Designer Gaetano Pesce advocates the right for objects to assume their own identity.
Gaetano Pesce believes in making unique objects and allowing them the chance to have imperfections. As one of today's most original and versatile designers, the Italian designer-architect focuses on infusing design with individuality.
Widely celebrated designer Gaetano Pesce always keeps on eye on individuality, and has attracted great attention and acclaim. He has had solo shows at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein in Germany. References to current affairs and history sometimes inform the ideas behind his pieces.
Born in La Spezia in 1939, Pesce was brought up by his mother, Alda, a concert pianist; his father Vittorio, a naval officer, was killed during the Second World War. He studied architecture and industrial design at the University of Venice. Growing up in an era that favored "absolute beauty," he quickly rejected this in favor of an unconventional aesthetic.
Based in New York since 1980, he founded Fish Design, which produces vases, jewelry and objects, in Milan in the mid-1990s. His objects are made of plastic, as Pesce prefers working with technologically advanced materials.
Pesce's desire for uniqueness resonates strongly today. Given the proliferation of mass-produced, globalized products, many of us are crying out for something special.
You had your first exhibition in Padua at the age of 17. What did you present?
I was making sculptures and showing drawings done with pen and ink. Design came much later. At the age of 21, I wrote a manifesto about how repeating yourself as an artist was wrong, that you had the right to be incoherent without any consistent style, and should be able to change your style following changes in everyday life.
You've said that objects, like people, have the right to be different. Is this the underlying philosophy behind your work?
In a certain way, yes. If people are different, then objects also have that right. The idea of something being 'badly done' is a consequence of how human beings are with their faults. When an object has a mistake, it's a way to celebrate its uniqueness. It should fight to be useful even if it's broken. Today we have possibilities in production to enable each piece to be different. This is true for companies in all types of industries, from fashion to furniture, lighting and cars. The market is asking for unique pieces. If you have something that nobody else has, it has a very important quality. There are more and more people following this kind of concept and the numbers of customers are growing. This is the way of the future.
You've been advocating this approach to design since the 1960s and 1970s. Do you feel that society has taken three decades to catch up with your way of thinking?
Before, my work was considered very radical and avant-garde. Maybe today it's less radical and more part of what people are starting to desire. I'll give you an example: in 1969, I made a series of chairs called 'Up armchairs' for C & B Italia in Novedrate, Como, Italy. The company stopped producing them eight years later. Then in 2000, they asked me to restart production, saying they thought they could sell those objects much better today. In other words, those objects had been made too early but are now part of what people desire.
When did you first start using plastic materials, and what appeals to you about them?
When I left school, I realized that I hadn't learned anything about contemporary materials. So I started visiting factories making very advanced chemical materials. I was about 24 or 25, and I recognized that because our era is not rigid but elastic and multidisciplinary, we should use materials that can assume different forms at different times. Traditional materials like marble, metal, wood or glass are not able to do this. Contemporary materials represent our time, and I want my work to be a witness to this time.
Your project for a plastic pavilion at the Expo de Beauté 2000, a beauty exhibition in Avignon, France, was rejected after environmentalists criticized the polluting use of plastic. How do you defend this?
Yes, it is true that environmentalists stopped my project in Avignon, and I never understood why. Statistics show that 75 percent of air pollution comes from cars, planes, trucks, etc.; 20 percent is due to different kinds of use of petroleum, and five percent is due to the use of what we call "plastic." In Avignon, like in many other places, people are very conservative and against my projects because they are different from Avignon people.
You say that you have tried to communicate feelings of surprise, discovery, optimism, stimulation, sensuality, generosity, joy and femininity into your architecture. Which of your projects best expresses this?
I have no idea! But in architecture, it is not the dimensions that count, but the quantity of innovation that makes it advanced for its time. I believe that a lot of architecture in Japan, Brazil, New York or Los Angeles is frigid, severe and geometric. It is still a kind of expression related to the movements that led architecture at the beginning of the 20th century. There is nothing except functionality and a certain idea of beauty and elegance. Today we need architecture that can establish feelings of touch and transparency, warmth and softness. I am trying to do something more advanced. I believe making elegant buildings with stupid materials like marble is over.
What architectural projects are you working on?
A center for the wellbeing of the body, like a spa, in a complex piece of land near St. Petersburg, Russia, for a Russian client. What I am trying to do is express the project from the identity of Russia and St. Petersburg and translate certain elements of the typically Russian landscape, such as the onion-shaped cupola, into the project. Architecture should be able to express the identity of a place and the feeling of being related to that place.
Did you also seek to express the local identity of Salvador de Bahia when you were building your house in Brazil?
Absolutely. If you know the identity and cultural tradition of Salvador de Bahia, you will see that the house expresses this very well. It is full of colors, symbols and figurative elements. The expression of the local culture is related to Africa, and those elements are very present in the house.
What's your definition of luxury?
Luxury for me is having a different life from others. I have a very luxurious life because I am not doing something that others do. Luxury isn't about going to a certain resort or having luxury goods. A woman who thinks she is important because she has a lot of diamonds is stupid and vulgar.
If luxury were...
Something that is innovative. I don't believe in a gentleman thinking that a Ferrari can make him more powerful. This is a handicapped mind.
A capacity to make a new experience.
An original brain. When a person has an original brain it is luxurious and interesting.
Where there is a way of life that I don't know. Visiting a place of originality can provoke new ideas, and that is very luxurious.
Gaetano Pesce's design is presented by Moss Gallery in New York, Nilufar in Milan and Galerie L.J. Beaubourg in Paris.