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Cersaie 2010: Conferences and Seminars
Theory and ethics of design: lesson with Enzo Mari

Thursday 30 September - 9.30 a.m.
Palazzo dei Congressi, Sala Europa

Students will put questions to the teacher in a special lesson with the famous designer Enzo Mari. It will be a kind of lecture in reverse, where the students will have the opportunity to ask Mari about the way he sees his profession and how this vision has evolved over the course of time into a conceptual philosophy whereby design takes on a leading role in daily life and the designer must also be an artist and a partner in industrial processes.
Enzo Mari, the great theorist of Italian and world design, will be joined for this “lesson in reverse” by Rolando Giovannini.
A native of Imola, since 1986 he has been director of the “Gaetano Ballardini” Institute of Ceramic Art in Faenza.


Moderator Rolando Giovannini More

Rolando Giovannini

Principal, Istituto Ballardini of Faenza
Biographical notes
Rolando  Giovannini is a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. He studied at the Technological Department of the “Ballardini” Art Institute, which he now directs, after which he graduated with full marks in Geology  then gained a diploma in Decoration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. In 1975 he qualified for the role of Researcher for CNR. He is Professor of Marketing at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna, Italy. He is a member of the Working Group of MIUR – Rome for reform of the Italian secondary school, art schools.
He was a member of the art movements “Nose” with Cesare Reggiani (1976-78) and “A Tempo e a Fuoco” curated by Vittorio Fagone (1982-1985), in which he conducted research into ceramics and neon. He has collaborated with Bruno Munari (“Giocare con l’Arte”, M.I.C. Faenza 1979-82), Paola Navone (1984), Sottsass Associati (1986), Alessandro Guerriero (1992), Marta Sansoni and Marco Zanini (1995), Alessandra Alberici and Giorgio Montanari (1997-2007), Tullio Mazzotti (1999-2009), Giovanni Levanti (2000-07), Franco Laera and Vanni Pasca (2003), Dante Donegani (2004), Massimo Iosa Ghini (2005), Sergio Calatroni, Ilaria De Palma (2007), Mario Pisani (2008) and Alessandro Castiglioni, Maria Rita Bentini, Veronica Dal Buono (2009), Muky, and Mara De Fanti (2010).
A theorist of design, he has written essays, articles and three books on the topic of design for use in schools. He founded the movement NeoCeramica (2007), created the collection of Tiles from the Second Half of the Twentieth Century at MIC Faenza (since 1978), and curated the scientific project for the Documentation Centre and Museum (Confindustria Ceramica, Sassuolo) and the Contemporary Section of the Spezzano Castle Museum in Fiorano. In August 2008 in Faenza he laid the foundations for MISA (Museo Istituto Statale Arte).
He has created objects for factories in Italy and Japan, while his public works include the interiors of the Shin-Kobe Subway-Metro station, Shinkansen Station in Kobe, Japan. Some of his works are housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in the Foshan Creative Industry Park Investment & Management LTD, Foshan, China. He has been invited to “Modern Pot Art”, The 2010 Second China (Shanghai) International Modern Pot Art Biennial Exhibition, Shanghai, China (2010).  Art Director of the “Tile Fashion” magazine from 1993 to 2000, since 2000 he has been the editor of the Arte, Fashion e Design section of the monthly magazine C. I. of Il Sole 24 ore S.p.A. Since May 2010 he has been a member of the Order of Journalists and Political Journalists.

Enzo Mari More

Enzo Mari

Architect and Designer
Biographical notes
Enzo Mari, born in Novara in 1932, works in various fields while maintaining his primary focus on the meanings of form and project. He began his research into visual perception in the 1950s when he was one of the representatives of Programmed and Kinetic Art. In parallel with his artistic activities based on individual formal research, he began working as a designer and has also been involved in graphic design and architecture.
He has taught at various European schools and universities.
He is a member of the “Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione” of Parma, the archives of which contain around nine thousand of his original drawings. He has received a number of recognitions for his research and design work, including four “Golden Compass” awards.
He has taken part in the Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition and has held various exhibitions, including: Il lavoro al centro, Centre d’Art Santa Monica, Barcelona in 1999, subsequently transferred to the Triennale in Milan in 2000, and the large recently concluded exhibition entitled Enzo Mari, L’Arte del Design, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin in 2008.
Samples of his works and design objects feature in important collections in museums such as MOMA in New York and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
His work has been documented in numerous publications, including:
A. C. Quintavalle (editor), Enzo Mari, Salone delle Scuderie in Pilotta, Università di Parma, Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione, CSAC, Dipartimento Progetto, Parma 1983.
F. Burkhardt, J. Capella, F. Picchi Perché un libro su Enzo Mari, Federico Motta Editore, Milan 1997.
A. D’Avossa, F. Picchi, Enzo Mari. Il lavoro al centro, exhibition catalogue, Triennale di Milan (11/1999-1/2000), Electa, Milan 1999.
G. C. Bojani (editor), Enzo Mari. Tra arte del progetto e arte applicata, exhibition catalogue, Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche, Faenza (6/2000-11/2000), Studio 88 Editore, Faenza 2000.
P. G. Castagnoli, E. Regazzoni, Enzo Mari. L’arte del Design, exhibition catalogue edited by E. Mari, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea GAM, Turin (10/2008-2/2009), Federico Motta Editore, Milan 2008.


