The exhibition ‘Sottsass. Father and son’ is currently on view at Inoperable Gallery in Vienna. The show is an investigation into the cultural and creative relationship between different generations. Sabrina Möller met the curator Marco Sammicheli to talk about this show …
The name of the exhibition is “Father and Son“. This relates not only to Sottsass Senior and Junior but also to the relationship between teacher and students.
Definitely! It furthermore addresses the relationship we nowadays must have with the past. The reason why it is called “Father and Son” is because of the primary knowledge between parents and sons or teachers and students. I choose it because the son decided to be an architect as the father. Until 1953 Sottsass jr was working at his father’s studio in Torino, so it is like he got both the gens of a son and the gens of an architect and a creative person. So basically almost every curatorial project I do or I did since now it’s based on lookin’ consciously at the past and trying to not be a victim of history. On the other hand, I try to digest history and make history a part of my personal research.
How did you come up with the idea and what is so fascinating about those kind of relationships?
I’ve always been lucky to have had good teachers and good parents. They allowed me to be curious about things, offered me the freedom to explore a lot and at the same time I received the discipline to pursue goals and follow rules as well, so I had the chance to break these rules respectively. I think this connection with closer influencers had for me a great importance. No matter if you have or haven’t an harmonic relationship with teachers – these links represent your roots, your gens. Something can come from someone else, from another source but what I want to say is my background and context is always a starting point for my researches and approach in design curating. Design belongs to everyday life.
Why did you decide to choose Sottsass as a leading example for this topic? What makes their relationship so important?
There are different reasons. Of course for my generation, I was born in 1979, he plays an important role for inspirations and references. Sottsass became a sort of obsession and very fashionable again. On the other side I chose Sottsass because he was a very generous person in terms of sharing knowledge and experiences. His studio in Milano was open to different architects and designers from all over the world since the 70s and they were not just working for Sottsass, they were working with Sottsass.
The other reason is that this project was specifically designed for the Inoperable Gallery. Both father and son had a strong relationship with Vienna and Austria. The father was educated in Vienna and the son was born in Innsbruck. Many photos of Ettore Sottsass Junior are taken in Vienna, for example at „Kleines Café“. He also collaborated with Hans Hollein to realize furniture together. So there was more than a geographical reason to recall Sottsass and to bring Sottsass back to the contemporary audience, especially in Vienna.
In which way is this relationship visible in their artworks? What are the differences and similarities?
The similarities are in the method. Even though Sottsass’ father couldn’t really travel around the world like his son, who became a sort of bridge between different worlds – at that time before the internet and low-cost flights it was such a privilege to be in United States and the other day in India and then in Japan and then back in central Europe and Milano – but the father was a very curious person and worked with an extended range of colleagues. In Italy it was not really easy to work if you weren’t politically on the Fascist regime after the WWI. In the studio of Sottsass Jr. in Milano, like in his father’s one in Turin, there was just a table and a vase with flowers and a lot of colour pens, pencils, paper as well as a telephone. He was not dealing with many other things except of these basic tools to develop an extremely visionary world. In his world objects look like architecture, architecture looks like tools or objects. So you can have vases that look like towers and houses that look like magic boxes.
In addition to those ceramic multiples you decided to show works by Adam and Luca. Why did you decide to choose them? Did you have any criteria?
Adam, who is an architect based in London, he teaches at AA where he has a laboratory platform called Saturated Spaces. Actually it was funny how I’ve met him, it was on Instagram. At that time, more than a year ago, Adam won the U.K. prize for architecture which contained a scholarship as well as a residency at the British Academy in Rome. He was doing a beautiful reportage through Instagram connected with Twitter. He was flying around Rome and Italy to take pictures. Then I thought: well, we always need someone else from abroad to tell us how beautiful Italy is. I started replying to his tweets, sending compliments and emailed him. Then I visited him at his studio at the British Academy in Rome where he developed an amazing project called “the roman singularity”. Then I invited him to Milano which was the beginning of our collaboration.
I picked Luca because we did a project together years ago during the first edition of Istanbul Design Biennale. I could see and follow his work through social media and saw that he was doing great stuff. I really hoped that we would get an occasion to work together soon. But the main reason is that Luca belongs to a certain group of artists that have a strong relationship with street art and Inoperable Gallery worked quite a lot with street artists for almost more than ten years. So I supposed Luca was a good link between me, my background and story and Inoperable Gallery.
So would you say that both are influenced by Sottsass? And if so to what extend? Are there some similarities?
I can see some references but I can clearly say the works at Inoperable are definitely Adam and definitely Luca. They didn’t lie to themselves and of course in both of them you can see Sottsass – both father and son – references and echoes. This is an opportunity for me and the authors to develop our languages, to get through history and to use the history and the professional life of Sottsass in the most noble way.
With Luca and Adam you chose to show a designer and an artist. For Sottsass there was no difference between different kind of media and presumably not between those kinds of definitions…
Yes, he made no differences. He was at the same time a great photographer, a very good product designer, an architect, a critic and a painter. He was a multi-talented person.
And how did you chose the works by Sottsass?
Sottsass father had some projects that have never been exhibited out of Italy. Sottsass Senior work is only known by people who have something to do with architecture. For me it was important to bring these works out to a different and wider audience. The vases by his son are known, but not so well known as other items of him. When you see them you think they are from Memphis period but they aren’t because they where developed during the late 50s beginning of the 60s at Bitossi company, close to Florence, after coming back from India. This company is still selling those vases and you clearly see references from his Indian trips – like the Stupa typology and certain architectural lines comibined with colors and shapes. To place them here in the window of Inoperable Gallery feels like a sort of Sottsass shrine.
What makes the work of Sottsass still so contemporary and still so influential?
They are timeless. They are like typologies in the use of lines and colors. The use of d forms is something that can be eternal and contemporary at the same time. This is the link that I like to create. Even though he was living in a certain period he was able to make these timeless pieces. Sottsass senior and jr were able to mix and develop languages that were not only exceptional for their time but also had an enduring relevance into the present day.
// Interview by Sabrina Möller
SOTTSASS. FATHER AND SON
16/ 09 – 24/ 10/ 2015
Inoperable Gallery • Stiegengasse 2/3 • 1060 Vienna • Austria