Martino Gamper is an Italian designer based in London, internationally regarded through his project 100 Chairs in 100 Days. This group of works was exhibited in London in 2007, at the Milan Triennale in 2009 and at YBCA in San Francisco in 2010. Published by Dent-De-Leone as a book, 100 Chairs in 100 Days and its 100 Ways was recently republished as a pocket book.
Do you consider yourself an artist or a designer?
A designer who uses an artistic approach to design.
In what sense?
I come up with my own ideas, instead of being commissioned. An artist tries to create his own world.
You studied sculpture and design in Vienna, and then design in London at the Royal College of Art. In between these two were you working in Milan?
Yes, I was working in Milan with Matteo Thun.
Why did you go to live in London?
In the late 90s London seemed to have the most interesting ideas in Europe and the most interesting people gathered together. Music played an important part, and there was an overlapping of different arts.
“Every day we work, we eat, we sit, and also think, in a chair.”
Martino Gamper, photographs © Angus Mill
You were a pupil of Ron Arad and before that of Michelangelo Pistoletto at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. What did they teach you?
Michelangelo was working on his projetto arte that for him was an extension of contemporary art practice. His idea was that not every artist can become famous as an artist. Why not go into other fields like architecture, design, fashion or music.
And Ron Arad?
Ron wanted to give us individually a voice within our own work so we could become independent from commissioners. He was also very interested in the physical material.
Where did you start?
I am from Merano in Italy and I did a classic apprenticeship in cabinet making when I was 14. It was very interesting to work with a master and also go to school.
What did Merano give you?
It gave me skill and craftsmanship. Merano had a mix of the old world and the recent past; traditional alpine buildings, the Viennese influence of the late 19th century and also rationalist Italian architecture.
How did you begin?
At 19 I finished my apprenticeship and wanted a larger horizon. I was climbing mountains at that time and from the tops could see that there was something else far away. I bought a round the world ticket and travelled for two years. First I went to America to learn English in suburban Pennsylvania and I stayed with a family. Then I went around the States, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Philippines and Thailand. My plan was to go to India and climb the Himalayas, but after two years my sister came to visit me in Thailand, maybe sent by my parents, and bought me home again. At that point I knew that I could break out of the system I grew up with and that gave me the freedom and the courage to pursue my own work, so I went to study in Vienna.
“I really enjoy working with Italian artisans.”
You became famous for your exhibition ‘100 Chairs in 100 Days’ in London in 2007. What was it?
I was always experimenting in college, my thesis was about corners in rooms. Then from that project I started collecting broken or abandoned chairs in the street. Since very early in my childhood I was satisfied by repairing and giving new life to objects. Initially I just created new chairs out of old chairs, but I decided to be more methodical and to have a story. So I made one a day for one year, all different.
The idea was to do something without drawing on paper?
The drawing was 3 dimensional, by making the chairs.
Where are these chairs?
They now belong to a private collector from Milan, and the condition of sale was that the 100 chairs have to stay together and be shown around the world. At the moment they are going to Australia. The truth is that there are only 99, and for each exhibition I make a new one; and that keeps the 100 project alive.
Are you obsessed by chairs?
A slight obsession. For me it was important to understand what a chair could be, by mixing styles and materials.
Chairs have obsessed famous designers like Gio Ponti, Carlo Mollino, Jean Prouvé, and many others. What is the point, is it to find the perfect chair?
No other object is so close to our body, and they give us support. The table is different. The bed is different because it’s more private. Every day we work, we eat, we sit, and also think, in a chair.
Have you found your ideal chair?
There is no perfect chair. With the 100 chairs I wanted to see how many different ones I could create.
Are they signed?
Each one has a number and a name.
What else are you building?
My studio is small, five people, and half of them work in the workshop where we physically make the pieces. I also work with artisans, for instance in Italy.
What else do you do? Tables, sofas, bookcases?
I design glass, ceramics, kitchens, exhibitions, beds. There is no limit in a house. I have done restaurants and shop windows, but there must be something that challenges me creatively.
What kind of materials do you use?
Mostly wood, and also other reclaimed materials from buildings. I work with metal, fabric and leather.
Do you like color?
I learned from my wife Francis. She is a sculptor and always uses a lot of color. Sometimes we work together, and for instance we had a show in New York at Anton Kern Gallery. She places her figurative work on the furniture which I make to support her work.
Now what are you doing?
Now I am working on a monograph, a book about 12 years of my work. I am trying to bring my work together and see what I have actually done. I am also doing an exhibition called Vasum. I am making vases using any material, shape and process that I can find. This project might take me two years, as I will make between 500 and 1,000 different vases. Then we are going to travel to Central and South America, doing research on textile and weaving for another project.
Are there multiples of your work, or are they single works?
Sometimes I design for Italian manufacturers and then there are industrial multiples.
Italy is well known for its artisans. Why do you work in London and not in Italy?
I think the distance creates desire. If you are there every day with the artisans you become complacent. It is good to be a little removed and be creative in London and then go and see them. I really enjoy working with Italian artisans. They both know tradition and experiment, pushing boundaries, and they are proud of their level of perfection.
Where are your exemplars?
Italian designers. For instance like Gio Ponti, Franco Albini, Carlo Mollino, Roberto Gabetti and Aimaro Isola; also Enzo Mari and Caccia Dominioni.
Are you an architect?
No, I am not. I like the scale smaller than a house and slightly bigger than furniture.
Who are your collectors?
Private collectors and some museums, in Italy and France, and America as well.
Front to Back, May 2017. Photo: Angus Mill
Alpino Daru 1, May 2017. Photo: Angus Mill
Gamper Ponti Drawers, 2008-2016. Photo: Nilufar Gallery
Mundus-Tail, 2017. Photo: Angus Mill
Gamper Ponti A Little Bit Lazy Table, 2008. Photo: Nilufar Gallery
Gamper Ponti Two Legged Console, 2007. Photo: Nilufar Gallery
“Mountains gave me the basis of understanding where to build and how to build. ”
What is your ambition?
To keep on doing new projects that push boundaries. I also enjoy curating shows, as I did at the Pinacoteca Agnelli in Turin and I also did the same show at the Serpentine Gallery in London. It was about the history of design and how we use, collect and look at objects; but also about anonymous design, when we don’t know who is behind these objects.
What about your house?
We just built a new house in London. It is a completely wooden house inside, prefabricated in Italy and then shipped to London and put together and finished in 10 days. It is unique.
As you come from South Tyrol, is your work influenced by your origin?
Mountains gave me the basis of understanding where to build and how to build. It’s not just about structure, there is beauty where form meets function, and experimentation also pushes a new way of looking at something.
November 12, 2017
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