If there is one Uruguayan creator who deserves a special mention because of the career he is building abroad but trying to combine and disseminate cultures is Matteo Fogale.
Matteo is a young designer who was born in Montevideo and settled in Italy in 2001. His artistic abilities are the perfect balance between his grandfather’s heritage, who was a sculptor, his artisan mother, and his studies at the University of Valencia where he graduated in Art and Design. Since then, he has become an unquestioned emerging talent in the field having taken part in important events such as Fuorisalone in Milan. It was in this place where in April this year we visited his exhibition, in Villa Mozart, together with other renowned designers like Studio Swine among others.
He has exhibited at the V&A Museum, at showcases of the firm COS and at the Fuorisalone in Milan during the Design Week, with creative and aesthetic ideas which move from simplicity to baroque but generally revolving around simple geometry and a contrasting combination of textures.
Very recently, he was selected by the British Council to conduct an extensive research on the life and work of Julio Vilamajó, which made him get together with well-known local designers in order to create seven pieces of furniture inspired by the unique style of the Uruguayan architect.
The official presentation will be, believe it or not, at (The Designjunction of Londres) at the London Design Festival, one of the most famous European design fairs which will take place from 20th to 23rd September.
This is a story of initiative and drive in an area which is very challenging, but which recognizes the perseverance of a designer who is able to share his recognition with national colleagues to be once again in contact with his Uruguayan roots.
How did this venture start?
It was in October last year when the British Council launched a call for artists of different fields to conduct a research study in Uruguay. I thought it was an interesting proposal and I applied. As I had left the country when I was very young, at 17, I had never done anything related to design although I had always wanted to. And this was the big break. Several projects were submitted and four reached the stage of the interviews, and finally, my proposal was selected.
What is the aim of the British Council with regard to these programmes?
The aim is to promote the English culture abroad and at the same time to take cultures to the English land. The call suggested thinking about promoting what we learnt during the research by means of exhibitions and talks. I knew that my proposal was not related to theoretical work found in a book, for example. On the contrary, I was interested in finding out about the side of Vilamajó as an industrial and furniture designer, as his architecture work is more widely known. I told them that based on my research, I wanted to create a furniture collection inspired on his works and they loved the idea. My goal was to go back to London with something tangible.
What was the research stage like?
I devoted the first week to visiting the School of Architecture and to studying Vilamajó’s files. I only had four weeks to complete the work and I had a pleasant surprise: a very complete file not only about his life and work but also about the carpenter who made all his pieces of furniture. I found the sketches and the original drawings, a relic, which made me stop and think what I had in mind. Coincidentally, the file had Vilamajo’s pieces of furniture so I selected seven sketches and I continued investigating about his personality, his works, his interests. I went to his house, I read his books and I spent more than one day visiting his buildings. This was no easy feat because when I asked for a map with the location of all his houses, they had one from 1992 which was not updated, in fact some of the houses don’t exist anymore. I started going around Montevideo, Punta del Este, Villa Serrana, and I found a bit of everything: some of them were original with very little maintenance and others had been remodeled. I also had the chance to visit the inside of one of his most important works called Los Claveles, a house that has been declared World Heritage but is run down because the owner lives abroad. I was able to enter because a neighbour had the key and kept the original furniture.
How was the transition from theory to practice?
After that week, I was really intrigued with the question of production in Montevideo. I wanted to know if it was possible to make this kind of pieces in Uruguay and I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. I contacted different studios: Claro, Diario, Menini-Nicola, Muar, Sámago and the designers Carolina Palombo and Claudio Sibille trying to reflect the cowork spirit which was a characteristic of Vilamajó. The idea was to combine my point of view with the one of the studio to create a piece of furniture inspired in the original sketches.
Were you able to keep the files in order to present them in London?
I kept the scanning of the original files but I would have liked to show the real thing which is extremely interesting. This permission is very difficult to get and we haven’t got it, at least for now.
What was the first meeting with the work team like?
