arts&culture

Imperfection as surplus value

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A character in search of an author: too mature to become an entrepreneur, but one who still believes it is possible to convert a passion into a business. Craftsman, artist or designer? «Heavy definitions to fit into, I’d sooner say what I like to do and leave it to others to find the right place.» We are glad to introduce Angelo Lussiana, owner and founder of Cardboard&Design.

 A passion for «making», whereby making requires the combination of manual, intellectual and aesthetic skills. His name is Angelo Lussiana, he is from Cardboard&Design and he loves to make projects concrete that others would keep in their imagination. He translates details that have prompted him into something that can be realised and that can be useful – a line, a shape, a movement. «Sometimes I work on that thought for days, other times I forget about it after a few hours and then try to recover it, in vain, days later: normally I regret it, because I am sure it would have been a missed bright idea.» Because art is a question of insight. We find him in his world, a large workshop in the large basement of his house in Giaveno, in the province of Turin (Italy).

On your website you speak of the “cardboard that is not.” But what does that mean to you?

«I have focussed on cardboard for the last ten years: I spent the first few years learning how to work with it, how to know its characteristics, how to obtain strong, smooth and, when necessary, flexible surfaces. In short, just the opposite of what that material seemed to be able to offer. This enormous effort, however, has not cancelled my passion for my old loves: wood in particular, which I continue to work with, combining it with some cardboard objects to make them stronger, but also to give them elegance and greater value.

However, I believe that any material can have intrinsic characteristics that contribute to the beauty of a product: I do not deny myself the possibility of using any material when the occasion arises; if I do not know the possibilities of working with it, I search in literature, I observe others working with it, I try, I experiment…».

Where did you receive your training?

«And precisely experimentation, particularly with cardboard, was my school: there was no literature on cardboard processing on the net, and there still isn’t, so all I had to do was try. Of course, there was only the cutter as a cutting tool, but that wasn’t enough for me: my designs required many parts, many of which identical and others with small differences and above all very precise. I love reproducing mechanisms, movements, such as that of a clasp. Therefore, precision is essential, and it is equally essential when it comes to reproduce hundreds of identical sections for a vase.

I, therefore, equipped myself with a self-made numerical control milling machine: the advantage is that with it I can cut not only cardboard but also wood and other materials.

Once I had overcome the cutter obstacle, infinite horizons opened up for making the unthinkable. In the meantime I had learned that piling layers on top of each other to make three-dimensional objects was an ugliness that I could leave to the industry: with the quest for beauty and practicality in mind, I had to find a solution that would allow me to create surfaces that were homogeneous, smooth to the touch, without overlapping steps, and very robust.

So I came up with a couple of new techniques: for what I call the “wedge” technique, the solution came from observing an orange, and then another one that involves building individual “staves” to be joined together to complete the 3D. I like to say that in order to make a full-volume object out of cardboard “you have to design and draw in 2D while thinking in 3D».

In your videos one can see your workshop where, at the end, what is needed is a table, a ruler, glue, some cutting tools or tools for making holes and a lot of patience… is that so?

«That’s true, a lot of patience. A support surface is certainly essential (and this is what I lack because mine is always cluttered with a thousand other things), vinyl glue, of course, for assembling pieces; lots of glass paper, grain 60, because “from there up you tickle the cardboard”, in spite of those who believe it is a fragile material; cutting tools, of course, and here I reaffirm what I said before.

For the Sunday hobbyist, I would recommend the cutter, a rubber cutting board, a ruler and glue will suffice: it is not an economically demanding passion.

If, however, you want to make something complex, perhaps in several pieces, then you have to find other solutions for cutting: you can rely on a service that cuts according to your design, which you can also find on the net, or you can make some help, even if it is a simple template to follow during the cutting of many fairly identical parts, or you can equip yourself with a small laser or milling machine».

What type of objects do you make?

«I love lamps that allow you to experiment with new and daring shapes: recent LED light sources are certainly inspiring in this sense, as they can take on shapes that were unthinkable for a lamp just a few years ago.

