“True ugliness can be a treat.”
Although it was early summer, Martino Gamper had a cold when we visited him in the as yet unfinished Hackney studio that he shares with his wife, the artist Francis Upritchard. To improve his health, Francis cooked the entire studio a lunch of health-restoring ginger-infused noodles, after which we toured the space before settling down to talk about Martino’s current concerns and his past projects.
Martino first attracted widespread attention in 2007 with the project 100 Chairs in 100 Days, for which he reworked elements of existing chairs into a collection of charismatic new pieces of furniture. Taking on the ultimate design object of the chair within severe self-imposed constraints in terms of time and material, the results were odd, to put it mildly – at times impractical, at times funny-looking, but always refreshingly unexpected. Martino returned to the idea of remaking several times, most notoriously when he dis- and reassembled furnishings by famed architect and designer Gio Ponti into new pieces, an act of homage that was misinterpreted by some as irreverence.
Born in 1971, Martino Gamper grew up in Merano, an Italian town close to the Austrian-Swiss border. After spending a period in his teens as an apprentice to a furniture maker and a couple of years travelling the world, he enrolled simultaneously at the Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Finally settling on design over sculpture, he then worked for fellow South Tyrolean designer Matteo Thun in Milan. In 1998, he moved to London to complete his education at the Royal College of Art under the guidance of Ron Arad.
Since then, Martino has been treading the fine line between the worlds of fine art and design with disarming nonchalance, frequently challenging aesthetic and industrial conventions of the design world with humour and a deep personal investment in his work. At a time when design is mostly judged on its aesthetics and functionality, Martino is more concerned with a wider context: how design can interact with our daily surroundings and encourage social interaction.
Dodging the cult of personality that has been marking the world of design as much as any other creative industry, Martino’s approach has been characterised by frequent collaborations with a wide range of partners, in particular the design group Åbäke. Friends since their days at the RCA, they have produced several exhibitions and books together, as well as countless meals under the banner of Trattoria al Cappello, a series of small public dinners that charmingly combined individually designed furniture and graphics with improvised cooking experiments.
In many ways, Martino’s design is ‘social’ in the most literal sense – an idea that is already expressed in his new studio, as much workshop as it is a social space, where tools rank equal to kitchen utensils.