Tellurico Finds Unexpected Virtue In Dissonance and Jesmonite with "Familiar Stranger"
There is a surprisingly baroque sensibility in the work of Francesco Pace, the young Italian designer who works between studios in his native Naples and Eindhoven, also founder of the interdisciplinary design studio Tellurico. As Pace's background suggests, the paradox of growing up atop the volcanic arc of the Campania region, centred on the bay of Naples – a geological area prone to earthquakes, situated over a dormant volcano – influences an approach to design that takes into account a dynamic, even anxiety-inducing natural environment, home to ancient mythology.
Paradoxes, therefore, are the "telluric current" that run through the foundations of Pace's work. Contradictions seem to be embedded in his practice, as demonstrated in Familiar Stranger (2016), the product of a reflection on the "unexpected virtue of dissonance." The theory-laden project, composed of design objects such as tiles, doorstops, a bench, a side table and a centrepiece, as well as some material samples, refers to the concept of cognitive dissonance in psychology, but also describes the value of dissonance as an expressive force in aesthetics more generally.
Cognitive dissonance can be as simple as "holding two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time," or as complex as seeking to explain inexplicable feelings and justifying anxieties triggered by irrational fears. Taking care of the affective qualities of objects and the relationships they maintain when exhibited, Pace distorts typical objects of design into almost unfamiliar shapes and textures that demand to be manipulated. Working with Jesmonite, a gypsum-like material that can be cast into organic shapes with a stone-like appearance, the designer achieves shapes reminiscent of molten and hardened rock formations, yet that also reflect the human body.
We have the heavy tray in Jesmonite with a superficial consistence the designer describes as "tongue-like," a little rough. Despite its appearance, it weighs 5 kilos, contradicting the lightness of its form. We also have flaccid-looking book holders and door stoppers made of silicone, stretched thinner and tongue-like, almost viscous in texture. If they initially produce a feeling of disgust for their languid, drooping appearance, their tactility becomes almost a stress-reliever for its users, confirmed by the sturdiness of their composition.
Then, there are polyurethane and polyester tiles, which Pace produced by shooting a high-definition video of rain falling into a puddle, to therefore reproduce the relevant frames into tiles. Smooth in texture, referencing to the stains an oil spill makes on the sea, they have a rubbery texture. We can imagine a few of these disrupting a traditional uniform bathroom floor, to the perpetual surprise (and comic relief) of its users.
In a 2015 Guardian article that has been circulating again lately, "In Praise of Dirty, Sexy Cities," we learn that Walter Benjamin, when visiting Naples, found that "just as the living room reappears on the street, with chairs, hearth, and altar, so only much more loudly the street migrates into the living room.” Pace, in his essay on "Familiar Stranger," writes that at the beginning of his reflection on cognitive dissonance, he was struck by the theatricality of exhibited ancient vases in a museum, and the "just-so" grouping of a few chairs he encountered on the street. We can think, then, that the work is an evaluation of exhibition practices, whether explicit or incidental, and the cognitive responses we have toward them.
For this refreshing and experimental body of work, the designer draws on psychologists such as Leon Festinger and Sigmund Freud, taking to the writings of the philosopher R.M. Sainsbury on paradox, and reconciling irrational fears in stories by authors such as "The Sandman" by E.T.A. Hoffmann and the fantastical 19th century accounts of Italo Calvino. By further infusing his strange yet familiar objects with specific references to historic and contemporary literature, film and music, the designer grants his art a curiously poetic quality, to which a time-old sonnet by Petrarch – on life and death, beauty and grotesqueness, chaos and order – might make a worthy complement.