Interview with Romina Pilloni
Romina Pilloni is a graphic designer who works and lives between Munich and Berlin, and the founder of Fattoria Pilloni, a project in collaboration with Sardinian textile artisans. By reinterpreting traditional motifs and bringing them into a new modern shape, the project wants to sustain the Sardinian traditional weaving culture and therefore create a bridge between tradition and contemporary design. The Fattoria Pilloni collection includes carpets, pillows and wall hangings, hand-woven and made using only natural materials.
Sa musta e s’ascia motif
Shall we kick off with a question about your project Contemporary Sardinia – you developed patterns based on traditional Sardinian tapestry with the aim of telling stories about Sardinian everyday life through the medium of the carpet. What was the starting point of the project? And what process did you follow for it?
The project started while I was studying Design and Illustration at the University of Arts in Berlin and I went on holiday to Sardinia. I was looking for an idea for my final thesis and I thought ‘why not doing something with Sardinian carpets!’. My dad is Sardinian so since I was little I have been often spending my whole summers in Sardinia, where I have always been fascinated by traditional handmade crafts. Particularly Sardinian textiles have been a great source of inspiration for me.
So I started researching Sardinian carpets as well as weaving traditions from other parts of the world. I was very impressed to discover that Afghani carpets have contemporary elements such as bombs and guns as decorative elements and that, in a similar way, Sardinian traditional carpets also contain elements of everyday life. That discovery was the source of inspiration to develop Contemporary Sardinia. The idea was to use the means of the carpet to tell stories about Sardinia in current times; I collected different stories from the news and placed them on the carpets in an ornamental way. I wanted the carpets to be political but also funny at the same time; so for example the Berlusconi theme was the starting point for one of them, and from that I developed the other narrations such as that of Italy mainland that constantly tries to ship garbage to Sardinia, the nuclear debate, the fake Gucci bags sold by African vendors on the beaches, the Nato military presence in the island, and others.
I think it is very interesting the way you created these narrative patterns! Besides, Contemporary Sardinia is also a book, right? Could you tell me more about it and about the relationship between the different mediums and techniques applied in the project?
Yeah, the book came about as a catalogue for the project, but in fact it is also the fundament for the carpets. It contains 300 different motifs split into three themes: the countryside, the sea and the cities. The idea is that each motif can be taken separately and combined together with any other from any section; it’s like a jigsaw puzzle in which the motifs are the pieces that build it. Indeed the book is what came first as it was a preparatory step for then studying the structure of the carpets. Finally I used it to put all the elements together and create the different tapestry compositions.
When I am in Sardinia during the summer I often go to visit the Fiera del Tappeto, in the town of Mogoro. I think it is a very good place where you can see great Sardinian crafts. The Fiera is where, among other artisans, I met the Fatteri sisters. We talked a lot and when I told them about Contemporary Sardinia they got immediately very enthusiast about it. They really liked the idea of doing something new and innovative together and so that’s how we started our collaboration. Since then we have been working on a series of products such as carpets, pillows and wall hangings, as well as with different Sardinian traditional motifs. The first motif we used was the wine leaf motif (Sa musta e s’ascia), then the peacock (pavone), and more recently the life tree (albero della vita).
My work has consisted of reinterpreting the motifs by giving them a modern look, therefore making them more appealing to our times. The aim is not to change the motifs, but my approach is rather to put what is there into a new context by making it more geometrical, reducing colours, focusing on a detail like for example what I did with the peacock motif.
Collaborating with the artisans involves a lot of communication and exchange of ideas. From my side what I do is to put my expertise as a designer onto the carpets, but the artisans are who know how to turn the design into a tangible object. The Fatteri sisters and I work really closely; usually I send them my drafts and ask for feedback. For example, sometimes they might tell me if the design is too complicated or give me some other suggestions… I always find the design stage very interesting and enriching!
Traditional motifs refer to values that are still relevant to our times, for example the peacock motif is the symbol of eternal life and fertility. But what makes a motif modern is its aesthetics, the colours, the material, the way it feels. For example, for the products we have been developing with the Fatteris, we have been opting for cotton instead of wool, as it is more suitable for the modern design. I don’t think that the job of the designer is to question the meanings and origins of the tradition, but it rather consists of using new skills to generate a new renovated attention to those symbols. Contemporary does mean that they still look Sardinian and as such they also maintain their traditional characteristics such as the weaving techniques, the quality and the origin of materials; yet they are also able to speak to new generations.
Sardinia is where the project Fattoria Pilloni started in 2012 and where the artisans have been living and working for generations. It is where the manual skills come from and where also part of my roots is. I have always been fascinated by the artisans’ work and their ability to build such beautiful things, and it is a shame that those skills are getting lost nowadays. My aim is to use my skills in modern graphic design to support the weaving tradition and therefore make a bridge between Sardinian crafts and the contemporary design sector I work in, here in Germany. With my job here I spend hours in front of a computer, so this is such a great opportunity to make something that can last more than a digital work, something that people can touch, as well as to promote this tradition abroad and in different contexts. For me it is a way to be part of that Sardinian culture somehow.
I have recently launched the new website for Fattoria Pilloni where visitors can see and order the different products, and read more about the artisans and the project in general. In the website is also possible to see some customised works that I have been doing, such as a series of cushions for a staircase commissioned by a consultancy agency for their office here in Germany; or a carpet with a sound wave that originally was produced for the Fiera del Tappeto in Mogoro and intended to capture a Sardinian traditional folk song on a carpet, and then I have been asked to reproduce but using people’s favourite songs instead.
Also, last year I got involved with two pop-up stores, one was in Munich and one in Ingolstadt, my hometown in Bavaria. Both experiences went very well, people were really interested in the products and wanted to know more about them. So I am going to repeat something similar this year at Ruffini’s Store in Munich, opening on the 23rd of March. The pop-up store will be showcasing my works along with those of other six designers based in Munich, for the duration of three months; I will be presenting a carpet and some cushions made especially for the event. I do think that being able to communicate what you do to the customers is an essential part of the project and the pop-up store is a great chance to let people know about it, in particular about the artisans and the culture that are behind it. Believe it or not but many people that I have met here have little or not knowledge about Sardinian crafts and they get always very surprised when they discover that the island has such a strong weaving tradition and that it is still alive.