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November 26, 2008

Campana Brothers

Fernando and Humberto Campana have shaped the look of contemporary design for more than two decades. Celebrated for their whimsical furniture and lighting, the Campana Brothers have received the 2008 Designer of the Year at Design Miami/. Artkrush editor Paul Laster recently connected with the prolific duo in their studio in São Paulo, Brazil to discuss their practice and new designs.

AK:  I've read that one of you practiced law and the other studied architecture. How did you start designing furniture?

CB:  After receiving his law degree, Humberto took some classes in terracotta sculpture, and he saw his calling in the art world. Then he opened his studio, where Fernando soon joined him to give him a hand during the summer, and that evolved into a partnership of more than 25 years.

AK:  What inspires your design practice?

CB:  Brazil is what inspires us — its people, habits, and landscape. We take inspiration from everyday scenes, from what we see on the streets, the music we hear, and the trips we take.

AK:  You've referenced the famous favelas of Rio de Janeiro in your chairs, sculptures, and installations. Why are these neighborhoods so influential for you?

CB:  These housing complexes are untouched by globalization. They are fragile, poetic, and spontaneous. The favela people have their own design viewpoint, which is influenced by their needs and the availability of supplies.

AK:  You grant your assistants a lot of freedom in creating studio pieces, such as the Banquete, Multidao, and Sushi chairs. What role does their collaboration play in the end product?

CB:  The studio Campana series are custom, tailor-made pieces that require a lot of time and dedication to make. Our collaborators are an important part of the process. We believe in designing our projects with democratic means of production. The humanization of labor is a fundamental part of our work.

AK:  Amazingly, your Vermelha rope chairs, which were designed in the early '90s and only made in the studio, are now being mass-produced by Edra. How are these chairs manufactured? Are they identical or are there slight variations?

CB:  They are produced in Tuscany by the attentive and wise hands of Giuseppe Altieri, who was a craftsman of wine baskets. He was put in charge of manufacturing the Vermelha. This chair is an industrial product, but each one is one of a kind.

AK:  The TransPlastic collection, which you premiered at Albion in London in 2007, incorporates common plastic furniture, water containers, and wooden stools in an elaborately woven, sculptural form. What was the motivation for this collection and how has the original concept evolved?

CB:  The TransPlastic series is like a sci-fi tale about the struggle between nature and plastic. It started by trying to merge plastic water containers and wicker, and evolved into meteors, clouds, islands, and seating structures. This year, TransPlastic has evolved with the Trans... chair for New York's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Cristalina piece for the Second Nature exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo, and the Diamantina I, II, and III for Design Miami/.

In the Trans... chair, the plastic pieces are being expelled from the wicker structure. In the Cristalina, the vegetal world meets itself in a wicker and wood seating structure. The Diamantina is the current step in this saga — the meeting between the vegetal world, represented once again by wicker, and the mineral world, represented by the amethyst crystals held by the structure.

AK:  You are also designing the HSBC PB Lounge at Design Miami/. What are you making there, and what is its inspiration?

CB:  The HSBC PB Lounge is inspired by the Brazilian Indian house, the "oca," which is made out of raffia and is very good in terms of thermal and sound comfort. This is an aesthetic concept that we have been investigating since our Swarovski Crystal Palace chandelier My Private Oca; the scenography for our Design Museum, London exhibition, Zest for Life; and the My Home exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.

AK:  Shortly after Design Miami/ ends, you'll be in New York at the Guggenheim Museum for the premiere of a new production of Peter & the Wolf. How are you updating Prokofiev's children's classic?

CB:  Inspired by our Favela chair, we are constructing the characters from slats of wood, and we will dress them with jackets and shirts made out of small fabric dolls from the Eperança community — the same dolls that we use in the Multidao chairs. Also, there will be a small forest made from PET bottles.

The Campana Brothers' work is on view in Design Miami/ Designer of the Year exhibition, Moss and Albion’s Design Miami/ booth, and the HSBC PB Lounge at Design Miami/ December 3 to 6.

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