Vases also fascinate me: mine stem from the development of new techniques; I like to amaze and consequently try to make objects with cardboard that you would not believe possible to make with that material or, given its “malleability”, in the sense of the possibility of overcoming the laws of physics, to make appear what otherwise would not be possible, such as the I-Touch lamp that would not have been able to take those shapes if it had been made by cutting it from a strip of rubber or metal.

I have made games, such as the cannon which, applying the vortex principle, shoots out a ball of air, knocking down pirates, or a chalk board disguised as a laptop to imitate dad; personal accessories, applying the idea of “cardboard fabric”, such as bow ties for boys or hairpins for girls, and three models of handbags; installations with mechanisms such as the working reproduction of Galileo’s pendulum. In short, I see no limits to the use of cardboard: I am convinced that if an object exists in another material, it can be reproduced in cardboard, maintaining its functions». 

What can you tell us about the “segmented” and “stave” techniques?

«I am not jealous of my techniques: on the contrary, I feel the need to teach them, so that they will not be forgotten, in the hope that someone will be able to make them work better than I did. They were born for a functional purpose, to obtain more attractive surfaces from this material.

The “segmented” one is based on the principle of radial decomposition of the object, which involves replicating the section as many times as necessary to complete the circumference. The elements are then glued in pairs, pressed in a certain way with a specially designed tool, the “spicchiatrice“, then joined again in pairs, pressed again and joined until 4 to 6 large segments are obtained ready for final assembly. A sander is then needed to even out the surfaces.

The “stave” technique, which is less physically demanding due to the lack of the compression phase, is however much more nerve-wracking in the design phase as it is necessary to draw each single element of an ideal segment on its own longitudinal axis: the difficulty is also exacerbated by the non-constant thickness of the cardboard, so it is necessary to consider margins of error that after a hundred or two overlaps can lead to a few cm difference.

A transformation of the basic material from a rigid, opaque sheet to a flexible, transparent fabric, first developed as a screen and lampshade for lamps, is the “cardboard fabric” obtained by cutting the original sheet into strips of approximately 5 mm and then joining them together rotated by 90 degrees. The final sanding will lead to a new material with a uniform, flexible and semi-transparent appearance. The step from lampshades to bow ties and handbags was short.

Again, more of a trick than a technique, it is important to maintain the same direction of the internal waves of the cardboard when cutting: on the one hand, there is the need to avoid surfaces with an excessive presence of areas where the internal reeds run along the direction of the cut, as this is the least resistant side of the cardboard and the least attractive to see; on the other hand, intelligent exploitation of their directionality allows for different colours of the surface of the object, light and dark, as on the top of the Gaudì coffee table or along the Bicolor vase, given by the different incidence of entry of external light».

What physical characteristics do you want to achieve?

«”Cardboard is warm in its own right, it is a good thermal insulator: what it cannot offer is colour – white, sometimes black, almost always brown – and resistance to impact or compression. With the techniques described above, I reverse these characteristics: by cutting the cardboard into sections, turning them upside down by 90 degrees and putting them together, I obtain strength, the object will be able to support several kilograms or quintals; sanding makes it even warmer and velvety to the touch; the surface will visually take on uniformity of design and the light and dark will be able to give, if not colour, movement to it. All this would not be possible if, in order to make three-dimensional objects, the original sheet was only worked with folds».

What is the object that you are most fond of or that represents you most and that you might find hard to sell?

«I find it hard to detach myself from each object: for some reason each one is unique and has taken a lot of effort. The other reason is that if I were to reproduce it in the future, not having the previous one to base it on, I would have to think about the construction process again.

The handbags are certainly the objects to which I am most attached: I use leather for the covers of the handles and for the sides, which are scraps of craftsmanship, so it is not easy to obtain the same colour twice. Partly for this reason, partly because each time I update the manufacturing process, they become unique pieces that you can never get back».

What is the message you want to convey with your work?

«Artists transmit feelings and convey messages. I simply expose beauty, invite people to forget for a moment the baseness of everyday life and enjoy something immaterial.

Secondly, there is an invitation to take responsibility for the preservation of our planet: if you get the same function with a cardboard lamp, why buy a plastic one? Or again, if I can use materials that others can no longer use because for them they are scraps, leftovers to be thrown away, or recycle an old object, it can still be dismantled and parts can be recovered from it to make other objects: in other words, “circular economy”».

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