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Art, Brodskij and Uniforms: Interview with Fabio Quaranta

When the Russian poet and essayist Iosif Broskij wrote Fondamenta degli Incurabili in 1989 — in Italian, while exiled in Europe — he was staying in Venice and found himself particularly impressed by what he called “the anarchy of water”. The element, he realized, defied the concept of shape and reflected a fluctuating image of the stunning surroundings.

This amorphous definition of beauty that “escapes the borders of time” is what inspired the artwork we have commissioned from Fabio Quaranta, a multidisciplinary designer working in the field of art, fashion and communication, and professor at IUAV University.

With a passion for clothing in its most fetishistic form, Fabio Quaranta has developed a unique silver-like shirt based on the traditional uniform worn by Muranese maestri inside the furnaces.

Uniforms and work clothes are worn out of necessity rather than desire, and the elements that define them — such as technical textiles, pockets and all sorts of embedded accessories and features — emphasize a sense of equality and collective identity over the expression of individuality. Fabio Quaranta’s work both embraces and contradicts the anonymity of uniforms, which are usually produced in series on an industrial scale,by creating a handmade, long-sleeved shirt that stands out for its unconventional beauty, undefined shape and a rare shiny fabric.

To welcome the art commission in our Gallery, we interviewed Fabio Quaranta about his creation and design process.

For Laguna~B, you designed a clothing piece that mimics the outfit of a Muranese glass master. Why are uniforms so fascinating to you?

I have always gone in search of old clothes, looking for work and military uniforms in particular. I have always been fascinated by the construction of these garments, because of the embedded necessities/needs that lead to their design. In workwear, as in military dress, the presence of functional rather than aesthetic elements has always fascinated me.

You chose to name the artwork Ad Iosif. Why?

Because Iosif Brodskj is one of my literary mentors. The first book of his that I read was Fondamenta degli incurabili. It’s a small essay, but it really opened up a world to me. I have been teaching at IUAV for 13 years and I have a constant relationship with Venice, where the book is set. As a poet, Brodskij uses such punctual language, carefully picking every word. This kind of writing style mirrors the philosophy I try to convey in my work; I would love to see the same precision and spirit in my own work.

In this book, one particular sentence changed the way I see what I do. Speaking of Ezra Pound, Brodsky writes that Pound had made an “old mistake: to seek beauty”. I stopped to think. Brodskij claims that beauty is not something you seek; instead it often emerges by doing something else. This is a key concept I also teach to my students at IUAV: aesthetics comes from ethics. Ad Iosif is a modest tribute to the poet.

Where did your idea come from?

The artwork was initially developed based on two antithetical concepts: on the one hand the uniforms that the maestri wear in the kilns; on the other hand the demand for a unique piece. The work thus contains the contradiction of being both a uniform and a unique piece. I wanted it to recall the liquid beauty of the water, reflecting the city of Venice. So I looked for a fabric that somehow reminded me of water. I found a fireproof, reflective technical textile by Schoeller Switzerland: it looked perfect. The buttons and label of the shirt were handmade in ceramic. Their irregular look increases this sense of discrepancy with the uniform: imperfection and disorder enter the realm of conformity.

Can Murano Glass Be More Sustainable?

Long before Murano’s fuel problem gained the attention of the broad public, the island was already at an environmental crossroads. As the Life Cycle Analysis we commissioned in 2019 showed, a single Goto glass releases an overall amount of 2.5 kg of CO2 during production, shipping and the initial extraction of raw materials.

For the past several years, we’ve directed our efforts towards making Murano glass production more efficient — a serious challenge considering that glassmaking techniques have stayed the same for centuries.

Moreover, being on a small island in the middle of the lagoon, bringing supplies to Murano requires a lot of boat fuel, and sustainable energy sources – such as green hydrogen – are not readily available because of the island’s distance from land-based infrastructures.

At the end of 2019, we asked environmental engineer Durk Valkema to study and develop a prototype for an energy-saving kiln capable of re-using the heat produced instead of allowing it to dissipate. Durk’s research resulted in an innovative kiln that can store an average 40 kg of glass and runs on a Stirling engine: a 200-year-old invention capable of converting thermal energy into mechanical movement — without releasing any additional emissions — that in turn generates electricity.

In May, the final prototype will be installed in Fornace Pitau. It will be tested through the small-scale production of one-off art pieces that will be personally made by Marcantonio under the guidance of glass maestro Carlo Pitau.

Because of its reduced production capacity, this project won’t have a significant impact on our emissions in the short term. However, we hope that the trial phase will help us understand how to adopt the technology on a larger scale in the near future.

Write us to book a tour of the furnace.

The Financial Times has recently released its FT Climate Game, a quiz game that challenges the player to “save the planet from the worst effects of climate change”.

Turning Scraps Into Treasure

Embracing creative perspectives on waste is crucial to rethinking the way we buy, consume and finally dispose of our goods. This month we’ve decided to highlight a local, emerging design collective doing inspiring work in this field.

Fucina Frammenti is a Venice-based design collective researching new applications for what they call scarto nobile, the “noble waste” resulting from industrial and handcraft production processes.

With a mission of “not recycling, but reusing” discarded parts or pieces from high-artisanal processes, FF makes objects that represent an ethical reconsideration of waste’s economic, productive and social potential.

Working closely with a network of local businesses, FF's team wisely picks the leftovers and makes valuable products out of them.

Since 2019, Clara Accebbi, Elia Venturini and Alessandro Zannoni have visited companies and workshops in Venice and Murano in order to find unique glass pieces discarded from Murano glassmaking (partnering with NasonMoretti, among the others), textile manufacturing (with Bevilacqua) and art printing (from Fallani Venezia and SmallCaps). They observe and investigate how a specific company functions and find ways to consciously employ its waste, establishing lasting relationships that can benefit everyone.

One of their most touching projects is 187 cm, named after the water level reached on November 12, 2019, when Venice suffered its worst flooding since 1966. FF collaborated with Small Caps and Fallani to recover high-quality screen prints ruined during the devastating acqua granda, turning them into one-time-only sketchbooks.

They have developed three other collections so far. The first one — Clara’s graduation project Galotte — was exhibited during Venice Design Week in 2020, and is now competing for Compasso D’oro’s Targa Giovani, the award dedicated to Young Design.

Designing with scraps, they say, is a whole new world, because it is the scrap that drives the design process, and not vice versa. For this reason, Fucina Frammenti's products slightly vary in color or shape, according to what the local waste market has to offer.

“Maybe a candle holder won't save the world”, they say, but their model is one that can easily be replicated, changing the way we think about not just scraps, but the things we leave behind.

Filippo Papa and Simone Cavallin, designers at Studio Banale, wrote a short essay about the value of waste, supporting Fucina Frammenti’s work and research.