Disegno's Gaetano Pesce interview


6 October 2012

Earlier this week Disegno met the designer Gaetano Pesce at the launch of his exhibition Six Tables on Water at London's David Gill Galleries. Excerpts from that meeting have already been published in Disegno's In Five Designs series of articles. Below, we publish the remainder of the interview.

Pesce was born in Italy in 1939, but since 1980 has lived and worked in New York. Creating both design and architecture, he has become known for the strong art element that appears in the majority of his work.

Six Tables on Water continues this trend. The exhibition features six resin tables modelled after bodies of water. The works are intended to be realistic representations of waterways and raise questions over the pollution of the environment.

Below, Pesce talks Disegno through the exhibition, why everyone should have "feminine minds" and how minimalism is only fit for IKEA.

How did the new exhibition come about?
It's very important for me because it's the first time in my life I've had a solo exhibition in England. In all my life, I've never had an exhibition in England or Germany.

Why? Have you not had the opportunity to exhibit?
The nature of my work is just not very well suited to Germany. There is a big difference between my mode of expression and the German culture. Their design is based on values that are much more rigid and coherent than my own. I don't know about England.

Why did you choose to exhibit these tables?
I always work in two directions. The first is that a design should be practical and useful; the second is that it should send out a message as an object. I started to think about what a table can be and how it should be made, and then I thought about what meaning a table could have. I thought it would be a good idea to have tables talking about water because water is very important; without it we cannot exist. But more and more we are contaminating it. These tables talk about that. You can sit around them, eat on them, have a drink - so they are practical - but in the meantime there is a discussion about whether water is something we respect and treat well.

Do you think people who see the tables will engage in those discussions though? Won't they just focus on the aesthetics?
The people who have seen them so far have engaged in a very substantial way. The world is crossing through a difficult time. It's not only in economic crisis, but it's also in a crisis of innovation. We need more innovation. When people see something completely different to what they are used to, they react very well to it. There's a positive reaction to the unexpected. They come here to see tables and instead they see landscapes.

Why are the designs so literal?
People think that design is something abstract. But coming here they see an image in these tables and they enjoy that, because that's easier. When you are in front of something abstract you cannot say a lot. You can say "that is very elegant" or "this is well done", but there is nothing to let you go deeper into the message of the object. An image lets you understand better and go much deeper into the message of the object. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, I think abstraction is over. We've been talking about abstraction for 200 years and it's tired and boring.

What do you mean?
I cannot stand very minimal things. Reducing and reducing: at the end we have nothing. I believe in making something richer than minimalism. Architecture is made by very intelligent people, but most are still not beyond pop art: they are obsessed with abstraction. Pop art taught us that simple images are very important. This exhibition is a provocation to other designers. Abstraction is boring and limited as a mode of expression.

Why do you think that designers are still interested in minimalism? Because the schools and teaching are poor. Teaching is very mechanical and not humanistic. It's too bad, because schools are where you should express yourself. You have an opinion as a person, so why don't you express your opinion with your work? When I was teaching, I pushed my students to express their political opinion through projects. Sometimes architects don't express anything more than geometry. That's a poor form of expression. Minimalism was an important step in the creation of modern design, but that was 100 years ago. Now it's good for IKEA and places like that, but has very little to do with design.

What is modern design like?
For creative people it is no longer possible to have a common moment. It is no longer possible to have an "-ism"; a moment where a group of people recognise themselves in each other's work. Today, it is a time for solitarians, creators who are totally different from one another. In the recent past there were people like Starck, Piano, Rogers, or Gehry and the differences between them were perhaps not so great.

Why do you think there has been that change?
The quantity of information we receive makes people different. Information creates a different mind for each of us and that is very beautiful. Our brains are different, so our expression should be different. In the 1970s and 1980s I remember Marxist ideology wanted people to think in the same way. In China they asked the people to not only think in the same way, but to dress in the same way. At that time I started to think that not only do people have the right to be different, but objects too have the right to be different.

You create both design and architecture. Are those different modes of expression?
There is no real difference. All that changes is the scale or the language, but the content is the same. I once had a teacher who told me that there is no difference between designing a city and designing a spoon. The difficulty changes, but the cultural expression is the same. You have to think about them in the same way.

What way is that?
Today we need to have minds that are changing in time, because reality is constantly sending us new information. We can't afford to have "male" minds: rigid and monolithic.

Male minds?
That's what I call them. I think there is also a feminine way to think, and that is very important to my work. The feminine brain is very elastic: the female mind enjoys colours and changes. Only conservative people want things to be static. The feminine brain is very much like water: always changing and open to new information and possibilities. My experience in life is like that. We're born in water and stay in water for nine months inside our mothers. Water is very important.