Shiro Kuramata, 100% Make-Up Vase, 1990, designed for the 100% Make Up project by Alessandro Mendini for Alessi.
Beginning in 1990, Alessandro Mendini spear headed a project in collaboration with Alessi called 100% Make Up – La Fabbrica Estetica. The idea was simple: to create a system of 100 vases, by 100 designers, each in 100 copies, to result in a parade of 10,000 similar objects varying only in their décor. In a sense, Mendini aspired to create a mini species in white porcelain individualized only by their designed surfaces. In terms of typology, the vase, designed by Mendini himself, was the most suiting object for the project. Vases are one of the most antique instruments, one of the most ancestral objects of humanity; small vessels that serve multiple functions which are relatively easy to make and easy to use. The decorators chosen were from various backgrounds, from fashion designers to musicians, and included some of the most notable creative thinkers of the time: Ettore Sottsass, Brian Eno, Robert Venturi, Philippe Starck, among others.
To narrow down from 10,000 to one, a design worth mentioning is that of Shiro Kuramata. Kuramata was to Japan what Sottsass was to Italy: they both redefined the possibilities of design, in a poetic way. Not only were they both majorly influential figures, but they were also friends and collaborated on various projects, particularly working together in the Memphis group. They met in 1981 during the beginnings of Memphis, and it was in 1983 when Kuramata introduced terrazzo as a material that later came to be widely associated with the movement. Kuramata first experimented with terrazzo in his designs in 1981 by adding stainless steel chips to the mixture and using the material as flooring for a stained-glass shop in Tokyo. Kuramata stated that by using terrazzo it would “give a kind of expression to the floor.” This led to his interest in how humble materials could be transformed and the development of the “star piece” terrazzo, conceived and named by Kuramata, which consisted of coloured glass mixed with concrete.
By 1983, Kuramata had incorporated his star piece terrazzo into many of his designs that were exhibited in a solo exhibition at the Matsuya Design Gallery in Tokyo. In the same year, Kuramata designs for Memphis using star piece were the Nara and Kyoto tables, which in turn introduced the use of terrazzo in furniture rather than just flooring and wall décor (figures). What must be mentioned is the title of Kuramata’s 1983 exhibition, hahen, Japanese for fragments on which Kuramata commented, “To me, everything is a fragment of my memory.” Poetic and metaphorical, this description of his star piece terrazzo captures its fragmented state. It is not just a composite material, but rather a composition of fragments from the past repurposed and reintroduce in a new light.
The influence of this revolutionary transformation of a material from being humble to being precious still reverberates in our contemporary moment, arguably in a contentious manner. The resurgence of terrazzo in contemporary design is laughable. From stationary to tin storage boxes, to a special clothing collection by ACNE, terrazzo has evolved from being a material to a pattern and has been used ad nauseam. Indeed, the cyclical nature of trends in the realm of art and design are unavoidable, but the transcendence of terrazzo from material to a two-dimensional pattern printed on an iPhone case is uncanny.
It is objects such as Kuramata’s design for the 100% Make Up project, and his Nara table for Memphis, that introduced terrazzo as a material that can be employed in ways other than flooring. However, we have now arrived at a moment where terrazzo is so far removed from its original and classical form. It was Kuramata who indeed pioneered the transformation of terrazzo into a beautiful material, but his exploration stayed true to the material itself.
To read more about the project see La fabbrica estetica.
By Katia Porro