Italy is quite easily the design studio to the world. When Mark Twain said, “The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo,” he was only expressing a sentiment that is echoed across the entire spectrum of people who have experienced Italy. The trendsetter for automobiles, furniture, fashion apparel, accessories, jewellery – the Italians are able to bridge the delicate divide between classic and contemporary. We bring here an exclusive interview with Dr Lisa Hockemeyer for the readers of The Luxury Chronicle.
By Meher Castelino
The hall of the Rachna Sansad Institute of Fashion and Design was packed to standing room only when Dr Lisa Hockemeyer presented an interesting lecture with a PPT presentation on the subject “100% Made in Italy – the Fascination of Italian Design” and explained the link between the old and new mediums. Born in Bremen, Germany, in 1972, Lisa is an art and design historian, graduate from University College London, with a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a PhD at Kingston University, London.She is currently coordinator of the Product and Accessory Design programs at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, visiting Research Fellow at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Kingston University, and lecturer at the Polytechnic of Milan. Between 1999 and 2005 she taught History of Design at the Universities of Kent and Bedfordshire and at the Design Museum in London. Lisa carries out multi-and interdisciplinary research, particularly on design, material culture, and German and Italian art of the twentieth century. She has been appointed curator of the German section of the forthcoming exhibition Design the Female Way – Creativity in Comparison, dedicated to craftsmanship and design by women from different European countries, which will be staged at the Expo 2015.
Her recent publications include The Hockemeyer Collection: 20th Century Italian Ceramic Art (2009), “Manufactured Identities: Ceramics and the Making of (Made in) Italy” in the book Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design (2013) and “The straw donkey paper: a re-discovery of an exhibition” (2014). Consultant and curator of art galleries and private collections, she curated the exhibition Terra Incognita: Italy’s Ceramic Revival at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London (2009). Lisa Hockemeyer shares her thoughts on design with The Luxury Chronicle.
Please tell us a little about your book on ceramics?
The book ‘The Hockemeyer Collection 20th Italian Ceramic Art’ is a portrait of a private collection of important Italian ceramic art of the twentieth century. It shows a selection of sixty works by twenty-three of Italy’s most celebrated artists and ceramists, among them Marino Marini, Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti and Carlo Zauli. Of extraordinary varied artistic expression the selected works are examples of the exceptional virtuosity of recent and contemporary Italian creativity.
Did you design the Hockemeyer collection if so how long did it take you?
Building a collection sensibly is an emotional and cognitive act, an evolution of enthusiasm and thirst for learning that wants infinite passion and time but also requires incisive caution and reserve in choosing the individual works. The becoming of this collection, the first works of which were purchased in the early nineties, is the fruit of a long-standing passion that my father, my mother and I share for Italian civilization, culture and creativity from the heights of the Renaissance to today. So one could speak of a shared curatorship and many good moments of creative dialogue.
How long did it take to write it and why did you pick the subject of ceramics?
Thanks to the privilege of having grown with the collection itself and many previous years of study and fieldwork in Italy dedicated to the study of Italian ceramic art and material culture of the twentieth century, this book took less than a year to write. The material was already prepared long ago. It is a fortunate coincidence that I could unite my academic field of specialism, Italian art and design of the twentieth century with the study of ceramics. In fact, I made it the subject of my PhD through which I could provide many new insights as regards the vital role the fine arts, the crafts and the small artisanal industries have played in the becoming of what today is famously known as design Made in Italy.
How has the book helped the design students?
This book has significantly contributed to shedding new light on the synthesis of avant-garde ideals, crafts tradition and popular culture in twentieth century Italian fine art and material culture production. It shows the emergence of new aesthetic languages thanks to the blurring of distinctions between the fine and the applied arts through, the bold reworking of traditional forms of vases and plates and the production of exceptional sculptural pieces in clay by both, artists and artisans often having worked together and under the same roof.
Have you seen the work of Indian designers?
I have seen mostly examples of Indian fashion and jewellery design.
What do you think of it?
In fashion design I appreciate the conscious exploitation and application of the intrinsic qualities of materials and colours representative of India and in the reworking of national and traditional costumes into modern-day, contemporary interpretations.
Is there any synergy between Italian and Indian designs?
Yes, absolutely. While I do not see any direct synergy between contemporary Italian and Indian design as to date, I believe that the ‘Italian way’ offers an interesting, if not suitable model to emulate, for maximising the exceptionally promising potential of Indian design through the evaluation of her own immensely rich cultural and artistic heritage and appraisal of the unique artisanal and technical know-how her small and medium scale industry has to offer.
What are the USP qualities of Italian designs and designers?
The ‘Made in Italy’ label encapsulates many different qualities and connotations associated with Italian design. Many of these are connected to our emotional wellbeing and address our need and desire for beauty, artistic and sculptural impact, harmonious forms, shapes and colour but also fun, irony and humour. Italians know how to do that. Equally important if not most Italian designs stand for quality. Quality in Italian design implies bringing the former associations on par with high quality materials, highly skilled, usually small scale artisanal production by specialists capable to apply the knowhow that has been handed down for generations and the latest research in manufacturing technologies and material properties.
How different are Italian from French, Spanish, British and German designers?
Italian design is entirely different from German, French, Spanish and British design. The historical roots are different. Whereas most of the former have come out of and developed a design aesthetic as fruit of the problems associated with modernity and large scale production facilities, Italian design has never experienced such and is built upon artisan production facilities and high culture.
What is the future design direction in Italian product design?
Italy’s future direction in product design lies in her capacity to exploit the intrinsic qualities associated with Italian design to date: quality in production, innovation, artistic input, luxury, artisanal know-how, the use of high quality materials. The new direction will be on comfort.
Has Italian design affected the world?
For sure! It is suffice to look at the 1972 MoMA exhibition ‘Italy: The New Domestic Landscape’ and the great manifestations of the Italian design Avant-garde of the 1970’s, from Global Tools to Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini and Enzo Mari to understand the vital impact of Italian design on the global design community.
As a German how do you see German design – has it affected Italian design?
No. German design has had very little impact on Italian design. The history and model of German production, the ideas of the Werkbund, the Bauhaus, functionalism, an aesthetic that follows the imperatives of mass-production technologies etc. are diametrically opposed to the Italian socio-historical and economic model and hence to design aesthetic.
Italian design was intricate in the past now it is more minimal?
Italian design is still intricate but it appears less loud today and more subdued. Nowadays focus lies on comfort, materials, and refined sensory experiences.
What is the importance of ceramics in art and design?
Ceramics has remained a primary material in design, surface and art production today. In consumer commodity production design has never lost its importance. There is more around today then ever. In art, it has been accepted in many countries as a material suitable for material for fine art. Especially in surface design ceramics, in its many different forms and compositions, has seen a very strong re-evaluation.
Has the work of Leonardo Da Vinci and other Italian designers influenced modern design?
Yes. Italy’s past, her heritage in design and material cultural but also the other arts such as music and literature continue to serve as an inspiration to contemporary Italian designers. Italian design of today is an evolution of Italy’s great past and counts on the knowhow of passed-on tradition and skills in manufacture.