Nya texter
Ettore Sottsass
Eric Owen Moss

kontakta oss
contact us

Texts in English




Kultur och resor



Fabio Novembre

Av Leo Gullbring
The place is to be found on outskirts of Milan, somewhere along the line of an old forlorn tramway. 'Fabio?' says the shopkeeper, 'he's right here, on the backside, please, you can pass between the shelves, take that door over there'. And there's a flight of redpainted steps attached to the outer wall of an old small-sized factory. The setting is a large studio. Light grey concrete floor. Sunshine pouring in through large windows. Along one side a king-size bed hiding reluctantly behind some dividers, while a couple of drawing-desks alignes themselves discretly along the window-sill. Freak-out furniture, some moulded things, incense, sofas are spread out evenly in the large open space. And the man is Fabio Novembre, some fresh blood from southern Italy, to enliven and upset the laid-back impostors of design. And I do wonder, what does it take to make a good designer?

'Do you know Carmelo Bene? I really love him, when I heard him talking about himself my life changed. He said that he is not making art, he is art! You yourself is a piece of art, you yourself, your life, you live your life like a work of art, and then you can't be nothing but generous. The world is me, and then you got no choice than to lascarti mangiare.' That's quite an Italian expression, lasciarti mangiare. I like that. I do encounter that inviting, almost naive, generosity almost everywhere in Italy. Let you yourself be eaten. Be welcoming. Be inviting. Be yourself. Be easy-going. Be good. Just like Fabio himself, he's not content with an interview over a cup of coffee. Therefore his sister will shortly arrive to cook some fabulous Italian food while Fabio pours the wine, turning on the amp to play the guitar. Meanwhile Fabio is all eyes and ears and hands laying out the text about his existential curiosity, what really life, the universe, everything is about.

'I feel myself born in a historical epoch when we don't recognise anything anymore, there's no political theories, no ideologies, and I don't feel joining anything which isn't really worth joining. What counts is nothing but living, that's everything reduced to the essential, to live, vivere with a big V. I don't care about the rationalists, about the modern movement, about any manifests, I don't believe in anything of it. I believe everybody has his own personal story, and you've got to let it out. Every manifestation of this century are simply testimonies of life, which means that the big challenge is nothing else than a personal challenge. Lke what I use to say, that everybody has to carry their own backpack of responsibilities.' That sure sounds like Timothy Leary, which no wonder is a favourite of Fabio. And it also makes me think of one Italian semiotician I once met, a certain Omar Calabrese who argued that all this talk about post-modernism is nonsense, it doesn't arrive at the heart of things, while he instead, drawing on Sarduy, called our times neo-baroque, with this our aesthetic of repetition as one of the main ingredients substituting styles and ideologies. And this sure enough makes it hard to analyse our own time, to arrive at a code of interpretation, like Fabio himself says, to sort the good stuff out of the bad at a place like the furniture fair. 'But in the end the important thing is what you say, not the profession you got. What you want to say can be said a million different ways, writing a book, painting a canvas, working in a bank, the important thing is that you want to say something with your life, and just there your work turns you into an expressive medium.'

And sure enough, more than being yourself, it's what you're saying that makes the very difference. 'If you want my opinion, I think our profession is ruined by people who doesn't think like Marc Newson, that is to say, who doesn't think big. He belongs to a rare race, the kind of Joe Colombo, Verner Panton, Carlo Mollino, these guys who opened up a lot of new roads, which enlightens our universe. And I like that, to think they are the stars up there, our references, for me personally, the mere thought that they has existed, gives me courage to exist.'

Fabios hair is dark black, with curls like the snakes of a Medusa. His eyes are sparkingly alive. And in his words I find a certain affinity with the radical movement of the sixties and seventies, this very want to envision something different, by some called the future, or just rearranging the present into something else. The outcome was far more modest than intended though, mostly amounting to the very personal, the since then ever expanding consumer society, never quite manifestating this collective want for the new. Our own time are nonetheless ripe enough for the visions by Archizoom, Superstudio, Gaetano Pesce, Vico Magistretti, you name'em, once we got this idea clear that it's all personal and nothing else. Like old Ettore Sottsass arguing in the preface to the neon-green book by Fabio 'a sud di Memphis', that existence is sensorial, not mental, writing: 'the objects are not read by minds anymore, but with your cock, your stomach, your tongue, your eyes, your ears, your senses'. And sure enough this sensorial state is nothing primitive, its a cultural condition, like sex is in your head, like sex is culture. And I surely agree in this critic of the functionalist approach, like Adolf Loos statement of 1908 calling all ornamentation a sign of moral weakness, an expression of the positivist want to reduce everything to materiality, the very root of our present inability to treat opposites like rationality and emotion, realism and myth and so on, although we know that the story told is the very fulfilment of the merely functional, that exactly there on the border is where things are a happening.

And sure there's a spiritual sense here, I can't but recognise the scent of incense lingering about. The failure of the pope to be in sync with our time don't abort a religious need I find among many Italian designers, young and old, this want for a faith, a hope. But Fabio corrects me, it's not about religion. This want for the East is different. The Buddhists are not waiting for any prophet, it's about life, about concentration, to be able to relax, to be yourself, and not to buy this functionalist negation of life. 'Just because your blood stops to flow, your heart stops to pump, it doesn't mean your dead, I don't buy it. Look at that picture of Marcello Mastroianni, his expression, his face, that jump, where is that energy, it's still here, and it will always be.' And having Fabio himself depicted on a postcard, on this stark blue pillow here by the desk, with the text 'Be Your Own Messiah' is hardly a blasphemy, it makes sense, also considering that the crown of thorns is made out of fibre optics, like a fake halo.

