Drawing inspiration from Brazilian street life and carnival culture, the brothers FERNANDO AND HUMBERTO CAMPANA combine found objects – such as scraps of wood and fabric off-cuts – with advanced technologies to create a vibrant, energetic and definitively Brazilian approach to design.
Taking their cue from everyday scenarios and using unexpected combinations of found materials – such as rubber hose, tissue paper, string or furry toys –Fernando and Humberto Campana transform modest materials into objects that celebrate the discarded and mundane and are instilled with the spirit of contemporary Brazil that they describe as “zest for life”.
Neither brother intended to be a designer. Humberto, born in the Rio Claro area of S?o Paulo in 1953, originally studied law, but began to design furniture in the mid 1980s after Fernando, born in Brotas in 1961, had completed his architectural degree.
Central to their practice is the importance of materials. The challenge, as the Campanas see it, is to transform something poor into something decadent and opulent. In the Vermelha chair, the brothers tie and weave an abundance of brilliantly coloured cord through a metal frame. Their Sushi chair transforms strips of brightly coloured plastic and carpet underlay into decorative rolls which then ‘upholster’ a basic frame. This process of transformation has injected a new energy into contemporary design by presenting a bold, vibrant alternative to the rationalist ideals of the long dominant European modern movement.
The material tradition of Brazil is based on craftsmanship and economy of means. By experimenting with high and low tech materials and using artisanal techniques, the Campanas are able to harness the energies of their inherited tradition while defining a new aesthetic based on experimentation and advanced technologies. They have also created a fresh and surprising way of looking at things. By weaving the fabric of S?o Paulo into their objects, the brothers present a very personal portrait of their city. “Our designs were born in the street, from the urban kitsch of the popular quarters and contact with nature,” they say. “Whenever we can, we go back to our farm. Nature revitalises our ideas.”
Visit the Campana's website at campanabrothers.com
Q. When did you first become interested in design?
A. During the early 1980s Humberto had a small sculpture studio and, when Fernando came to give him a helping hand, he found a fertile field to develop his ideas. Together, we began this collaboration which mixes Humberto’s intuitive sense of form, colour, and texture with Fernando’s architectural and product design practice. Besides that, we often wished to communicate our ideas through a particular medium, but did not know which it would be. We also visited design exhibitions especially the ones curated and beautifully set by Lina Bo Bardi and her husband Professor Pietro Maria Bardi at the Museum of Art, S?o Paulo.
Q. Why did you decide to work together? And, logistically, how do you do so?
A. It is an organic process where one begins and the other finishes the idea and vice versa.
Q. Your work often celebrates the found object. To what degree was this due to practical and economic constraints, certainly at the start of your career?
A. We always tried to find our own way to communicate the ideas that came to our minds. Whenever we could not find a specific material we would opt for the most similar one we could find with in our budget.
Q. An interest in materials seems to be the starting point for your designs with the form coming secondary to that. Could you describe your approach to design?
A. We always say that first comes the material, then the form and finally we elaborate the function of the product by studying its ergonomics, limitations and capabilities. The streets of S?o Paulo are a sort of laboratory for our designs. Whenever we need inspiration, we rely on the chaos and beauty of the city we live in. A good example of this is the Vermelha chair. The idea emerged when we bought a large bunch of rope from a street stall and brought it back to the studio. When we placed it on a table, we observed it deconstructing before our eyes. At that moment we both looked at each other and almost simultaneously remarked: “This is the chair we want to build. It is a representation of Brazil in its beautiful chaos and deconstructiveness.” To replicate this deconstruction in the chair, we were careful to study the construction of the mess of ropes.
Q. You have described your work as one of contrast incorporating a tradition of Brazilian handicrafts as well as technical innovation – can you describe the relationship between the two?
A. We make a kind of deviation by using existing industrial materials that have been forgotten by consumers, and then adapt them for our projects. This is a thin and dangerous line that can transform design into something kitsch or folksy. It has to have a balance in order to avoid all traps and vices.
Q. How has the experience of working with Italian manufacturers such as Edra and Alessi influenced your work?
A. Edra is the older partner. Our work for that company is an organic process between us – Fernando and Humberto – through the eyes of Edra’s creative director Massimo Morozzi. We are in constant communication with him concerning new projects we have seen, or simply about life. He never sends us a written briefing but instead sends images, or we go for walks in ‘odd’ places, which are sometimes the most visually stimulating. Our first collection for Alessi is coming up – Blow UP – which was another process started by a visit to their factory, which is a Museum. We had many talks with the technicians there as well as with Alberto Alessi, and are very pleased with the results.
