Lukas Gschwandtner remembers well what his first design was. “I was nine years old, it was a bag for my mother. She had some samples of upholstery fabrics at home and I decided to make one for her, rethinking hers, redoing it. I have always been interested in knowing how objects have been created, I like to understand how they are used; it is a way of looking, I suppose that my design process begins from there, ”explains the Austrian creator while he gestures with his hands. He has traveled from Vienna to present his installation triclinium at Design Miami, the fair focused on furniture and decoration held in Florida at the end of December 2022, coinciding with the great event in the world of contemporary art, Art Basel Miami Beach. This is the proposal sponsored by Fendi in this show attended by leading international galleries such as Nilufar from Milan or Diletante42 from Brazil.
Silvia Venturini Fendi and her team chose this 27-year-old designer, who trained at Chelsea College in London and now lives in Vienna, because the relationship between body and object is vital in his work. She explains it herself while observing with a satisfied smile the installation born from this collaboration, starring triclinia, those reclining seats for eating or receiving visitors, present in the history of art since classical Antiquity and now updated by the creator in neutral tones and with a sober, almost hospitable staging: “Lukas is a very interesting designer because he explores the union of fashion and design, for me his creations are like pieces of furniture that can be dressed”. The Roman firm has been linked to Design Miami since 2008. This fair had been born only three years earlier, and Venturini Fendi was clear that it wanted to be present. For her, linking the name of the brand that bears her last name, which will be 100 years old in 2025, with the world of object design was essential. “Many times they ask me, why do you support design? And this may be the appropriate answer: I really believe that the process behind designing a garment or designing furniture is very similar, we share many values ”, she specifies. She herself devised in 1997 a bag that has already become an iconic design, the Baguette. How is that accomplished? “A good piece of design is one that stands the test of time,” she summarizes.
Cristina Celestino, Kueng Caputo or Peter Mabeo have been some of the designers that their brand has relied on for this appointment in Miami over the years. “They have nothing in common, and that is what I like about this project”, emphasizes Venturini Fendi, “each one of them speaks their own language, but they all share their craftsmanship, they work with their hands, and that for me is very interesting”. Gschwandtner acknowledges that he likes to get his hands dirty in his processes, touching the materials, playing with them, revealing their patina. He tells that triclinium is a point and followed with respect to Pillow Portraits, his first solo project, which he presented at the Maniera gallery in Brussels in 2021 and in which he was already investigating the relationship between the body and everyday objects such as a chair or a bag, with calico, the cotton fabric that serves as a to create prototypes in fashion, as work material. That fabric, nuanced by very white lighting, creates a sewing studio feeling when you arrive at his installation at Design Miami. With it Gschwandtner recreates the glazes of some of the paintings in which she has been inspired.
Ways of sitting
The interest in how objects and the human body interact is not new to the creator; He once asked all of his friends to send him pictures of them in his favorite chairs to see what that daily act of sitting revealed about them. “I have also spent years collecting hundreds of images of women reclining on couches, paintings, sculptures… It was interesting for me to see how these women were always managed to be portrayed in such an informal, carefree, elegant and beautiful way. I wanted to understand how that happened and how these women, who were usually being portrayed by men, had felt. And probably in projects commissioned by men”, reflects the designer, intrigued by how such private moments have become part of art history.
In order to see first-hand some of those works whose images he has collected —such as the sculpture of Paulina Bonaparte by Antonio Cánova preserved in Villa Borghese— the designer spent a season in Rome. “If you were born there, like me, it is normal to feel attracted to the past and want to reinvent it to project it into the future,” says Venturini Fendi, who sought to transfer that feeling to Gschwandtner. “When Lukas came to see us he was mesmerized by what he saw, he couldn’t help but fall under the Roman spell, being inspired by Ancient Rome. Those women who sat on their day beds were not there to just rest, but to think and also to be seen. They were strong women, who exercised their power, ”he adds.
The designer maintains that putting himself in the shoes of these characters was crucial, which is why he recreates their poses in a video that is projected inside his installation. He seeks to show a new vision, his own, of that past. “I am interested in how we use furniture, I like to think of furniture as something that supports the body, that reveals each person’s own language, and I seek to capture those body languages in my work”, he points out. This interest in understanding structures and dissecting objects has also been transferred to his deconstructed version of the Peckaboo, one of the bags that have marked the history of Fendi. “I wanted to understand how it was created, so I used the plaster and cut out each compartment inside, took the bag apart, and thus my approach to it was born,” he explains. It was almost a tribute to his beginnings, to that bag he made for his mother when he was nine years old, or to the ones he began creating at 14, when he was studying how to work leather in the Viennese baroque palace of Hetzendorf. “My teacher was an architect and for her a bag was a form of architecture, she thought that in both cases you are creating a space, only the scale varies. No matter it is something big or small, you can play with it. And that teaching has marked my life.”
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