Interview / GUGLIELMO POLETTI (IT) / Consistency and integrity are essential
Where are you from? Did you grow up close or in contact with design or art?
I was born in Milan, where I grew up and spent most of my lifetime before leaving Italy for the Netherlands in 2014. My grandfather was a self-taught art dealer and a collector of ancient art. He was also a painter. My father followed the same professional steps, cultivating his passion for interior decoration on the side. I have absorbed many inputs from the environment that surrounded me, plus some tacit knowledge and analytical skills linked to visual thinking.
Who was the best teacher?
On my path I met more than one mentor that represented a turning point for me. The most important encounter was the one with Ron Gilad, that I got to know during a workshop in Boisbuchet back in 2013. I immediately recognized in Ron an independent figure, that stood out thanks to his unconventional approach. During that week I learned that thinking in a singular way could be a plus, not a minus. That was really the starting point for me, and after few other experiences Eindhoven came naturally – I was looking for a place that could enhance the individual’s qualities, instead of pursuing a standardization based on preconceived methodologies.
And which design courses did you attend at the Design Academy Eindhoven?
I graduated from the MA Contextual Design department, a master course mainly focused on objects and tangible outcomes. The mentors’ team is comprised of several great personalities, and the attitude they require from the students is key – you are constantly pushed out of the comfort zone, by thinking through hands and experimenting without knowing anything about the direction you will follow. Simultaneously, analytical thinking is an essential tool that should be used to empower the process of making, by relating it to theoretical research.
During the first year you undertake several courses that aim to broaden your perspectives – ranging from theory-based projects to purely making-based projects. A real playground, where you can build the foundations for the second year. During the thesis year, you connect all the dots to understand what is your position, and start to put it in relation with the outside world.
Your work is very sculptural and technical at the same time. Is it hard to find a balance?
The sculptural qualities of my work are a direct consequence of my fascination for structures. I always start from construction in relation to the properties of a specific material. This sequence creates a sort of hierarchy within the process, which automatically helps to find the final balance these two sides of the project.
What I enjoy the most is the fact that all the ‘technical’ result from a hands-on process, therefore I never experience them as technical while facing them during the development of a work.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you still so deeply involved in testing the limits of materials and shapes?
I think the tendency to investigate the limits of materials results from my working criteria and from an innate fascination for simplified complexity. In relation to construction, the idea of limit can also be seen as the minimum gesture needed to turn something precarious into something structural. For example, in my first series ‘Equilibrium’ I used a cable to accomplish this, while in the project of my benches ‘Sections’ I just made a cut on a tube to stabilise it and prevent it from rolling.
Although these gestures are very subtle, there is a much broader investigation done behind the scenes – a long distillation process, necessary to achieve a deeper impact and add layers to the work.
Concerning my current projects, I am starting new collaborations with the industry, and I feel extremely excited about that. After my graduation I mainly developed projects based on a certain freedom, focusing on limited editions for galleries. This enabled me to consolidate my approach without having to compromise at all. When some companies got to know my work later on, they saw the opportunity to translate this sharp approach according to the industrial standards. So having the chance to introduce a little twist within the industrial field is a challenging opportunity, and I hope I will be able to do so while keeping a good deal of integrity in my work.
What do you think about the contemporary talk/position on design in the society?
The borders of design have become much more blurred, and this leaves room for an open interpretation of what design might actually stand for nowadays. Although it seems harder to identify the discipline, I think this is a positive aspect. For me what really matters is always the context a project is addressing – being it more social, conceptual or industrial, I think it’s important to deeply understand the reasons behind the making.
To give you an example, the DAE philosophy is to use design as a tool to research a broad variety of contexts – flipping the general tendency of doing research in order to merely implement a design for a given context. This makes things much harder to be grasped in the initial phase of a project, but opens up so many unexpected scenarios later on.
So what is your attitude, what are your priorities?
I have an intimate approach, what I do comes from my own needs. So my priority is to stay true to myself during my process of evolution. To do so, I believe that consistency and coherence are the fundamental ingredients necessary to elaborate a vision and get a grip on my thoughts.
Do you have any rituals in your work?
