Close your eyes. Focus in your mind the image of an armchair. For someone it will simply comfortable, essential, perhaps of leather of a beautiful dark brown, like the one by Portoghesi in my living room in Tuscany. Others will see it double, perfect for two lovers; more elongated, narrow and black, suitable for prolonged confessions in front of the psychoanalyst’s notebook. As for me, if I close my eyes, except the image of my brown armchair just mentioned, I see the “Proust” by Alessandro Mendini.

On a sunny November day in Milan, I found myself in the master’s studio waiting to interview him, sitting on one of his very cushy plastic versions, orange and absolutely perfect. It was very cushy. I already mentioned that? With more than 4950 objects, a list of infinite personal and collective exhibitions in which he took part, from Milan to Berlin, from Venice to Rome and from New York to Tokyo, with his countless architectural inventions, his many awards and his thoughts faster than light, Alessandro Mendini defines himself as an architect, born in Milan, 1931.

He directed the magazines “Casabella”, “Modo”, “Domus” as his personal work and the collaboration with the Studio Alchemia remain legend. But the master of design has not revolutionized the last 50 years of design history thanks to only one object: although iconic, the “Proust” armchair remains the “Proust” armchair and Alessandro Mendini remains the watchful eye of his time, ready to transform Utopia in eternity, the corkscrew in sculpture, architecture in poetry.
I never heard saying so many times the word “make”, the infinite present of the verb which implies an operation has been deeply denied by Alessandro Mendini. One can “make” also by designing and by developing ideas.

Alessandro Mendini, Design Lunare, 1986, Museo Alchimia

Alessandro Mendini, Design Lunare, 1986, Museo Alchimia

Q: How does the master Mendini define himself?
A: I define myself as a person interested in the images, mainly in images that can develop in the form of objects, architecture, graphics, painting, handicrafts, industrial form. This interest in an undifferentiated way for images, if anything, with a predominance for painting, it is used and developed by me for a need for communication with the people and the public. Because, since I am introverted, those are my words. My images are often strong and the substratum of all this communication is an attempt to develop politcs.

Q: With regard to your childhood, do you remember the first object that struck you?
A: It is not just a memory but a kind of slow motion, a déjà vu that I probably have totally reinvented. I am a twin and one day, when I was seven months, I was with my sister in an armchair, surrounded by hot water bottles. At the time there were no incubators, children were born at home and, although it was August, I had been put in that situation in an armchair by Piero Portaluppi, the architect who had built our house. In my imagination the first objects remain: the hot water bottles, an armchair by Portaluppi, and my August sun, because I was born on August 16 in Milan.

Atelier Mendini, Shama, 1992

Atelier Mendini, Shama, 1992

Q: You have directed major magazines. Today, how do you see the relationship between word and image?

A: I found myself in this type of uncertainty: I am interested in the word as well as in the image. I write to motivate what I do from a visual point. For this reason, all my work has a corresponding text, it is a reference map made of words, a kind of visual poetry. I cannot design without having previously written. I have always written a lot for my magazines. I maintained a literary-critical approach to the project which takes place in a system of visual signs. They are alphabets. I design through alphabets that can sometimes be symbolic, other visual or naturalistic. For me, designing is to write. I do not use the computer and I have not even an email. This is not a rejection, in fact I use it indirectly through my staff. The reason is that I am a “contemporary handicapped.” I could not get into that jargon. But the idea to dive in and surf that screen has a special charm, gives me a lot and I find so many things. I am able to manage the iPad quite well, though!

Alessandro Mendini, Poltrona di Proust- Mozart, 2000

Alessandro Mendini, Poltrona di Proust- Mozart, 2000

Q: You humanize the objects, you study them from an anthropological point of view. Could you describe the relationship with your creations?
A: Definitely I believe that any person has very strong subliminal relationships with his/her objects. In my case, because I make objects and I make many of them – of any type of material and size – I find myself in front of a population. The persons in a crowd are not all alike: there are those nice, those assholes, the smart ones … And the same thing happens with the objects in that each of them is a demonstration of something. I wish that every object that I realize had its own poetics, that it might be able to awake in the viewer and user an emotional reaction and that it might be not only a “presence” of which making use of with indifference. That’s why I put out the eyes on them, because we are dealing with objects that look at us. And they look at me too. So I try this particular feeling towards people who actually I want to forget. Because they oppress me. And I need space. I like to play the part of the heartless father who forgets. I do not recommend anyone to have more than one of my objects at home. At most, they may be two but they must be completely distant one from the other.

Alessandro e Francesco Mendini, Groninger Museum 2010

Alessandro e Francesco Mendini, Groninger Museum 2010

Q: Your creative process starts from the “poetics” and not by the “technics”. The goal of everything is the birth of a Living Utopia? Could you describe it better?
A: Utopia is not an generalizable abstraction. I think that everyone has his own utopia. But there are also people who say they have no utopia: they are pragmatic, they work on the small and insist on the materialism of their work and of their being in the world. There are also the great realized utopias. My utopias are more related to artistic expression. I have recently worked at the last watch model by Samsung that will be released in a few months. A kind of global alarm clock that tells you how much coffee you drank, how many kilometers you made, where is the nearest hospital … My Utopia goes in the history of Humanism and not in the history of technologism, which means to have a romantic-religious trend. And the last word that necessarily stands out is “beautiful.” Although the art of today is very cynical, dramatizing, in my opinion, at the end of the word art is there is the word beautiful. And this for me is the justification of my work. It is my utopia.

Alessandro Mendini in collaborazione con Pietro Rota e Maurizio Rota, orafi in Vicenza, Gioiello 12

Alessandro Mendini in collaborazione con Pietro Rota e Maurizio Rota, orafi in Vicenza, Gioiello 12

Q: Could you give some quick tips for young people who define themselves as creative?

A: I think a young man must learn to know himself. It’s not easy. It is very difficult. But if one tries – and succeeds at least a little – then he is able to frame his desires and abilities without looking outside himself but within himself. The best result comes when the goal of the money is put into the background, which doesn’t mean that one will not succeed, in the future, to earn much money … And then I recommend to pay not much attention to teachers and schools. Do not permit others to brainwash you.

Alessandro Mendini, Cavaliere di Duerer, 2010

Alessandro Mendini, Cavaliere di Duerer, 2010

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Credits
Photo courtesy Atelier Mendini
Special thanks Alessandro e Fulvia Mendini

AMOlink:
www.ateliermendini.it