The Milan-based duo shares their take on contemporary obsessions with our editor-in-chief.
Interview by Spencer Bailey
Portrait by Mattia Balsamini
April 05, 2017
Laura, you’re the first partner in a design office I’ve come across who is also a professional opera singer.
Laura Baldassari: In addition to being an opera singer, I’m a painter. Design was not on my mind before meeting Alberto. For us, design is a medium, like a painting or a sculpture or a performance.
Alberto Biagetti: When we met, around 2006, I didn’t know anything about opera or theater. I like that Laura doesn’t come from a design background. Her approach is open.
Alberto, you founded [Atelier Biagetti] in 2003. How has it changed since Laura arrived, in 2013?
Biagetti: We changed the scope to focus on limited-edition pieces and site-specific interiors imagined as three-dimensional paintings.
Baldassari: Every project is like a movie in which people can act.
Biagetti: It’s performance design.
It seems to me that this is how opera, as an influence, has come into play in your studio.
Baldassari: Yes. The live actor—the person onstage—is key to our work.
Who are some of your favorite film directors, stage designers, or performers?
Biagetti: I’ve always been impressed by Stanley Kubrick. I put him on the same level as Ettore Sottsass, who was a friend of my father’s. I loved Sottsass—he was a truly incredible man. In opera, [directors] Robert Carsen and Robert Wilson.
Baldassari: Wes Anderson! Also, the astronaut Chris Hadfield, who sang David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from a space shuttle. Genius!
How did you become partners in both work and life?
Biagetti: The Italian curator Gabi Scardi asked us to work together on a 2013 exhibition at Milan’s Riccardo Crespi gallery, called “One Minute Ago.”
Then, in 2015, you presented “Body Building” at Salone del Mobile.
Biagetti: With the curator Maria Cristina Didero. It was about beauty and how people are obsessed with the body and the power it can bring.
It was the first in a series of exhibitions produced by the studio to show at Milan Design Week. The third and final part opens this year. Why did you start with the bodybuilding theme?
Biagetti: Because the body is seen as an icon in contemporary culture. We wanted to start with our physical selves.
So the logical next step was the “No Sex” presentation, with its focus on sex, at last year’s Salone?
Biagetti: The idea was that psychology comes after the body. “No Sex” was a comment on sex and human relationships in a digital age.
And for the 2017 project, you chose the theme of “God.”
Biagetti: “God” is about the third major contemporary obsession. It’s not about religion—as many people will think. It’s about money; and power, which is the value of money; and the idea that those who win are those with money. Everybody wants to be rich. Everybody plays the lottery. They want to win, not understanding that you can win even if you’re not rich.
More broadly speaking, your work is also shaped by memory.
Biagetti: Yes. You need to put certain memories and ideas together, choose the right dimensions, and produce the object. Our work is about editing reality.
Baldassari: We extract DNA from specific situations and rework it.
Biagetti: It’s as if we’re genetic engineers.
You rarely work with brands. Why is that?
Biagetti: To work with brands means to design products so that they will, above all else, sell. You have to work with the marketing director and follow their brief. I can’t find many companies with briefs that match our expectations. If it happens, I’ll be happy, but I don’t really see companies wanting to be involved in more experimental things. They’re on a different side of the market.
Are there any companies you admire?
Biagetti: Emeco. I love Vitra. And Hay. They don’t want to produce, produce, produce. They care about quality.
Baldassari: I think the most interesting company right now is Ikea. It’s democratic and allows everybody to buy something nice for the home.
Who’s your dream client?
Biagetti: Someone who wants to live each day in different spaces and treat them as stories.
Baldassari: And who also has many, many houses! [Laughs]
It’s almost as if you’re designing experiences as much as you’re designing objects.
Biagetti: “Designing experiences.” I’m going to use that!
When you’re working, what’s the dialogue between you two like? It doesn’t seem like you agree on everything.
Biagetti: We get our best ideas in the car, talking.
What subjects or realms do you plan to explore next?
Baldassari: We don’t know yet. We’ll have to go on a long road trip!