I try to keep track of the precise moments when intuition took the lead in my process, unveiling the origin of an outcome that surprised even my own self. The first time that happened was during my graduation year, and I thought of it as a mere coincidence. But when I noticed that by creating the right circumstances it could happen again and again, I started to trust myself more. The awareness of the potential hidden within one’s unconscious thoughts became the most precious element for me, which I constantly try to let emerge every time I start a new project.
Whose work do you find interesting today? And it doesn’t have to be just design (architecture, art, science).
I have a strong feeling for both architecture and sculpture. But I found out that when I relate to architecture, I am often looking for the sculptural qualities of it, and when I relate to sculpture, I might be looking for the architectural qualities of it. So I would say the interweaving of such disciplines that deal with space and construction is what inspires me the most.
To mention just a couple of names, figures like Donald Judd, Isamu Noguchi or Maarten Van Severen represent some models I look at, as they succeeded in the ambitious attempt of creating a very broad body of work, united under the umbrella of a super-clear vision.
The best design event (exhibition, project) for you last year and why?
It’s been an important year for me, marked by events that made me grow under many points of view. I was able to show my work at MAISON&OBJET in Paris, where thanks to the nomination by Rossana Orlandi I took part in the Italian edition of the ‘Rising Talent Awards’. Simultaneously I was shortlisted for the ‘Officine Panerai Next Generation Designer of the Year’, issued by Wallpaper* magazine. These recognitions gave me the possibility to show what I do to a broader audience.
Speaking about my projects, I was able to consolidate my experimental work by expanding my ‘Equilibrium’ series with 3 new pieces, which were presented at the Milan Design Week and at PAD London, in both cases with Galleria Rossana Orlandi.
Finally my first industrial project was launched – the tile collection ‘Segments’, which I designed for Italian ceramic company Decoratori Bassanesi. I enjoyed the whole process very much, and the project received an amazing recognition, being awarded with the ‘ADI Ceramics & Bathroom Design Award 2018’ during its launch at the Cersaie fair in Bologna.
The book that hit you the most?
During my masters I read ‘Letters To A Young Poet’ by Rainer Maria Rilke. It was a beautiful reading, which made me understand that what matters is not really the tools you are willing to learn and use to express your ideas, but the appropriation of them according to a personal vision. The idea that Rilke refused to directly discuss about poetry – discussing about all the things that surround it instead – is very interesting. It’s similar to my study experience in Eindhoven, during which I was able to let my thoughts flourish thanks to the lack of too many preconceived instructions.
What are you dreaming about?
At the moment my biggest dream is to find the right contexts for my work, which would allow me to preserve this attitude on the long term.
Guglielmo Poletti (b. 1987) is an Italian designer. He founded his practice in 2016 after graduating from the Design Academy Eindhoven, where he earned an MA in Contextual Design. Since 2019 his studio has been based in Milan, from where it covers a variety of projects that range from limited edition series to collaborations with the industry.
Since the beginning Poletti has developed a truly personal language, built around very consistent criteria. Deeply rooted in a hands-on investigation, his research explores the limits of materials in relation to their use, questioning the notions of balance, precariousness and structural strength. Characterised by the extreme purity and apparent simplicity, his elementary constructions stand as metaphors of solved complexity, referencing minimalist sensibilities through their architectural qualiti
Poletti’s works have been published and presented internationally, and over the last few years his studio received important commissions by clients such as Galleria Rossana Orlandi, SEEDS London Gallery, Desalto, Decoratori Bassanesi, Arven AS, Wallpaper* Magazine. The prototype of his ‘Equilibrium Stool’ has been acquired by the Design museum Gent for their permanent collection, while his first industrially produced work – the tile collection ‘Segments’ – has been awarded with the ‘ADI Ceramics & Bathroom Design Award’ as the most innovative product presented at Cersaie 2018
In 2018 Poletti was selected among the six young designers winners of the Italian ‘Rising Talent Awards’ at MAISON&OBJET in Paris. At the same time he was shortlisted for the ‘Officine Panerai Next Generation Designer of the Year’, part of the 2018 edition of the ‘Wallpaper* Design Awards’. In 2019 he has been nominated ‘Young Talent of the Year’ by Elle Decor Italia, which shortlisted him for the ‘EDIDA – Elle Deco International Design Awards’