De Natura Fossilium @ Salone Milan 2014

De Natura Fossilium @ Salone Milan 2014

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Mount Etna erupting

Born in the shadow of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Andrea Trimarchi has long been intrigued by volcanic materials — a fascination which culminated in his exhibition with design partner Simone Farresin at Palazzo Clerici this week.

“We were fascinated by the way these volcanoes are constantly expelling material’, explains Farresin. ‘In a way, it’s like person mining. But in this case, it’s nature mining

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Sicily’s Mount Etna Quarry

For centuries, the boiling red, volcanic ooze that has geysered out of Mount Etna and Stromboli ( two of the last active volcanoes in Europe) has provided an excellent source for Sicilian stone cutters.

Hardened into dark slabs known as basalt, this plentiful rock once commanded a high premium among Italian artisans, who used it to build much of the region’s Baroque architecture and sculptures.

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Historically craftsmen would mould molten lava erupting from small craters into celebrated and elaborate forms.

This time-honoured craft has effectively been rendered worthless as now only inexpensive souvenirs are produced.

Formafantasma’s investigations and the resulting objects will challenge this situation and realise the full potential of the lava as a source material for exquisite and collectible objects

As both their earlier Moulding Tradition (2009) and Botanica (2011) collections highlight, this re-evaluation of lost processes and materials is a constant theme in their work, as is their questioning of the relationship between tradition and local culture and the relationship between objects and the idea of cultural heritage.


Andrea Trimarchi and design partner Simone Farresin

The Eindhoven-based pair, who are the forces behind Studio Formafantasma, created one of the most fascinating shows at the Salone 2014, titled “De Natura Fossilium”.

The designers scoured the volcanic landscape over the next few months, filling their sacks with various rocks and hauling the material back to their studio in the Netherlands, before melting the rock in a local metal workshop

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We are of course familiar with basalt stone, perhaps the best-known volcanic byproduct, but at Formafantasma’s show we see volcanic fibre woven into wall hangings and volcanic glass objects made by remelting rock from Mount Etna and then blown by Murano glassblowers (a rather difficult process)

For the Salone 2014, Formafantasma created 35 pieces including tables, stools, clocks and objects.

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Working exclusively with lava-based materials extracted from both Mount Etna and Stromboli, the duo have spent the last two years investigating the possibilities of transforming the geological substance from the banal to the mind-blowing.

In homage to Ettore Sottsass, the great maestro of Italian design and an avid frequenter of the volcanic Aeolian islands, this new body of work takes on a linear, even brutalist form.

Geometric volumes have been carved from basalt and combined with fissure-like structural brass elements to produce stools, coffee tables and a clock.

The clock itself is deconstructed into three basalt horizontal plates to represent the passing of hours, minutes and seconds. A brass movement spins around the plates, shifting three different ages of volcanic sand that have been sampled from three different sites on Stromboli.

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Volcanic glass, procured by remelting Etna’s rocks, has been mouth-blown into unique vessels or cast into box-like structures that purposefully allude to the illegal dwellings and assorted buildings that have developed at the foot of the volcano.

Drawing on their own vocabulary, these solitary glass boxes and mysterious black buildings have been finished with such archetypal Formafantasma detailing as cotton ribbons and Murano glass plaques.

By returning the rocks to their original molten state Formafantasma are reversing the natural timeline of the material and forcing a dialogue between the natural and manmade.

A black, obsidian mirror that is suspended on a brass structure and balanced by Volcanic rocks continues this line of narrative, as the semi-precious glass like stone is produced only when molten lava is in contact with water.

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From traditional slabs that have been cut and chiselled into sober tables or stools inlaid with brass; via melted stone whose carefully extracted fibres have been woven into lavic tapestries or unusual paper-thin ceramics; to melted stone that has been cast or mouth blown, for the first time ever, into geometric, lavic glass.

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These pieces are now available to purchase exclusively from Gallery Libby Sellers in London


De Natura Fossilium is a project that refuses to accept locality as touristic entertainment.

Instead, the work of Formafantasma is a different expedition in which the landscape is not passively contemplated but restlessly sampled, melted, blown, woven, cast and milled.

From the more familiar use of basalt stone to their extreme experiments with lava in the production of glass and the use of volcanic fibers for textile, Formafantasma’s explorations and the resulting objects realise the full potential of the lava as a material for design.

The Netherlands-based, Italian duo, revive the Sicilian tradition of crafting lava rock with their De Natura Fossilium collection of furnishings and objects.

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The duo played with heating and cooling temperatures, adding water, extracting fibres, and grounding dried rock into a powder that was later blown into glass, by hand blowers at the Berengo Studio in Murano

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a microscopic view of lavic rock’s geological strata

While the collection focuses on a specific locality, the project has been developed in collaboration with a number of European experts: from the CNC cutting of basalt in Sicily to the scientific analysis of lavic stones at the INGV of Catania, through the experiments with lava as glass at both the Glass Museum in Leerdam and Berengo Studio in Murano, to the brass developments with Carl Aubock in Vienna and the textile works with the Textile Museum in Tilburg.

The collection is also accompanied by a photographic series by long time collaborator Luisa Zanzani

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Formafantasma explored the tensile properties of lavic fibre with two different wall hangings, ‘Atena’ (left) and ‘Efesto’ (right).

Formafantasma have also investigated the tensile properties of volcanic fiber and woven two different wall hangings.

The tapestries combine illustrative references to both the Greek mythological gods of Mount Etna and microscopic images captured by the INGV.

These pieces combine illustrative references to both the Greek mythological gods of Mount Etna and the microscopic views of volcanic rock’s geological strata as ascertained through the designers’ collaboration with the Volcanologist Centre of Catania (INGV). As a sustainable alternative to carbon fiber, Formafantasma’s use of volcanic fiber has effectively re-appropriated a conventionally high tech material for artisanal ends.

“It’s been a really crazy process,’ admits Farresin of their broad stretch of collaborators. ‘It’s kind of a geek project’

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‘We were fascinated by the way these volcanoes are constantly expelling material,’ explains Farresin, who, together with the Sicilian-born Trimarchi, has spent the last few years studying these two active volcanoes in Europe.

‘In a way, it’s like a person mining. But in this case, it’s nature that’s mining.’

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With De Natura Fossilium, Formafantasma investigates the relationship of Sicilian culture to its landscape and local traditions, harnessing lava-based materials from Mount Etna and Stromboli and paying homage to the linear, almost Brutalist style of renowned Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, founder of the trailblazing Memphis collective.

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Left: ‘Hours’ clock, comprising a brass clock hand spinning on a basalt plate filled with three types of lavic sand. Right: ‘Filicudi’ glass box. The handle is a lavic stone, while pieces of orange Murano glass are added for colour accents.


Andrea Trimarchi and design partner Simone Farresin

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Italian designers Farresin and Trimarchi, who met at Design Academy Eindhoven and set up Formafantasma in the small Dutch city after graduating, have become well-known for their interesting use of materials.

Past projects include objects made out of food, a range of natural plastic vessels and furniture covered with discarded animal skins.


About “De Natura Fossilium”

De Natura Fossilium is a scientific reference text book written by George Bauer also known as Georgius Agricola, first published in 1546.

The book represents the first scientific attempt to categorize minerals, rocks and sediments since the publication of Pliny’s Natural History.

This text along with his other works including De Re Metallica compose the earliest comprehensive “scientific” approach to mineralogy, mining, and geological science

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