a real challenge, a journey that fully engaged us. We worked on each of the subjects with apparent lightness and a good amount of irony. The issues we touched upon have no limits and could be tackled in infinite ways, but we used them to talk about who we are today and who we imagine we will be tomorrow.

What is your “obsession”, as designers?
To engage, trigger feelings, open questions, and make people lose their bearings.

Your projects lead to reflection, but with a playful and allegoric allure. What role does playfulness have in design?
We strongly believe that playfulness is a powerful key to access and confront any issue, to look at the world and at ourselves from a different perspective.

What makes “good design”, in your opinion?
There is design in every thing, every day. Design changes behaviors and accompanies desires, habits, it opens up whole new views: we think it works if it does all these things. We see design as the main actor in the intimate space of the home, our private theater of vices and habits. It requires interaction, relations, and therefore can trigger a real short circuit between space, objects and body; in this sense, design can find its truth and project us where we want to be.

In the “Body Building” series you merged functional sports equipment with pure aesthetics and appealing form, making these objects fit in with a home’s interior decor. Do you believe form and function can both be enhanced and “work” together?
We really wanted to create a strong sense of disorientation between the ideas of function and aesthetics. So we turned iconic gym equipment, designed to stress the body, into something seductive and beautiful that can instead welcome the body: we redesigned it using fine materials like leather, silver, gold, soft fur – topped with amazing manufacturing. We played a game of pure seduction to talk about the obsession for physical shape, and most importantly engage our perceptions.

Design has always provided solutions to problems, but rarely has been able to “interpret” reality or phenomena. Your creations, on the other side, seem to always represent reality from your perspective. Do you think designers can be “storytellers”?
We never design “dead”, inert objects: we always require some kind of interaction and room for action. Hence our need to use performances as further means of expression, in close-knit dialog with things and space. This allows us to create a real counterpoint between elements, and to immerse the audience in an action where they become observers and protagonists at the same time.

Do you think good design can “feed the soul” at the same level as art? Or does functionality make it less stately by default?
Art and design are different fields. We find objects’ strong ties to functionality intriguing: “limits” are often chances to rethink something and to find new solutions.

You explored one of our society’s taboos with the “No Sex” series. Do you think good design can erase taboos and prejudice?
Design is a tool, in constant relation with our daily life, and can certainly spark debates, start lines of thought, consider specific issues, tell stories and – why not? – become a mirror where we can see ourselves, our prejudices and our taboos reflected.

What is your advice for young emerging designers?
Be brave and find what makes you unique.

Is there a company you would like to work with?
IKEA – perhaps the most interesting company to start a conversation with, if you want to help large-scale industrial production grow closer to environmental issues. Today, design can champion this crucial shift, and nobody can do more to help change our direction that this Swedish multinational.

What must always be present in your atelier when you are creating?
A lot of colored pencils and way too much chaos!

What are the greatest challenges designers face today?
It depends a lot on the point of view you are taking. Companies are in deep crisis, but design so completely envelops our lives that “everything is design”, and all that matters is finding your own code of expression.

What piece do you wish you had designed?
The “Lounge Chair”: Charles and Ray Eames didn’t just design an armchair, they invented a new way of sitting, changing the domestic behaviors of a whole generation – and more. It’s genius.

Interview by Barbara Palladino

© Atelier Biagetti

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