Architect, artist, designer, writer and theoretician Alessandro Mendini is deemed a design icon not only in his native Italy, but all over the world. Born in Milan in 1931, Mendini dreamt as a young boy of becoming a cartoonist or a painter, but then switched his interests onto architecture. In 1973 Mendini co-founded the counter-design group Global Tools and throughout the ‘70s he directed different architecture and design magazines, including Casabella, Modo and Domus. In 1979, he joined the legendary Studio Alchimia, founded by Alessandro Guerriero, developing experimental works and reinterpreting design classics. Ten years later he opened with his brother the Milan-based Atelier Mendini, a studio focused on creating objects, furniture, paintings, installations and architecture. Mendini collaborated throughout his life with different design companies, among them Alessi, Philips, Cartier, Swatch, Hermès, Venini, and Zanotta.
The designer recently presented at Milan’s Triennale an exhibition celebrating his 30th anniversary with Bisazza, a leading Italian manufacturer of tesserae for mosaics. Mendini used Bisazza mosaics for the first time in 1989 in one of his works entitled “Paradise Tower in Hiroshima”. Up until then mosaics were mainly employed for mosques and swimming pools, but Mendini turned this traditional material into a modern feature, using it for interior design projects. Appointed Bisazza Art Director in 1996, Mendini curated in the same year the “Artinmosaico” exhibition in Naples inviting Italian and international artists to use Bisazza tiles to create piece of furniture and objects.
The pieces showcased at the Triennale exhibition display a sort of “Gulliver syndrome” that prompted Mendini to play with proportions, creating dimensional paradoxes: a jacket, a shoe, a glove and a classic Borsalino hat - elements borrowed from a man’s wardrobe – were decorated with hand-cut 24-karat gold leaf mosaics and magnified, turned into monumental pieces of furniture via an alchemical process; a church preserving inside the sculpture “Visage Archaïque” and wearing a gold Cartier necklace, was instead shrunk, while a video installation focused on the three-metre high version of the 1978 “Proust Armchair” covered in colourful tesserae that evoked the style of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac’s pointillisme paintings.
Dazed Digital: Designer, architect, magazine editor and critics: who is Alessandro Mendini?
Alessandro Mendini: Apart from being all these things, I’m also a person.
DD: What has changed throughout the years in your creative process?
Alessandro Mendini: Nothing.
DD: What prompted this exhibition with Bisazza at Milan’s Triennale?
Alessandro Mendini: Mutual friendship.
DD: What represents for you “The Knight of Dürer”, the new sculpture you created for Bisazza?
Alessandro Mendini: A sentimental relationship between a person and an animal.
DD: What’s the main aim of today’s design?
Alessandro Mendini: Contemporary design has very few motivations.
DD: Is it still possible in our present-focused world to produce quality designs?
Alessandro Mendini: I think at the moment we’re on a borderline situation for what regards design.
DD: Throughout the years you directed quite a few magazines: what’s the first thing you would do if you had to direct one today?
Alessandro Mendini: I would start with drinking a coffee.
DD: What do you like/dislike about today’s magazines?
Alessandro Mendini: I like/dislike everything.
DD: What does the 50° International Furniture Fair represent for you?
Alessandro Mendini: An ordinary furniture fair.
DD: Do you ever feel that at times the media show too much attention to design projects launched by mainstream companies neglecting young independent designers who often have more interesting projects?
Alessandro Mendini: I totally agree with you.
DD: In 2003 you made the “Designer’s Suit” with Kean Etro, would you like to collaborate with another designer?
Alessandro Mendini: I never thought about it.
DD: What would you like to create for Milan’s Expo 2015?
Alessandro Mendini: Nothing.
DD: What kind of advice would you like to give to young people who would like to become architects/interior designers one day?
Alessandro Mendini: Be kind.
Images by Paolo Veclani