Art or Design

Let’s draw a line and write “Art” (or Fine Arts) on one end, “Engineering” (or technology) on the other end. Place the Midpoint of this line: this point is called “design” (Applied Arts). Now let’s place again the middle point between “Art” and “Design”,that’s the spot where Francesco Morackini pieces belongs to, not exactly Art, not exactly design, but exactly in the middle.

Who created this space between Art and design? Is it Salvadore Dali in 1937 with the Mae West Lips Sofa? Or is it more recently in the 80’s with the Memphis Group who designed furniture for Art Galleries? Nobody knows but we can only agree that the phenomenon is not new. Most artists create objects, and designers can also make Art pieces. What is difficult is trying to define clearly the frontier between those two disciplines.

In 1998 The Campana Brother create the Vermelha Chair. Made of iron, aluminum, and cord, the Chair was inspired by materials and traditions of Brazilian weaving. Thread was intertwined to form the ropes, which were then hand-woven into upholstery. “We always say that first comes the material, then the form, and finally we elaborate the function of the product by studying its ergonomics, limitations, and capabilities,” explained Fernando and Humberto Campana. Thanks to the Campana brothers product design drifts away from the classical “Form/Function“ duality. The function comes at last and it all starts with the Form. What is sold as chair has been elaborated like a piece of Art. Today many designers and artists are exploring this space between Art and design: Sebastian Errazuriz, Yasuhiro Suzuki or Dominic Wilcox… to name a few of them.

The third dimension of design: The Story

Whether you decide to make the history of design starting with Leonardo da Vinci or Raymond Loewy, the definition of modern design is always based on two pillars: Form and Function. Sometimes the Form follows… sometimes it drives the design. But design is always and only considered through those two dimensions. Obviously, the form and the function are not sufficient enough to appraise a contemporary designed object. By relegating the Function to the last stage in their Design Process, the Campana brothers opened the Pandora’s box. When the function becomes an outcome of the design, when function is not relevant enough or not sufficient to define an object, the design paradigm changes. Designing a product is no longer about creating an object in order to solve a problem.

The main goal of modern design always was to create better products. To do so, modern industrial design goes way beyond creating great shapes with improved functionalities. Developing a product has become very complex. There is an endless list of domains taking part in the design process. The sound of a closing flap, the smell of specific material, the environmental impact before its conception and after its usage, the behaviors that a new product could create on the people, … those are just a few points to consider while design a new product. Originally the goal was simple and clear: always improve the user experience to make the client happy. A Happy customer, that was the aim of a good design. This product is better that is the reason I want to buy it. But why? Why am I supposed to be more satisfied with a more efficient product? What is the limit? When optimum ergonomics is found, designers are still trying to improve the “user experience” to stay competitive. This leads to work on customer needs and expectations, not proposing something good, but most of the time something new that appears to be good for you.In this context, how can we redefine the “user satisfaction”, and ultimately what is the real goal of design?

In the post-modern mass production era, Industrials and manufacturers put a lot of effort creating new innovative products. But the goal has changed, it’s not about creating good products, it’s also creating new needs in order to sell new products.Marketing has overcome the Common Sens, and created the “Story telling”. Narration and communication are such strong and powerful tools, it can defeat the truth. Story telling is stronger than the facts, and you can see it in every fields of the society, from politics to religions.

Consequently, the idea of an object has become more important than the experience it provides. According to Francesco Morackini, this has created a new state of mind where “conceptually perfect objects” has become possible.Morackini’s items can appear at first sight like humoristic gadgets, but they are in reality pessimistic representations of the vicious circle we are all playing in. Roland Barthes said: “An object is something responsible, it’s more than a thing, it’s responsible for what you put in it.” Indeed, personal objects and artifacts are no longer the expression of our personality, or tools to define a person socially. Design uses now so many psychological levers and tricks, that products and objects “put something in you”, slowly eroding our minds and shaping new behaviors. Paradoxically, dematerialization has amplified the influence of design on our actions. This so obvious, especially since the raise of Smartphones and Tablets.

Because the definition of a contemporary product has changed, Francesco Morackini rejects the old definition of product design. For him design is notabout finding optimized solutions to specific problems. Morackini proposes another direction by putting Storytelling in the center of the design process. In a typical design process, designers focus on the product in order to improve the user experience. For Morackini: the scenario isthe Finality of the project. Thanks to new Technology and design, daily objects became more than tools to improve our daily tasks. Roland Barthes explained their intellectual and psychological influences on us by describing the power of objects as a new Mythology:” …when the new model from Citroen was launch on the market, actually when it appears, the new DS 19 really worked like a magical product, it was glossy, without joints, with a lot of glass surfaces, this was the kind of object falling from the sky like in the Tales of Voltaire”. The fascination we have for new products creates an irrational reaction. Products and objects are talking to us. They are constantly sending us signals. Morackini uses this power, this language to fabricate narrations.