We met at the house and based on the individual’s characteristics, I gave each of them a different drawing to begin with, ensuring that the pieces were different. We started drawing ideas always under the premise that the piece should be more artistic and not so commercial. I wanted to worry about its creation and not so much about the cost or how difficult it would be to make it in the country. Luckily, this was not a hindrance and we were able to make everything here. This was a very important point for me because I wanted to go to Europe with a Uruguayan product, designed and produced in our land. It was a real challenge because we were tempted to use materials which were not local, as velvet which we finally substituted with leather, although we didn’t want to use something very traditional so we tried to use it in a different way.
How did the work continue after the month of research?
After this stage, the British Council continued helping me in order to carry out the second phase of the Project. At this moment, we came up with the idea of gathering all the material we found together with the pieces designed to prepare an exhibition at the Design Week of London which will take place in September. The idea of living a different experience to create an image separate from the business one appealed to me, so the aim is to take these products to a gallery which is not in the fair, and where we will exhibit not only the seven pieces but also Vilamajo’s work, his projects and other interesting material.
In one of the last trips to New York, what caught our attention was the number of galleries which combine the concept of art and equipment of high quality pieces.
This is the direction which design has been taking for some time now. Something like capsules of limited editions for selected customers. Design can be very popular or very limited. And this work is made up of pieces which are handmade in a borderline style: they combine business with art.
Have you decided where the exhibition will be held?
Yes, the Aram Gallery, a totally free gallery and very well-known for its strategic location. They organize six exhibitions every year and I have been in contact with them for a while, always wanting to do something there but it is such a big space that it was difficult to find the right project for it.
What stage of the project are you in now?
The prototypes are ready and they have been sent to London. The designers worked with their personal suppliers and the results have been really good. Alejandro Rodríguez was a great support for us as he made all the wooden pieces. The big challenge of this whole bet was to find backing because the budget was very reduced, but the response was very positive. Some of the suppliers provided us with the materials or the hand labour for free. Manos del Uruguay y Bia really gave us a hand and Laviere Vitacca also helped us with the costs of the exhibition, as well as Uruguay XXI. Now we need to find backing to pay for the shipping because due to the lack of time, we had to send them by plane and it is not cheap.
After the presentation in London, will you bring the exhibition to Uruguay?
That was what we wanted, but unfortunately due to the lack of resources we decided to keep the pieces in London and we hope that we can make them go around Europe. We had the intention of presenting them before in Uruguay but we cannot make it with the pieces. If we found sponsors, we could organize it in Uruguay.
What is the designers’ community like in London?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not very big. Although there are a lot of young people who work as designers, there is a reduced network of industrial and graphic designers that are involved in the important projects. Once you become part of this circle, everything becomes more friendly and the relationships closer. For example, the London Design Festival is an organization with no more than twenty people, most of whom I know and they have become my friends, and this makes things a lot easier.
Does the same happen at business level?
Not that much in that area. This city moves more because of creativity rather than business.
When we talk about competition, is it the same as here? Does a Chinese product coexist with a costly high quality design? Does an English designer produce in England or in China?
It is pretty divided but, in general, the numbers are good and the profit margin is ok. There are many designers and I include myself who produce in Europe for a selected group beyond local borders. We are contacted by final consumers from the United States and Italy.
Apart from this exhibition, what other professional projects are you working on?
Apart from organizing Vilamajo’s exhibition, this year I’m in charge of the image and promotion of the stand of Uruguay in DesignJunction together with a friend designer and another friend in charge of public relations.
Designjunction will gather the most famous design brands of the world together with architects, interior designers and distinguished industry personalities. The Uruguayan delegates will travel with Uruguay XXI and will be located in a stand in the culture centre of South Bank together with two hundred selected firms. Nearby, Matteo will be presenting his exhibition inspired by Vilamajó which will consist of seven remarkable pieces, reference material and unpublished files about the architect. We welcome this kind of initiative which promotes the development of the Uruguayan design as well as the chance to start exploiting a non-traditional industry for the country.
Crédito fotos: Tali Kimelman(prototipos realizados), Archivo Facultad Arquitectura, Matteo Fogale.
Gabriela Pallares es Arquitecta con más de 15 años de trayectoria independiente y comunicadora de contenidos de diseño, arquitectura, tendencias y lifestyle en su portal “Ministerio de Diseño” , Diario El Observador (Uy), Canal 4 (Uy) y asesora para diversos medios y marcas locales e internacionales.