From the pursuit of happiness of the Stefan Sagmeister film to the rediscovery of the real Sottsass.
The MDFF (Milano Design Film Festival) has reached it’s fifth edition this year bringing another important design-related event, now focused on it’s relationship with the cinematographic arts, to the city of Milan. A relationship that at first sight doesn’t seem that direct, is in reality hiding a lot of common ground, like the fact that most designers state that if they had to do another job, they would most likely be directors. And some directors actually did follow this path, like the Austrian graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, whose film (The Happy Film) has inaugurated the festival, because as he said, “To make a film about happiness is to make a film about life” and the Design Film Festival is completely dedicated to life, either of the great masters of design or the products they’ve created.
The bond that integrates closely these two arts (cinema and design) is completely linked to the world of observation: to see things from a certain perspective, to find and imagine the right framing for any object, predicting which will be the visual sensations in any given ambiance, are all qualities that unite these jobs. As said by Patricia Urquiola, as in the cinematographic world “so in the world of design, somehow you’re always relating to the objects and changing through them”. Urquiola was guest curator of this year’s edition along with Alberto Zontone, his colleague and partner (with whom she shares a great passion for cinema, which often takes them to projection rooms at half past ten in the evening to “relieve the stress from the day”). For this edition, Urquiola and Zontone have secured a widespread search of the most interesting films regarding design, often not shown in Italy; says the guest curator “the film selection was focused on films related to us in different ways: from characters close to ourselves to the thematic, specially the one regarding the characteristic journey of our lives”.
It is often through films, perhaps amateur and made by designers, that we get a clear point of view which gives a new perspective to their entire production. It is the case of Franco Albini, whose passion for filming has been expressed in a brilliant way in the documentary-film Franco Albini: Uno Sguardo Leggero. This documentary shows the original films that Albini made during his trips: bridges, buildings, ruins… anything he found amusing was stored in film. It can be instantly noticed, even without any particular knowledge of cinematography, that his films were made without following any pattern, or following any preliminary plan (which is always the case in most amateur films, underlines jokingly the film’s curator).
This kind of movie gives us a unique chance to see through the eyes of the designer: a piece of his mental freedom which brings him from the visions without patterns over objects to the creation of masterpieces. It is this way, by filming the Golden Gate Bridge, which Albani had a great time observing in different perspectives, that is born the Libreria Veliero project, recently re-designed by Cassina in 2011 based on the original model of his design. The Libreria Veliero, unique in its genre, plays with contrasts of full and empty, air and light: the sensations that filled the designer’s mind by watching the Golden Gate.
Interesting the point of view of Oliviero Toscani, a master of cinematography who knew Albini, who says that Albini “filmed and photographed what he already knew”, it is in fact unknown if the films were made before or after the designs, in other words: if he had recorded shapes that he had already designed and reminded him of his work, or if he designed inspired by his films, as mentions Olivetti “the great artists steal, the others copy”.
Designing was everything for Albini, “things get discovered by designing them” he said. He often designed complete blocks of iconic and traditional shapes, from the architectonic perfection of the Greek temples to the traditional Berger armchair, whose lines gave life to the modern Fiorenza armchair by Arflex.
Another big lover of design and color was Ettore Sottsass, whose documentary Il treno di Sottsass aims to show the complex creative universe of the great master of design. The title takes the name from a quote from the designer, who speaking of himself said “my life is a sort of train without stations”, image that explains quite perfectly the creative liveliness and the unstoppable desire to work of one of the designers that have influenced modernity the most. One of the most innovative elements that are characteristic of the entire production are the use of colors (he created from scratch a catalogue with new categories of unreleased colors). A world of colors and unreleased materials, a new aesthetic and a new ethic are the legacies that Sottsass gave to the world of design.
His color revolution is the base of the Memphis group (founded by Sottsass in Milan on the 11th of December of 1980), a group of around twenty designers who freely take inspiration from Art Deco, Bauhause and from the Pop Art. The period linked to the Memphis project is one of Sottsass most creative ones, so much that many objects created in this period are present in design museums around the world and will remain forever as a symbol of the designer’s entire production; an example is the renowned furniture Casablanca, kept at the Brooklyn Museum.
As he said himself, the passion for colors come from his life in the mountains, where he was born and raised, a world made of very strong sensorial elements: bright colors, intense smells, diverse tactile experiences. All of these are elements that Sottsass tries to reproduce in his objects and that made his production unique in the world of design.
But as mentioned, he not only changed the aesthetic of modern design, but he also introduced for the first time an ethical element in his work: Sottsass wanted to get to know every person for whom he designed. Dinners, meetings, outings, he must know which are the demands and the personalities of his customers; he said “architecture must be made to inhabit, to protect men from the incognito of existence. I try always to meet the people for which I design, to understand what kind of clothing to sew around them”
This is Ettore Sottsass, an avid worker, a man aware of the needs of society and an innovator without limits, and also an extremely humble man if you think of his last interview released, by then old and at the end of an internationally acclaimed career, where he said: “I was told that when I was born my father put a pencil in my hand because he wanted me to become an architect. Maybe it was an almost-success”.