Design for Ideas not for people

Before designing an object, Morackini designs a story. In other terms, the designer creates items for Ideas not for People. Usage is not the finality of Morackini’s works, it’s a part of the process. This is where the ambiguity of Morackini’s works lays. By playing with the context and usage of his creations, the designer places his works between Art and design. Morackini’s unusual scenarios are redirecting the user to an observer position in the process. The designer wants to generate a distance between the product and user, to create a space for reflection. For example, the Dildomaker project refers directly to Raymond Loewy’s iconic Pencil sharpener, but it is not only a tribute to this great designer. The project also shows how much complexity design has gain in its evolution. Loewy had the talent to find the right curves to wrap products, in order to make the shape dynamic and ahead of its time. He gave a round soft reassuring touch to the final form. Loewy uses what is soon going to become marketing rules in the future. By definition Marketing puts the consumer in the center of the process and explores new paths to flatter his senses in order to make him buy a product. The Dildomaker flips this method and instead of the user, puts the story in the center of the creative process. the result is a tool which deliver an irrelevant service. Morackini describes this tool as a paradigm of the “marketing” product. All products are designed to give satisfaction. But theDildomaker literally promises, in an ironical “mis-en-abime”, one thing and one thing only: primal satisfaction.

The material and the finish of the Dildomaker is chosen with great care. The itemappears to be a very simple product. With plastic and bright color, its appearance invites people to use it in the kitchen. The aspect of the product refers more to a friendly cooking appliance rather than an erotic sex toy. And yet again it’s not about finding the right style, it’s about playing with different visual vocabularies and codes, in order to create a quirky effect. Round, ergonomic, friendly, clean, fun, giving pleasure, those attributes are shared by sex toys and kitchen appliances. The same causes often produce the same effects. Designers using the same tricks end up creating the same designs. Thanks to a sophisticated design, Morackini makes its products look innocent and blending in the daily landscape.

Another aspect of Morackini’s work is the influence of the Dada movement and the surrealism. This can be seen in the “Seul en Selle” project. The project can be simply described as an oversized biked saddle. The Saddle is just big enough the reach the height of standard bench. “Seul en selle” could have been named “Ceci n’est pas une selle” as well. The Designer plays here with our perception and preconception. The Bench that Morackini created is not really a furniture and not exactly a sculpture as well. The instantly recognizable shape flights slightly over the floor on a lightweight metallic structure giving it a sculptural aspect, but also uses the typology of a furniture. Nevertheless, the purpose (or the function) of the object remains obvious: to sit. At the end, the bench is not a saddle, the saddle is not seat and the seat is not a sculpture. In the occidental culture, a designer is a man dressed in black designing sofas and chairs. And the real purpose of the project is to talk about the absurdity of the never-ending quest for designers to design sofas and chairs. And yet again the designer failed in a grotesque way… but on purpose.
If the story telling is the cornerstone of Morackini’s work, it can also be the be the base upon which he builds a project. This is the case with the “Banker” project. The project is entirely built on an historical event: The Sub-prime crisis in the year 2008, and how the international banking system survived. Just after the Sub-prime Crisis, in a time period between 1990 and 2009, a Study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences showed that 90% of the Banknotes in circulation in the United States contained traces of cocaine, the study also noticed that this amount was increasing in comparison with previous studies.
The Banker is a project of a machine that counts, cleans and then extracts the traces of cocaine transported by the banknotes. The top floor is composed of a banknote counting machine and touchscreen to control the machine. The banknotes are then sent to the washing unit on the second floor, thanks to different solvents, the banknotes are cleaned-up and the “dirty juice” is sent to the centrifuge on the third floor. In the end the recovered solution goes through an HPLC and a mass-spectrograph for the cocaine crystals to be extracted.
So, themachine cleans currencies with the help of solvents, and on top of that, manages to generate extra wealth by extracting the traces of cocaine transported by the banknotes. Here, the designer refers ironically to the typical banker’s drug when banking reached its apogee in the 80’s. Not only the Banker is a metaphor of the banking system through its darker aspects - money laundering practice - but it also illustrates how you can hide yourself behind the complexity of a system. The Banker is an attempt to illustrate metaphorically, how, step by step and in a tangible way, the world of finance can generate money with money. The project talks as well of The Myth of the Machine, and the idea that technologies can also altered Our freedom. In this particular project, the designer neglects the user in favor of the process. humanity is indirectly evocated, but the focus is on the cold mechanism of the procedure.
Even if the project focuses on the process, we can notice a great attention to forms, materials and details. The friendly slightly retro-design of the Banker, evokes for example the beginning of computers in the 70’s. The several rounded shelves suggest the silhouette of a Brionvega Television set. The reference is not adventitious. In that period, technology was not a threat but perceived as a perspective of a bright future. The fact that the machines is composed of a lot of transparent parts wants also to communicate a certain “Honesty”. Other people could see a medical device in a hospital that cures the human body with a lot of lights, pipes, and screens. Using those design codes shows the efforts made to make the technology acceptable and friendly. But when you discover the purpose of the machine, this emphasizes the gap between the form and the function.

The impossible promise of perfection

For quite some time design has been an underestimate discipline. It has been perceived as the Art of solving problems, and a tool to increase products sales. But it’s also much more than that. Design is richer, and touches many topics such as the ergonomics, the sense of hearing, History, sociology, anthropology, Science, our emotions, our cultures, and Politics…

Francesco Morackini celebrates this complexity and utilizes design just like another medium like Photography or Sculpture to express a subjective point of view. Morackini’s work is about the fascination for the “perfect product” and the common promise that design can make our lives better. The Designer questions this endless quest to “perfection”. For him this pursuit only reflects the increasing gap between Humanity and Nature.