Q. Can you explain the current interest from Europe and North America in Brazilian fashion, music, film and design?
A. Brazil suffered twenty years of dictatorship, which began little over half a century after the country won its independence and was emerging from its colonial past. At that time Brazil was beginning to define its cultural, political and artistic identity and gave carte blanche to political, anthropological and creative thinkers. However, when the military dictatorship took over, these thinkers were repressed, because of their influences on the greater mass. As a result, many anti-dictatorial movements were started by artists and musicians: one such example being that of Tropicalismo. These movements became the voice of our generation, but were quickly persecuted and repressed. Consequently, Brazil suffered a period of artistic stagnation imposed by this military regime. After the end of the dictatorship, which was only twenty years ago, Brazil was reborn. Today the work of most Brazilian artists is defined by a newborn freedom of expression. Combined with the geographical, cultural and racial diversity of the country, this freedom of expression has resulted in an explosion in the arts that is unique from that of anywhere else.
Q. Do you think that there are certain things which distinguish your work from European design? To what degree is your nationality important to your designs?
A. What distinguishes our work is the scarcity of technicological resources, which is also our treasure. Brazil is our great fountain of inspiration. Everything inspires us – from the people and how they organize their lives, to the geographical, racial and cultural variety of our environment. This fusion is truly what we consider modernity.
Q. Are there particular challenges facing Brazilian designers today?
A. We have a good furniture industry in the south of Brazil, but the manufacturers there are afraid to take risks when it comes to design, and prefer to stick to the classics. Little by little things are changing. Their eyes are becoming wiser and opened to the contemporary.
Q. Who and what inspires your work?
A. A good movie, a beautiful exhibition, a walk, a homeless person sleeping on the streets. We find inspiration in our surroundings – the chaotic urban expansion of S?o Paulo city as well as the industrial areas. The countryside where we were born, in Broitas city, is also a source of inspiration and stimulates us to make a fusion between primitive and urban aesthetics and way of living and solving product matters. Of course, we are stimulated by the work of other designers such as the late Achille Castiglioni, Shiro Kuramata, Hella Jongerius, Konstantin Grcic and Ron Arad.
Q. What would be your ideal commission?
A. Humberto would love to design a garden, and Fernando an airplane.
1953 Birth of Humberto Campana in the Rio Claro area of S?o Paulo.
1961 Fernando Campana is born in the Brotas area of S?o Paulo.
1977 Humberto graduates from the University of S?o Paulo with a degree in law and starts practising as a lawyer.
1984 Fernando completes an architectural degree at the Art College of S?o Paulo and joins Humberto, who has given up law to become a sculptor. Together they experiment with designing and making metal furniture.
1989 The Campanas design the Casulo Shelf and exhibit their furniture in commercial galleries in S?o Paulo and New York.
1991 Development of the Favela Chair, made from scraps of wood found in a S?o Paulo slum.
1993 Design of the Vermelha chair and Card Board Collection.
1997 The Campanas exhibit in Milan and complete the design of the Cone chair. The Italian lighting company O Luce produces their Estela Lamp.
1998 Together with the German lighting designer Ingo Maurer, the brothers present the Project 66 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Italian furniture manufacturer Edra starts producing their furniture beginning with the cotton string Vermelha chair. The Campanas teach industrial design at Funda??o Armando Alvares Penteado in S?o Paulo.
1999 A retrospective of the brothers’ work is presented at Casa Franca di Brasil in S?o Paulo.
2001 Introduction of a jewellery collection for H. Stern.
2002 Development of the velvet upholstered Boa sofa and Sushi chairs made from off-cuts of fabric and carpet underlay for production by Edra.
2003 Design of the Prived Oca chandelier for Swarovski, the Austrian crystal company, and a collection of ceramic vases for Teracrea in Italy.
The original Multidao and Banquete chairs are created especially for Moss in the Campana’s S?o Paulo studio.
2004 Retrospective of the Campanas’ work at the Design Museum, London.
Teddy Bear chair first shown at Moss and released as twenty-piece limited edition.
2005 Design of Grendene fashion accessories inspired by Zig Zag furniture made out of PVC wires. Melissa Australia releases the Campana Heel, Campana Bag, Campana Tennis and Campana Aranha.
Multi-sided glass Brasilia table released by Edra.
2006 Involved in Latin American Design Foundation’s group exhibition Extremely White presented in Amsterdam.
A small range of Sushi II, III and IV chairs continue to be produced by Estudio Campana each year.
Fernando + Humberto Campana – Tropical Modern, Paola Antonelli + Mel Bryars, Acanthus Press, 1998
Campanas, Maria Helena Estrada, Editora Bookmark, 2003