Milano Design Week

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Milano Design Week

Michael Anastassiades displays “nature as designer”

At Fondazione ICA Milan the Cypriot designer exhibits his personal collection of stones and a new series of self-produced lamps.

Fondazione ICA Milan hosts the exhibition “Cheerfully Optimistic About the Future”, Michael Anastassiades’ first solo show in Italy. The exhibition project has a strong handmade component and recounts the Cypriot designer’s perspective on the world. Born in 1967, Anastassiades told us how the exhibition project came about and the way it was developed over the past year.

The first question can only be: what is it like coming back to Milan after almost two years off?
It's good to have human contact again. Physical contact.

Where were you during the pandemic?
I was in London for (almost) the whole time. This period allowed me to see things and work in different ways. As a creative I can't stop thinking and designing, so it was an interesting time. All the lamps you see in the exhibition were physically made during that time by me and my team.

The dilated time of the first lockdown (in Italy from March to May 2020) was important for many of us.
It was an event that cannot leave you unaffected. We learned a lot, we got out of our comfort zone. Some of us really needed that shock. For me it's important to look at the positive aspects of this.

That’s why you are “Cheerfully Optimistic about the Future”?
The curious thing is that I chose the title before I knew what I was going to do for the exhibition. I only knew that I wanted to produce new works. This all happened before Covid, because the invitation from ICA came in December 2019.

Let's talk about the first section of the exhibition: The Glossary Room.
Here you can find a personal collection of stones that I started when I was a child. They are things I found in all parts of the world – mainly in Greece and Cyprus, where I grew up. Most are simple stones, some are gifts. I have always been interested in the idea of “nature as designer”: it is capable of creating perfect shapes, or decorations that look man-made. One, for example, seems to be wearing a mask. Others are sculpted by micro-organisms.

Do you remember which stone you started the collection with (and the moment you picked it up)?
Of course I do. It was a round stone I found during an excursion. I was travelling with an architect, a friend of my father's. This turned out to be a failure: we were looking for fossils but we didn't find any, so I was very disappointed. But on the way back I found the stone and it was a very rewarding moment for me. This collection explains very well the way I see things, my point of view on the world.

As your first solo exhibition in Milan, it is interesting to note that it is an art institution which hosts the show, and not one linked to design.
The important thing for me is to work with maximum freedom. For this reason, I would like to thank Alberto Salvadori – director and founder of Fondazione ICA Milano as well as curator of the exhibition – for the relationship of trust that has been created. For me, being in an organisation that is more linked to the world of art than design does not change much. Mine is a creative practice that makes no distinction between an industrial product, an artistic object or a craft. There should be no such difference. For me, work must be thoughtful and meaningful. I am not interested in being exhibited in museums and famous institutions just for the recognition.

The second part of the exhibition has a very strong relationship to the first.
The starting point of the installation is the material itself. There is no processing, it is simply bamboo that grows and whose life is stopped at a certain moment, so that it has a precise diameter. Here again we can find the concept of "nature as designer". The only industrially produced components are the light bulbs. But these elements can easily be removed and replaced, for example, by candles. The base is made of pewter, a metal that melts at low temperatures, which we were able to pour ourselves in the studio during the lockdown.

In a recent article published in Domus (issue 1053, January 2021) an article says: "The apparent simplicity of his creations hides, in reality, a great complexity of workmanship and an intense search to achieve the purest form. Where does the complexity lie this time?
This is about how you try to tame nature. You can't completely control a living thing. So mine is more a work of negotiation. You must let natural matter be what it wants to be and not force it to be something else. For that you need a deep understanding of the material.

I also read that when you graduated, you refused to work for other firms and immediately started as an independent designer. Is that something you would suggest to young designers?
I have to correct you. As a young man I had very specific and strong ideas. I wouldn't say that I refused to work, but actually I was unemployable. I had a hard time explaining my ideas and they were not suitable or relevant for other offices. When I tried to work for someone my collaboration lasted only a couple of months. This path forced me to understand what I wanted to do in life. I had to teach yoga for 15 years to support my independent practice. This allowed me to develop my own projects, create my own brand in 2007 and produce my own lighting projects. Now things are different, because I also work for big companies like Flos and Cassina. But in the beginning it was very tough to pursue my ideas. So if I have to give one piece of advice, it's to believe firmly in what you are doing and not to think that the way is easy. Results only come from hard work.

Cheerfully Optimistic About the Future
Michael Anastassiades
Curated by:
Alberto Salvadori
Fondazione ICA Milano, Via Orobia 26, 20139 Milano
from 7 September to 9 January 2022
Opening times:
from Thursday to Sunday, 11 am –7 pm

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