Fabrizio Cocchiarella // when art meets design

[C] You’ve talked about taking on projects that aim to investigate new approaches to design that contribute to innovating and shaping future. Could you expand on what you mean by this? What does it mean in practice?


[F] By investigating new approaches to design I mean that I think its important to question models and ways we make decisions about things. I think its always important to question the motivation behind a project and what drives the reasoning. I really like the words of Eileen Gray, a furniture designer who was part of pioneering the Modern Architecture movement in the late 1800’s, “To create, one must first question everything”. Although this was over 100 years’ ago, I think this simple statement and approach to any design project ensures that it is always current and relevant. Designers have an opportunity to design future ways of living and experiencing the world. 


Fabrizio Cocchiarella is a designer, lecturer and researcher currently teaching on the BA(Hons) Interior Design programme at Manchester School of Art. Projects aim to investigate new approaches to design that contribute to innovating and shaping future scenarios for the designed environment. Specialist expertise and experience is routed in the production and manufacture of product, furniture, artefact and installation projects. The discipline of design is viewed as an interface from which to mediate and translate critical methodologies and commercial practices. Through collaboration as part of the design research group and platforms such as Unit X and UFƟ, research aims to explore a multi-specialist approach to develop new ‘ways of seeing’ and interpreting the encounter of everyday phenomena. Design practice aims to produce insightful, thought provoking work, creating projects that are not necessarily using the language of design norms, but rather re-inventing ways of looking at and experiencing our relationship with the physical (and metaphysical) through ‘para-design’.


I often find it frustrating that design is overlooked, particularly in the UK, as a valuable tool for change. By this I mean through design thinking it’s possible to engineer the future we really want, politically, socially, culturally and create the environment we believe in. By questioning the fundamental building blocks of the territory we design in - its possible to think of new models for living that go beyond the established consumer driven culture we are used to - to perhaps something more meaningful. I also like to think about the future in the sense of the “OPISO”. This comes from the ancient Greek term, where the future is envisaged as something we cannot see and that we are walking blind backwards into. We can see the present and the past as we travel backwards and through our peripheral vision we see the future start to materialise. We can never quite capture it in its entirety as its always yet to happen, but we put things in place, allowing us to get where we want to go. For me, design is about taking meaningful actions that help to reprogramme the way we live. The imagination should not be shut down to simply serve neoliberal agendas, its important we explore ourselves through the environments, interfaces and architectures we create... how we make sense of the world through design that mediates fictions and visceral reality.


[C] How do you think your approach informs the work you create? By this I mean the combination of artistic practice, research and teaching.


[F] The work I create is always through an analysis of situations. By thinking in terms of mediating or intervening in situations through a designed artefact, installation or intervention. I like to think of design as a tool to engineer the way people experience moments of their day. Hopefully these moment are meaningful when engaging with my work, that they perhaps spark some change in thinking or subconscious understanding. Research as an academic is about disecting and exploring notions of what motivates people and their interactions with the world. For my PhD that is to do with analysing belief in relation to how people respond to spatial situations that could be perceived as haunted or paranormal. In terms of how that feeds into teaching, through thinking about the fundamental functions of an environment to act as a stage for the self, spaces and the ways they are designed have a profound experience on our being. Whether thats the places we work, live or play… they host interactions with the rest of the world, they act as a background and vessel for us to live through experiences that define how we think and relate to others. 

[C] Much of your work is in collaboration with others. What does this mean in practice? How does it help in the development of ideas?


[F] All my work is in collaboration with others. I find the most enjoyable creative experiences are when creative conversations materialise into projects that could not have happened without multiple viewpoints and approaches. I find working with others and utilising a collective resource of skills an inspiring way to explore new modes of design beyond individual disciplines. Through working in Interior design and commercial practices where you co-ordinate teams of creatives to realise work either for commerical architecture, interiors or through film sets and brand spaces... all these collaborative situations could not happen in isolation or through one person.. the collaboration is integral in producing new exciting work. Through collaborating you create a sounding board for ideas that helps to critique, move and motivate thinking and produce work that is intrinsically social, democratic and multifaceted.


[C] Your research aims to explore and develop a new ‘way of seeing’, what do you mean by this?


[F] The design of spaces for me are important places to introduce new ideas and new opportunities to critique heritage structures and the modes and models that we find ourselves adopting in everyday life. Through the interface of design its possible to change actions or adopt new approaches to how we live through and understand our environments. By ‘ways of seeing’ I mean by presenting new ideas/ alternative realities from which we can choose to adopt or experience.

[C]You’ve been involved across the industry from conceptual store design to the making of artistic objects, could you give us an insight to how these developments occurred?


[F] My design career started working in a small creative studio practice on interior design based projects. Those project were often based around the creation of identities and how these engaged with the public, clients and the wider creative community. Initial projects were very forward thinking in their approach to commercial spaces and were explorations through material but also about experiencing the everyday in new ways through humour, performance and narrative. Work over the years has developed through meeting people through projects, opportunities present themselves the more you do. I always try to have a positive approach and don't very often say no, I believe there is no such thing as a bad project, its up to the designer/ creative to make the best of any brief. I think this is how you create opportunity for yourself, by being open, positive and generous with your time. 


[C] What does the term art mean personally to you?


[F] Art for me is the same as design. I see what I do as non-discipline specific, it covers the resolution of creative ideas into meaningful experiences, whether that is through an object or artefact or experiencing a spatial intervention. I think the boundaries between disciplines are now fluid, its important to relate to a view point I think within a specialism but the application is often broad and transcends boundaries, I think this is where the most interesting work happens.


[C] Where do you see design within the wider context of the arts?


[F]I think design is intrinsic to creating the tools we need to live. It is a process that turns creativity into everyday things and experiences. Design for me weaves its way through all disciplines, its pervasive and is the materialisation of creative endeavour. Design is often missed in talking about creative practices, the word Art often overrules discussion but I think that depends on which cultural viewpoint you're talking from. One example, in the UK we are very Art focused, our social structures and media often see the Art world as a place where critical thinking happens (although this is changing). In the Netherlands for example Design is the reference point, it is something the general population seem to understand, its democratic and very much a part of everyday life, their government understands the value of it and their schools encourage creativity. Politics I think has a lot to do with the way we talk about creativity.


[C] Could you talk us through your approach to a project, perhaps your recent UFO project? Do you begin with a plan which moulds and develop or is it a much more fluid process in which things become clear as they occur?


[F] Yes, more fluid… although there is always a plan, but that often changes. Recent projects often start from an interest that is explored.. I like to connect with people rather than just through the internet and books so for me its important to find other people who are interested in similar things and explore the territory together, discussion is really important. For example for my current 'visionary rumours’ project I’m working as part of a design research collaboratory (platform)  investigating the notion of a ‘state of unsettlement’, for this I’m looking at UFO phenomena and the resurgence of this more recently around political change. I’m interested in the way belief affects the way we view the world and influences the way we choose to live and make sense of it. Its important 

for me to research this kind of project in the field through cognitive empathic engagement. Its important to not be judgemental but try to see what 'the natives' see. Through absorbing specific knowledge in this way and trying to better understand the reasoning for viewpoints, its then possible to think how you might creatively engage with the project. Writing is important in terms of working through ideas but ultimately there will be some kind of physical manifestation/ experience to the project, but I don’t know what that is yet, that will come to me as the project develops….