Andrea Anastasio shows us around his beloved Naples


A Day in the Life

By Alla Carta Magazine

The hard-to-define work of Roman-born Andrea Anastasio reflects the complex interweaving of his material research, his extensive world travel, and his profound observations about life in the 21st century. Unencumbered by the need to categorize his work as art or design, he creates objects of both fascination and function—lamps, books, vases, textiles, and much more—by combining handcrafted components of his own conception with symbolically laden elements he stumbles across by chance.

We recently met up with Andrea in Naples—one of the places he now calls home—while he was hosting Ambra Medda and introducing her to his work, the city, and its various sites of craft production. After visiting one breathtaking spot after another—all decadent or decaying landmarks that Andrea believes to be essential to understanding Naples, like the Fontanelle Cemetery, the Morra vineyards, and the San Giovanni a Carbonara Church—we sat down in his studio and listened to him recount the few days he spent with Ambra and his long love affairs with Italy and India—all told in his calm yet magnetic manner.

 

Alla Carta: Your work is very enigmatic. For us, it has a very anthropological feel, as if you've been studying the artifacts of human societies as you've traveled, lived, and worked around the world; as if you're searching for universal forms and ideas. How would you characterize your work.

Andrea Anastasio: My work and my research are motivated by my need to develop a contemporary language beyond traditional definitions of art and design. For me, form and function are always culturally dependent—so I feel they must be intimately entwined but also conceived for a particular context and for changing notions of what a domestic space should be. I investigate what defines public and private life today, but also try to understand and activate our centuries-old mythologies so they can nourish the empty and sterile forms of our shared reality.

© Alla Carta Magazine AC: Did this search for a richer, deeper reality lead you to India?

AA: India has represented a lot in my life. It’s the country that most allowed me to find a certain equilibrium, especially during a strange time in my life. I grew up during Italy’s years of terrorism—the Anni di Piombo (years of lead)—when society was divided into two irreconcilable factions. I experienced much adult violence that I wasn’t ready for. I wasn’t mature yet, and the situation didn’t leave any room for the needs of young people.

I first arrived in India very early on, at the age of 18. When I returned to Italy, I knew I had to study all I could about Indian culture. I went to university specializing in philosophy, but I also studied the history of art in Asia and India. I began to learn the language and the traditions, and I discovered a world that was outside of Europe and which truly enriched me as a person.

AC: Did India inspire your tireless research into materials?

AA: I actually began messing around with different materials at university, and by pure chance I met Ettore Sottsass. Some friends of mine invited me to a party—it was his 70th birthday. I was absolutely fascinated by the idea that he studied Eastern materials and culture and often went to India. It was a passion we shared. I had just graduated and I thought I’d go into an academic career. But I would go to his studio to show him things I made for fun: paintings, weavings, glass jewelry. He encouraged me so much, telling me that the design business is tough but that he thought I had talent. So I found myself thrown into the world of design, and nine months later I held an exhibition at Antonia Jannone gallery. The editor of Casa Vogue at the time, Isa Vercelloni, mentioned my work to the art director and owner of Artemide. From there began a collaboration that continues to this day.

AC: You designed the Giocasta Lamp for Artemide in the early '90s, and its success brought you an unplanned career in the design world. Why did you decide to move to India just when success was at your doorstep?

AA: It was an extremely dynamic time of my life, but also very disorientating. I designed a lamp that is still being produced 25 years later. This commercial success gave me not just financial independence, but also a great freedom. After five years of non-stop activity—exhibitions, projects for Artemide, Memphis, and Danese—I needed to take some time off to understand where I was personally and professionally and what I wanted to say. I felt I didn’t belong to the industrial design culture, not in terms of training or talent. I really missed studying; I missed the life of a scholar, with its time for reflection and solitude.

So I went back to India. It was a courageous and crazy choice, but a need more than anything else. Because I felt truly adrift; I’d been thrown into a scene that was extremely rewarding from a certain point of view and very hostile from another.

I designed a lamp that is still being produced 25 years later. This commercial success gave me not just financial independence, but also a great freedom. AC: But you had no idea you would spend the next twelve years in India?

AA: None. But, beginning in 2002, India once again offered me salvation. I began to spend a few months every year in Italy while working mainly out of India.

AC: So how did you come to live in Naples?

AA: I didn’t choose Naples for its culture; I discovered that later. I chose it for reasons of the heart—because of an encounter and a relationship. Then I began to get to know the city, and I discovered a whole world.

AC: Naples can’t be an easy city, but your experience in India must have helped you understand the complexity of such a stratified reality…

AA: I think that my time in India was excellent training, but I also think that it is impossible not to see the wealth of this place as long as your mind is free of prejudice. It is a city that is modern and ancient at the same time. I won’t deny that it has enormous problems, but it also has the most extraordinary opportunities. For example, there is a network of craftspeople here that I value deeply. I try to interact daily with these realities as I walk through the city.

© Alla Carta Magazine AC: With Ambra you went to meet these craftspeople and to visit some of the city’s most interesting places. Being a naturalized outsider yourself, what was it like showing Naples to a newcomer?

AA: Showing Ambra around Naples for three days was like floating through a continuum of memories, unexpected associations, questions, dialogues, breaks, intuitions, and reflections. This is the most Greek city in our country, which makes it a little bit of an outsider in Italy itself. In the taxi ride from the Sanità neighborhood to the Spanish Quarter, Ambra exclaimed, “Look, it’s like we’re not in Italy!” It was important to me that her encounter with my work happened at the very end of her stay. It felt necessary to tell her a story first, to weave a narrative thread that gradually wrapped around many of my inspirations and motivations. I didn’t just want to explain the finished objects; rather, I wished to generate a parallel vision that evoked a process—a “temperature” of being—which is how I live in the world.

I believe that dialogue is a deep form of consciousness, because it reveals a part of the self that we sometimes have no way of seeing. These days that we spent together in the city of Naples were thick with confirmation and discovery; a creative process revealed itself alongside the design process.

AC: After this experience, what is it about Naples that you will always carry with you?

AA: The scent of lemon blossoms; strolling to the Certosa di San Martino; the ferry to Procida; the Seiano Grotto; Kounellis at the Dante metro station; San Giovanni a Carbonara; the Farnese Hercules; August’s Temple in Rione Terra; the Neapolitan physiognomy; Taurasi and Greco Tufo; pizza at Michele’s; courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and Montanara at Starita; stuffed endives; struffoli; pigna di tarallo; and raffiuoli.

 

After our conversation, we left the studio and headed towards the 85-year-old Fratelli Attanasio patisserie, where the intense, sweet scent of ricotta, cinnamon, and orange reaches out from within to greet you on the street. It is the perfect place to end a perfect Neapolitan day. Inside, we found cards printed with “Napule tre cose tene e belle: o’ mare, o’ Vesuvio e è sfugliatelle.” (Naples has three beautiful things: the sea, Vesuvius and sfugliatelle pastries.) Though we all know better, of course, don’t we? As Anastasio has shown us, Naples’ enchanting layers are endless.

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    • Alla Carta Magazine

      Alla Carta Magazine

      Alla Carta approaches food as an incentive to take a bite of diverse cultural phenomena. We are intrigued by the meal's convivial capacity, and have found food to be an essential element for sharing thoughts, opinions and creative ideas.

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