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This is not about us

27 September 2022

Simone Farresin & Andrea Trimarchi (Formafantasma) © Blickfänger
Design duo Formafantasma finds inspiration in the context of their work. Their mission is to be even more radical in what they do. “We would love to bring design education to the south of Italy. We like places where everyone assumes nothing substantial can happen.”

As far as Andrea Trimarchi (39) and Simone Farresin (42) are concerned, their impressive career first took off in Eindhoven. Andrea: “When we started at Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) after finishing our studies in Italy, we were already working. Having a platform like the DAE Graduation Show, where we met so many people and companies, was very important for the grounding of our practice. As soon as we graduated, we felt it was the right moment to start studio Formafantasma and we had clients straight away.”

Focus on ecology

Formafantasma works from both Milan and Rotterdam. With industrial clients such as Cassina, Prada and Sportmax – to name but a few – they increasingly integrate both commercial assignments and more research-based projects. But whether it’s research, product or spatial design, consultancy, education or exhibitions, Formafantasma always starts with the context.

‘It is impossible to do what we do as designers without involving the environment and communities’

Andrea Trimarchi, Formafantasma

Simone: “We are most inspired by working within a certain context. When a client comes to us with a very good brief and a profound understanding of who we are, we can deliver our best work. We often look to the past to understand why something exists. We believe historical understanding is part of the role you play as a designer.”
Andrea: “Our practice is becoming more united and crossover, with ecology being a major concern. We actively work with companies on topics we are interested in. It cannot just be about making good or bad products; we must put our research into practice to create something truly valuable. It is impossible to do what we do as designers without involving the environment and communities.”

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Simone: “Not all clients want to address this, although it has become easier in recent years. Partly because we ourselves now have a better understanding than at the beginning of our career, but also because companies are starting to ask for something other than a practical solution.”
Andrea: “Artek didn’t start with ‘can you design a product’, but with the ecology of their production. Like us, they were interested in trees and how they are harvested. So, they asked us to look at their ecological development and review their material applications and their distribution processes. That level of engagement is important to us.”

(Ex)change

The collaboration with Artek resulted in Cambio: On Finnish Forestry and was exhibited at Helsinki Design Museum. The expo can be seen as a spin-off of Formafantasma’s wider Cambio project – an ongoing investigation into the governance of timber. Cambio, from the medieval Latin cambium –– which can mean either ‘change’ or ‘exchange' –– was first commissioned by Serpentine Galleries in London (UK, 2020) and Centro Pecci in Prato (Italy, 2021).
Andrea: “Why harvest trees if we can also make furniture from one single tree blown down in a storm?” 
Simone: “Design can be successful in so many ways, but is especially relevant when it manages to question preconceived ideas. This is a development we see across the board. Our clients understand that using design diagonally and strategically can open new doors that enable real impact.”

‘We can’t stand being shallow. Design doesn’t always have to be heavily engaged, but we can’t afford to be superficial’

Simone Farresin, Formafantasma

Simone: “As soon as we use materials or interact with communities, we can’t afford to be superficial. Not all design has to be heavily engaged, but we can’t stand being shallow or things not being well thought out. Which does not – at all! – rule out fun, joy and exuberance. What design should not be, is an expression of personal identity. Design is never the outcome of one person. This is something we see very clearly with our students; people working in groups are instantly more focused on design that addresses the questions of the world we live in. This kind of design derives its strength from people being touched by the idea conveyed by the design.”
Andrea: “It is, of course, a way of working that comes with restrictions. For example, in the exhibition design of Fondation Cartier ‘s Mondo Reale at the Triennale Milano (on show until 11 December 2022, red.) we didn’t use any plaster walls. The institution accepted our proposal to create the video room walls out of paper sheets. In that case, you do have to accept the limitation that the sound of the videos will travel.”

DDW is a celebration of ideas

Simone: “Dutch Design Week over the years has always managed to shine a light on the new generation. Which is not to say there aren’t fantastic designers in their 70s, 80s or even 90s. Being young is not so much about age, but a fresh way of thinking.”
Andrea: “Of all the design events, we think DDW is the best, with the Design Academy as an important pilar. New, fragile voices need to be protected and nurtured, and talented individuals need a place where they can convey their ideas. DDW provides just that: a good amount of energy and good spaces. DDW is a celebration of ideas. The risk is the demand to be more commercial, but we see that Eindhoven recognises that design is what makes this city and has an idealism that deserves to be protected.”
Simone: “Our ambassadorship is a way for us to give back what we have been given. We spent so much time here, were educated here and learned an enormous amount of things. We are very Italian, but just as much Dutch designers as the next ones. This was the place where we were first recognised as a creative force. We might have a bit more of an outsider perspective now, which helps us identify possibilities but also problems that are arising.”

Not about us

Andrea: “Design is a tool to help us understand things better. That is why we are hosting a symposium which will be very politically charged and engaged. Ecology is definitely going to be a topic, as well as gender issues and colonialism. Very international for sure; we have never cared about a national perspective. When you start to label things it quickly becomes problematic, because it requires definitions and then some people will fit the description and others won’t. That is not us.”
Simone: “The symposium will not be about us at all, anyway. Our way of showing who we are is by presenting young talents, such as our students who are well spoken and address incredibly relevant topics. Our ambassadorship is a great opportunity to initiate conversations, so that they can carry on and make things even better.”
Andrea: “On a related and semi-personal note, as heads of the Geo Design MA at the Design Academy, we are also very much looking forward to the first expos of our students at the Graduation Show.”

Radical

Andrea: “We’re not yet set for founding our own educational programme, which is an ambition for sure. We have always been interested in the south of Italy; places where everyone assumes nothing substantial can happen. Much like Eindhoven, back in the day. We like the idea of taking education to a place where people don’t expect it.” 
Simone: “We are completely ready to make what we do even more radical; all set to push the bar further still. And perhaps also to say ‘no’ a little more often.”