Design as a way of reconsidering life
by Sandra Hofmeister | Jul 1, 2009
Humberto and Fernando Campana

The Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana have come to Weil am Rhein on the occasion of the opening of their major exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum. Talking to Stylepark, the brothers describe their experiences as cultural ambassadors of Brazil, explain their idea of self-respect in design and the possible ways of fusing high-tech and traditional craftwork.

You are used to the cultural differences between Europe and Brazil. But is not coming all the way from São Paolo to Weil am Rhein a particularly special experience?
Fernando Campana: Indeed. There are so many differences, from the climate to the organizational structures... (laughs). And the landscape of course!
Humberto Campana: Not forgetting the design tradition and high-tech manufacturing methods.
Fernando Campana: You know, there are a few areas in southern Brazil, near Santa Catarina, which are home to many Brazilians with German roots. We have some series, the Favela chair, for example, that are produced in their workshops. The finished products are shipped to Europe and sold on the global market from there. We are used to working with people from different cultural backgrounds. We often mix cultures, not just between Brazil and Europe, but also within Brazil. That is part of our life.

Most Europeans have no idea what Brazil and Brazilian culture is like. How would you describe your country to them?
Fernando Campana: Brazil is a melting pot of different races and cultures. Globalization began when the Portuguese arrived 500 years ago. Instead of forcing their culture on the Indians, they began intermixing with Africans, Europeans and Asians. That is why today Brazil has so many religions and why there are no prejudices against individual races and religions. In this respect the people stick together. Of course there are serious economic problems, but no cultural problems. Brazil is a country that really enjoys life.
Humberto Campana: A very Baroque and maximalistic country of continental dimensions. Although we speak the same language, we live completely different lives. São Paolo, the financial center, cannot be compared with the considerably more rural regions.
Fernando Campana: Or the tourist areas.

Over the years you have become ambassadors of Brazilian culture in Europe, not just in the design community, but generally. What does this role entail?
Humberto Campana: In my opinion you have to think locally to be able to speak globally. For us it's like bursting through a gateway to the world.
Fernando Campana: Right from the start, we have tried to show the rest of the world the hidden sides of Brazil - aspects Brazilians are normally ashamed of. We have the courage to see the reality of Brazil as a poetic and aesthetic element of life and culture. Maybe that has made us more original and authentic to the rest of the world. In any case, we never championed a minimalist Brazil or simply copied some other cultural model. That is very important. I am observing how the world today is increasingly getting a realistic idea of Brazil.

You mean instead of relying on clichés and stereotypes like the artificial Brazilian glamour?
Fernando Campana: Yes. We tell of both the violence and all the lovely aspects, without feeling embarrassed by the reality. We look it straight in the eye.
Humberto Campana: We are not only influenced by the favelas. After all, there is also Oscar Niemeyer, Roberto Burle Marx and Paolo Mendes da Rocha. Brazil has a rich tradition in terms of architecture and design, which tends to the extremes. We are part of these extremes.

You said once that your works are strongly influenced by nature. In what exactly is this influence rooted?
Humberto Campana: It is the material: wood, natural fibers, bamboo, clay...
Fernando Campana: And it is the experience of nature, the perception of a particular landscape.

So you mean nature as an anthropological experience?
Fernando Campana: Nature can certainly be understood in anthropological terms, but that is not our intention. We absorb in a simple way what we experience. And then we try to use these experiences in our furniture designs.

So you have a very personal approach to nature?
Humberto Campana: Yes. Our father was an agricultural engineer. As children we went to farms with him. We came into contact with nature at a very early age. It was impossible to not be influenced by this heritage.

Many of your works, such as the "Objets Trouvés" or Recycling works, have the same background: They give things a different context.
Fernando Campana: Exactly. We use a kind of abbreviation and try to give the traditions and materials a different face. You could also call this an antibody principle. We add another version to the original body, a new life and new existence. That is very characteristic of our work.

You create your designs without 3D animations and software. From a European perspective that is most unusual.
Humberto Campana: Brazil has a rich tradition of craftsmanship and we work with this potential. I work love working with my hands. I have a passion for sculptures and materials. It would be wrong to use a computer for it.
Fernando Campana: We start straight away with the prototype on a scale of 1:1.

So mass production of your works is not necessarily a goal of yours?
Fernando Campana: Naturally we want to produce our works in larger numbers too. But it just isn't possible with some designs. In that case, we nurture and foster the designs in our studio and make them into editions.
Humberto Campana: The aspect of traditional craftwork also brings humanity to the design. It is ecological and has a human touch.

This human note in design has been rather overlooked in recent years. Yet in the current times of crisis it seems it is being rediscovered.
Fernando Campana: Yes, and it can introduce more self-respect to design.
Humberto Campana: It is also a way of reconsidering life.

Some of your ideas have become luxurious and expensive items of furniture that only few can afford. Is that not a contradiction?
Fernando Campana: Our aim was never to make furniture for poor people and our design is not intended for a particular target group. Naturally there are some pieces that are affordable. But that is not our concern. When a piece of furniture requires more time for development, it costs more too. It is a long journey from the first, hand-made design to the manufacturers, who have to find the ways and means of achieving good quality and selling the product.
Humberto Campana: We call it hand-made high-tech.

Compared to industrial design, does the furniture market generally value traditional craftwork more?
Fernando Campana: The problem is that there are too many similar items on the market. We try to give things a new life and a different perspective.
Humberto Campana: You know, there is a chair in the exhibition made entirely of cardboard. We wanted to mass produce it, but unfortunately we had to shelve the project with the onset of the financial crisis. I hope we'll be able to realize it in the future.

The Works of Fernando & Humberto Campana 1989 - 2009
A Vitra Design Museum exhibition, Weil am Rhein
May 16, 2009 - February 28, 2010

Humberto and Fernando Campana