Sara Ricciardi is a designer and lecturer in Social Design and relational practices at NABA. Born in Benevento, but settled in Milan after living in Istanbul and New York, she defies unambiguous definitions. Her projects include a collection of dumbbells that investigate the weight of materials, as well as a series of concrete vases, installations and unique pieces for galleries. We meet her at the Milan Design Week 2021 in the 5VIE district where she is proposing an itinerant performance (Urban Trader’s Revolution) which, inspired by the figure of the hawker, celebrates the street, physical contact, the relationship among people and between people and the space. She calls it a “public urban attack”. Is it design? Perhaps. She explains us why.
Why a performance?
I have had an almost marital relationship with 5VIE for four years and every year they ask me to activate a message within the neighbourhood. This year, they wanted me to exhibit my own pieces, but, at this particular time, I felt the need to make a public urban attack based on the person and the contact. I took up all those fascinations that have always been part of my work – the hawker, the nomad, walking down the street, the theatre, the wayside shrine (I’m from southern Italy) – which are able to put the bowels and the identity of the person in motion. I felt the need to do something in the street and that is why I chose the performance, through this set-up, this street cart that is almost like a temple, a baroque trinket shop, decorated with flowers, where I can distribute poems and postcards. I wanted to stage an emotion, a relationship with people. It is music and it is show: on the stage of our lives, people need to show their identity, especially after all this closure and control.
And even after all this distance...
The distance, of course, and yet I am convinced that culture, entering into relations with other people is fundamental. Culture is the basis.
How do you plan to involve people?
The art of relating is extraordinary, because it is always driven by empathy and improvisation. You do not have to schematise. We do not always have to stay within grids. A person is a person. You look at her/him: what is going to happen? You let something happen. That is the fundamental part. I do not know what is going to happen. And every time the magic lurks precisely in that space of ambiguity, of not knowing what is going to happen.
So, there is no need to be afraid?
Never. Let’s say we are excited. I am afraid of reactions, of course, but I go looking for them because they are fundamental.
But is this design?
Design for me is planning, and what I want most is not to design an object, but to design the relationship between people and the matter. Between you and the space. I am interested in you. And then the proxemic form of your movement and emotional reaction: that is the real show. Matter, space, design accompany me to get to people, they are a medium.
What makes you happy as a designer?
I always say that I like making objects that make people think. I am not even that interested in selling them, but in their ability to produce a stimulus. As an internal flowering that makes you think: “Ah, but... maybe... perhaps... question”. What interests me is to offer questions and new dream scenarios. We have many, maybe you do not like it, maybe you are interested in it. In any case, I provoke a reaction.
Would you call yourself a provocateur?
At the moment, a very precise image came to my mind: provoking always has an aggressive meaning. It stings, it seems impertinent. If I had to imagine myself as a provocateur, I would imagine myself with a feather, coming to tickle you. Something more subtle, sophisticated. Today it is too easy to create a slogan and make a fist. On the other hand, I want to seduce you, it is a different thing.
What has this pandemic period taught you?
It is an inconceivable, very difficult period of crisis and, as all crises on a personal and global level, it suggests me from all sides, like a Dolby surround of possibilities, that I must take other forms. It tells me: “Try, modify, transform”. That is why I want to talk about transformation today, that is why I have two drag queens with me, the Karma Bs. How much crowd there is inside you? How many identities do you have? Masks are sometimes the truest part of us. We choose them and one does not eliminate the other. Being contradictory is interesting, let’s walk through it. A set cart, two performers, the invitation, poetry, story... Is it design? It is the only thing I know.
We are all spending a lot of time outdoors at the moment and the street is back in the spotlight.
I have always invited people to walk down the street, I teach relational design, I go out on the streets with students, I work in the suburbs. You have to work with people, in the streets, giving and receiving. I come from improvised theatre, which is done in the street and is my favourite, because there is always something going on and you always have to be careful, focused, willing. I follow this dynamic because the city is your home, your stage.
After so much home, back to the street...
The street is an extension of the house, we must live it as such. That bench, that garden, that tree, that ravine are your places, you have to love them as you love the little room in your home. This passage is important.
Last question: how does it feel to be back at the Salone?
Strange: I feel it is difficult unlike other years, I feel I have to give this momentum. It is like a seed that, when it has to open up, rips you open and it hurts too, it is not painless. But it causes absolute happiness, it is a new flowering. I am here, I am delighted by the contacts, the dynamics that are happening, the friends, the companies, the ferment of a city that wants to feel alive and pulsating.