Campana Brothers by Kanishka Jain

Fernando and Humberto Campana the brothers Fernando (1961) and Humberto Campana (1953)are two of the most famous South American designers.Since 1983 Fernando, who graduated in architecture,and Humberto, who studied law, have worked together in the field of design, or better between art and design. In their joint studio, a sort of converted garage, in São Paulo, Brazil, they develop furniture, which are often based on everyday, ready-made materials waste products as well as industrial goods. The originality of their artistic work caused controversy and brought massive critical attention by the early 90s, they had already gained considerable international acclaim, notably in Europe and in the United States. Some of their products also began to be produced and sold in Italy. The Campana Brothers were first noticed in 1998 by the media, when they became the first Brazilian artists to expose their work at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, along with German lighting designer Ingo Maurer. Perhaps the most telling sign of their success is the fine-art prices their creations now fetch. The brothers have proved that down-cycled works need only be rich in concept, wit and elegance to be collectible. Moreover, the notion that even the dross of daily life has value has never seemed more captivating than now. The Campana brothers have turned down cycling into design art. During much of the 20th century, innovative designs were consistently linked to breakthroughs in material engineering or fabrication. Designers continue to be obsessed with the newest, coolest materials and processes is evident in the proliferation of firms, such as Material Connexion, that advise designers and industry about new materials, and of international fairs that showcase them, but against this backdrop the work of Campana brothers stand strikingly apart. They are obsessed with material and fabrication, but they are radical by being traditional. They use the most common material and turn it into a great piece of design such as furniture or a product. For example The Vermelha chair, their breakout design and still their best seller, which Edra put into production in 1998 and which costs $9,425, is emblematic of their quirky approach. Made of 492 yards of cotton rope woven, knotted and looped around a metal frame, it was inspired by the piles and spools of rope the brothers saw in one of the many shops that line the side streets of São Paulo, where they live and work. In 1993, when they designed the chair, they had already been collaborating for 10 years, originally on sculptures with a functional dimension that gradually evolved into furniture. 

This also means that they seek for inspirations through strolling down the Brazilian streets and most common nature of Brazil and materials. Alchemy is the term they often use to describe their process of transforming the banal, the discarded and the ignored into objects of beauty and value. In fact, turning discarded goods into something different is common in countries with large impoverished populations. Taking advantage of Brazil’s large and affordable pool of skilled manual workers, the brothers have installed a workshop on the ground floor of their studio that serves as both a testing ground for new concepts and a mini factory. The latter makes and sells works that are not licensed to their long time partner Edra or other clients, who include Alessi and Fontana Arte. Under the rubric of Estúdio Campana, half-dozen artisans sew handmade folkloric Esperança dolls or plush stuffed animals into cartoonish chaises or weaves apuí through and around cheap plastic café chairs to create marketable versions of the Trans Plastic collection exhibited at London’s Albion Gallery in 2007. (A version of the Albion installation was on show at Design Miami/2008, which honored the brothers with its Designer of the Year award.) Their latest work, which was very attractive to me, was  “The Tasting Gloriette”. The campana brothers unveiled this design in a Milan festival called the “Milan furniture festival”. The design was collaboration for Veuve Clicquot. The structure is a contemporary version of a Gloriette for the residence’s garden. In their piece of work the materials tell the story and the effort behind it, that’s why today they are very well known all over the world for their construction of work and use of such simple materials into their design and making it look so constructive and tangible.


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