‘Panazzo’ is the place in the countryside of Calatafimi Segesta (Sicily) where I grew up and lived some of the happiest moments of my childhood. A place where everything was possible. To walk bare foot on the dirt, to howl to the moon like a wolf, to eat figs and almonds directly from the trees, to have foxes as friends.
Panazzo is the place where my grandfather, Filippo, saw and was intrigued for the first time with a fascinating reticular wood accidentally found while strolling. Curious, he started experimenting on the fibre of the old prickly pear that grows in front of his house on the other side of the road, from which the fibre originated. He, then, attempted a first kind of desiccation process to extract the fibre from the cladodes (the spatulate stems). With the fibre, he started decorating some paintings to portray the local landscape (The Greek temple of Segesta, with particular interest!) using the fibre’s patterns and shades of colours to create the chiaroscuro and give perspective to the depicted subject.
This is the prelude of what would later become ‘Nuovomondo’, a material research I conducted, with my grandfather’s help, to better understand the fibre’s characteristics both structurally and aesthetically, in order to consider it as a sustainable material for product design.
The Prickly pear, native of South America, arrived to the Mediterranean shores on the Spanish ships of Cristoforo Colombo, here it became a common plant known for its very peculiar, colourful comestible fruits.
The plant is invasive, it doesn’t need nurturing or major resources of energy to be sustained, its structure has innate water reserves, and it propagates by cutting.Its presence even improves impoverished soils.
When dry, it can be exfoliated and this unique wooden fibre extracted. ‘Nuovomondo’ (‘New World’) is focused on understanding the fibre’s physical and mechanical properties. These open to the design of a totally new craft, able to produce items with an original aesthetic. The production processes are currently conducted solely by hand. The objects, produced locally, are completely organic, free of synthetic components like glue or varnish.
In occasion of ‘DONNE&DESIGN’, exhibition curated by Silvana Annicchiarico for ‘Superstudio più’ during Fuorisalone 2021, I tapped into the 'Nuovomondo' research to address, articulate, narrate the concepts of ‘locality and remoteness’. The topic has shaped and influenced my design practice today, as much as when I didn’t know what ‘design’ was. Being local and living local means, adapt to the context, react to it and act accordingly or regardless.
Often, in remote places like Panazzo design is an instinct, an unencrypted, underestimated reflex that is performed following a non-informed, emotional way of making, like the one that brought my grandfather to be curious about this fibre. In these places, design is a reactionary attitude, intuitively performed against the perseverant immutability that can trap you in the distances of isolation. Through the Panazzo series, the aim was to explore and imagine what objects would look like if we’d only make locally (again), nurturing diversity and biocompatibility through reactive curiosity. What if the objects in our surroundings would be the sole result of the materials, tools and skills available to us in the nearest proximities, and the only ideas triggered by physical boundaries?
The Panazzo series is composed of seven objects made of the same stock of material, harvested by my grandfather, from the plants growing in our estate in Panazzo. The nature of the objects and their shape has been designed according to the material availability and following the technical features of the different patterns of the fibre that can be extracted from the same plant. The exhibited pieces are four bowls of different dimensions, made of the thinnest leaves, that allow thermoforming and rounded shapes to be obtained, and three table lamps with light diffusers made of thicker fibres, able to provide structure. All these objects have been produced in Panazzo with the sole use of the manual skills of my family members and the basic hand tools we could find in the old country house. Each object takes the name of one of the people who helped in the making of the project: Filippo, Elisa, Pina, Rosario, Tiziana, Valerio, Marco.
_ Marco. With the very first prototype ever made. Dyed fibre.
PANAZZO LAMPSThe three lamps of the Panazzo Collection ‘Rosario’, ‘Pina’ and ‘Valerio’ are objects that aim to emphasize the aesthetic features of the natural fibre of the prickly pear. Every leaf has a totally different and unpredictable pattern and thickness. I tried to adapt the design and the shape according to the structural nature of the used fibre. The three lamps use the fibre and its phenotypic nature as a distinctive feature to diffuse the light of the spotlight. Each one of these lamps is designed through a constrained rudimental ready-made process. The assembling of the lamps and their design was dictated by the material availability, the tools we were able to retrieve locally, a specific timeframe, the skills of craftsmanship on which me and those who helped me were able to rely on and all these factors combined.
_ Below some pictures taken during DONNE&DESIGN @Superstudiogroup in occasion of Fuorisalone di Milano 2021.
Ph. Riccardo Diotallevi, Courtesy Superstudio.