Anno Tropico, Italy

A marriage between light, sculpture and movement, the Anno Tropico exhibition at Peep-Hole Contemporary Art Centre in Milan, Italy, by Amsterdam-based design duo Formafantasma, transformed the functioning of the exhibition space.

On view from 17 February to 19 March 2016, Peep-Hole Contemporary Art Centre in Milan, Italy presented Anno Tropico – the first solo show of Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin – a duo of Italian designers based in Amsterdam, collectively known as Formafantasma – in an Italian institution.

The duo’s work reflects on the historical, political and social implications of design, and a critical approach to materials and their use in production. Their research represents a fusion between two schools of design with strong identities: Italian, connected to an idea of craftsmanship and tradition, and Dutch, viewing design as an artistic discipline based on research and innovation.

The exhibition reflects the designers’ interest in the functional and expressive qualities of light, presenting a series of works made with different techniques and materials, together with a site-specific installation that shifts their experimentation onto an architectural scale.

The project is inserted in an environment, which, through the construction of wall-diaphragms corresponding to several windows, screens and modulates the intensity of daylight. The nature of this work transforms not just the architecture but also the functioning of the exhibition space, in which the opening hours vary depending on seasonal changes of the lighting.

Seen as a material, light is at the centre of a research process that investigates the relationship between natural and artificial illumination, shifting from reference to traditional unplugged systems to contemporary innovations in LED lighting and optics.

The exhibition is organised on different levels. Drawings, models and a video establish a dialogue with a selection of finished objects, all created over the last year. These objects mark an important passage in the designers’ practice, now closer to the industrial sphere than to crafts.

The models narrate the path that comes prior to the invention of the finished objects: dichroic glass, optical lenses and a parabolic mirror, assembled with industrial materials like bricks and iron rods, shape the light, generating reflections and shadows in the space.

On the walls, 3D renderings printed on millimetre paper reproduce details of the objects on display, superimposed on graphics and numerical data drawn with a pencil. The details of the lamps are isolated and described from close vantage points, while the lines that define their forms seem to extend, becoming hypothetical axes of diagrams that allude to an exponential consumption of energy.

Certainly in their results, if not in their intention, the exhibition’s objects hover in a liminal dimension between work and object. To the extent that they come to grips with the specificities of sculptural language: the abstraction and geometry of absolute forms, with a nod to such works as those of Romanian artist Brancusi, who was an advocate of one of the most traditional materials of sculpture – bronze – applied for its intrinsic characteristics of weight and reflection.

In formal terms, most of the objects have been designed starting with circles and circular structures, reminiscent of astronomical rings and the armillary sphere used in the past to monitor the transformations of the cosmos. This relates to the accompanying video, installed at the end of the exhibition route, conveying its theoretical premises.

In Anno Tropico, abstract lights and shadows alternate with the presence of more familiar elements, like the gesture of a hand moving objects. The experiments conducted in the designer’s studio, to become acquainted with this new material, are accompanied by an off-screen voice that describes luminous phenomena on a cosmological level. The soundtrack, based on a text written together with Edoardo Tescari, an astronomer at the University of Melbourne, shifts the subject matter onto a more philosophical, existential plane.

Formafantasma’s works have been shown and published at an international level and are part of prestigious public collections like those of MoMA New York, Stedelijk Museum’s-Hertogenbosch, Metropolitan Museum New York, MAK Museum Vienna, Victoria and Albert Museum London, MUDAC Lausanne, Mint Museum of Craft and Design in North Carolina, Chicago Art Institute, and the Textiel Museum in Tilburg. Formafantasma teach in the “Man and Well-Being” department at Design Academy Eindhoven.

Pic: ©2016 Laura Fantacuzzi – Maxime Galati-Fourcade