'I happen to be an architect, but first I thought interior design quite limitating, I thought photography or art would be much more satisfying, but then I completely reassessed architecture, because this is the ultimate challenge of the threedimensionality. It's the last medium to acknowledge that we are made of flesh and blood, that in the end there is only us, that we can touch, touch our ladies, having sex. Architecture is the medium which defends threedimensionality.' That might be true for all that I know, and I can imagine Fabio gone hunting for love at l'Atlantique, a perfect setting of his own make, full of people exchanging emotions, burning passions.

And l'Atlantique was of course one of the party-places during the furniture fair, but this quite elegant and in my taste way too upper-class place wouldn't be complete without the humanlike looking androids of crap-metal holding on along the fence, a sort of anti-bourgeois Mad Max inspired virus, which has been fashioned by the Mutoid Vaste Company of London. In the brief written for this bar-restaurant-discotheque there's no description of the various functions to be answered, it's more kind of depicting a dream. And Fabio obviously likes to go poetic: 'L'architecture is like a beautiful woman, you want her nude, sculptural in her most intimate and structural forms, perfectly true like a picture by Helmut Newton, with a fierce cried-out sexuality.' And Fabio turns up loud a cd by Skunk Anansie, just to make the point that his work is about sex, that working, having sex, shares the same energy, the importance is to contaminate everything, more sex would actually make the world a better place.

But why no drawings I wonder, and Fabio admits willingly that he can't draw, he doesn't have that gift, but he excels in writing, making up a story which turns into a set and project. 'I've got this capacity to imagine in absence. When I think of a place, I see it already made in all details. My main effort is not imagining, but in conveying this vision to other people, to the clients, to the carpenters, to whoever is involved, that "here's this pillar which attaches to the ceiling which is partly covered by gold, and this is blue, like the sky, and this lamp is a rain of fibre optics which will cast dots of lights all over the bar", and sure it's pretty difficult, this organising, orchestrating the on-site work.' An imagineer that is I would say, or it's rather like with every grand designer you pick up in Italy, they want to overcome any kind of boundaries, not to be a designer, an architect, but a Progettista!, an envisioner. Quite like this very Sottsass, so many of his ideas hasn't hit the market yet, remaining prototypes of another world.

Sure, design is about communication, but image isn't everything. Fabio wants to arrive at the materiality of things, to get it into the circle of life. But how does it work out, how does he imagine a worn-out, forlorn, abandoned retail-space into something completely different, where does he connect? 'I believe in the energy of places, and you've got to listen to the ambience to find your vision, you've got to feel the energy flowing, 'cause I believe that places are charged either positively or negatively, and I would really love to use a ex-church for something, imagine how much positive good there would be'. Quite obsessed by this passage from the zero-dimensional vision, a thought, to the two-dimensional drawing, building it in three dimensions, and then, to communicate it, bringing it back to two dimensions in a photo, and in your head again zero dimensions.

And since Fabio got this picture of Marcello Mastroianni by his desk, I get thinking about Federico Fellini. His mastery laid in the ability to orchestrate the stage set of a film, to make actors, stage design, everything, mix and blend, and suddenly taking it all down, setting up again, working late, but working hard, everybody part of some great idea, however diffuse it might have seemed. And to actually overcome all these technological constraints otherwise mutilating your visions, getting into contact with reality, not being constricted to sex or music as the only direct interactive means to convey your feelings. This very want Colin Wilson writes about in every book of his, like in 'The Misfits', to be one with the past, the present, the future, to simply exist out of the sheer joy of living.

And I'm not wrong speculating in Fabio making a movie some day. After completing his master in architecture he didn't do the obvious, applying for work in an architectural office. Instead he goes off to New York, attending courses in movie-making at the New York University, while earning money for living in an art-gallery. And then calls this Italian stylist Anna Molinari, asking him to design a shop in Hong Kong for her, becoming his very first commission. 'I'm fascinated by film, it's about giving a way dreams, I find it grandioso, this way of condensating a global approach to art, music, text, images, and to be able to stuff it in 100 minutes of projection, it's fantastic.' The preferred one is of course Blade Runner, which sure enough incarnate the spirit of our time, Milan even provides that light drizzling rain more often than not. And movie likes that shows that some of the big designers of our time are not necessarily the ones making the actual drawings, but the guys with the ideas, like William Gibson, Walter Benjamin, Italo Calvino just to mention a few.

'I feel ready to go for real out-door architecture. But do compare to film, architecture is so arrogant, like this building in front of mine, which excludes a beautiful panoramic view, why don't we set an expiring date on architecture, why do we never think of the death of architecture, why don't we put explosives in the concrete? We got to think of death. Death is the only thing which makes us human, the fact that we die is the absolute democratic principle. It's horrendous that we don't apply this to life, to architecture, to everything.'

Food is about to be served, his present girlfriend Melissa Johansen, Norwegian and model is laying the table, and I'm back where I'm started, what does it take to make a good designer? And I happen to mention that with his obsession with sex, wouldn't Fabio like to design a brothel, just like Ledoux once upon a time? 'Sure, that's exactly it. It would be a dream.'

Published in Frame

Preface to monography on Fabio Novembre, published by Frame and Birkhäuser.


2007 Calimero