Video interview

Enzo Mari

Press release "Art feeds on dreams, not paradigms"

Ferocious self-criticism, a study of matter rather than theory. These, according to Enzo Mari, are the essential elements for becoming a good designer. And no compromise with standardisation, with the logic of profit at any cost. At Cersaie the lesson in reverse entitled "Theory and ethics of design"



“We could award the Nobel Prize to any child over the age of two.” This provocative statement was the starting point for the lecture entitled “Theory and ethics of design” given yesterday morning at Cersaie by acclaimed designer Enzo Mari to an audience of architecture students. It was a lesson in reverse given that much of the meeting consisted of questions put to the teacher by the students. As requested by Mari himself, these were simple questions that at the same time are essential for young people starting out in the profession today. How can an idea be translated into a “perfect” project? And above all, how can one remain a designer, an artist, in a world dominated by profit, industry and the need for standardisation?  


“A two-year-old child is perfectly capable on his own of gradually learning about time, space and light,” Mari answered. “Starting out from a blank slate, from a situation in which even the awareness of one’s own self, of one’s body, is quite vague. It is an astonishing phenomenon. The child’s creativity, if we really want to use this obscene word, is far greater than that of a Bach or an Einstein. Unfortunately, over time, he loses this ability. This is due to the world that surrounds us, that imposes its rules, paradigms that have no relationship with practice or experience.”  


This is the first secret to becoming a good designer. “Think for yourselves.” Starting out from the assumption that a theory is – or at least should be – nothing other than the critical description of a practice, while knowledge itself is no more than a collection of historically stratified “lists”, underlying which there is always practical experience, a direct relationship with matter.  


“When drawing up his first lists, gaining his first practical experiences, a child begins to theorise. But he does this by adding new experiences to the description, creating a more complex description which in turn is enhanced by experience. If you want to become a good designer, don’t rely on theories but on the things that have not yet been described,” advises Mari. “Education has a big responsibility in this. Unfortunately, we have to accept that there are good designers not because of education but in spite of education. This applies in particular to universities.”  


The point, Mari observed, is that art cannot be driven by paradigms. They are fine for science.  

“But art feeds on dreams, ideas and ideologies. Don’t fool yourselves that a three-year course will give you the tools you need to become a great artist. Greatness is achieved by practising eight hours a day, like famous composers or conductors. For those who achieve greatness, education finishes the day they die. I myself don’t believe that I have gone any further than the second astonishing act performed by a two-year-old child, that of describing a practical experience, which in principle is totally random.”  


And from the idea through to the sketch and the model, the secret for achieving good results – if not a perfect project – is to disregard the idea of earning, of producing something useful in a short space of time. You have to ignore this structural characteristic of industry, the need to mass produce elements and to invest only the time strictly necessary to design them at the beginning.  


“In my work, I make a hypothesis, then I look at it and criticise it ferociously,” explained Mari. “I eliminate everything that appears to me to be a defect, in order of severity. In very rare cases I have the feeling that the first idea is the right one, but then I begin to feel suspicious so I consider another idea. Then I model both of them, I actually construct them. In the end I make a third model. These are the principles of dialectics: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.”  


It is difficult to ask Mari to compromise with the market. Nonetheless, the students taking part in the meeting in Palazzo dei Congressi this morning asked him to take into account a world in which market economics, production times and standardisation have a certain influence even for designers, especially those at the beginning of their careers.  


“I didn’t choose to be an artist. I came from a very poor family and was forced to break off my classical studies to maintain five people for many years. By working hard, I managed to save up just enough to enrol at university, given that my one and only passion has always been a thirst for knowledge and understanding. Then I discovered that in order to enrol at university you have to have a high school diploma. So I chose the academy of fine arts where you can enrol even without a diploma. And so I ended up as an artist. The only thing that really counts is to focus on the founding values of western culture. Not those that have led to robbery but those of Plato and then Aristotle, who unlike his teacher believed that ideas, although perfect, were not sufficient. He considered it essential to investigate matter, to look into details. These men were the real teachers.”  


So the ethics of design is the only possible antidote to conditioning imposed by the market, perhaps the only antidote for truly excelling in the profession and ultimately in the market. But what about quality?  


“Quality is an objective fact that stems from debate. If we asked the hundred best designers in the world to make a list of the hundred best works in the world, we would end up with very similar if not identical lists. There is no convincing explanation for this phenomenon other than that quality is an objective fact. And these are the works that anyone who wishes to excel in this profession must measure himself against. It doesn’t matter much if you don’t reach the top. What really counts is at least being on the right path.”



Cersaie Press Office - 1 October 2010 -

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