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At the age of 61, the Influential Furniture Designer Fernando Campana Has Passed Away

Fernando Campana passed away on November 16 in Sao Paulo. Along with his brother Humberto, he was known for pushing the boundaries of furniture design with evocative and provocative objects crafted from unlikely materials such as charcoal, tree branches, Bubble Wrap, smashed Murano glass, and even stuffed animals. He was 61.

Humberto Campana said that it was unknown what caused the patient’s death at the hospital.

Even though they also designed jewellery, clothing, housewares, stage sets, interiors, and art installations, the Campana brothers have become international stars of contemporary design. For decades, they have produced curious and beautiful pieces that were essentially furniture, or at least rooted in the idea of furniture. When Vik Muniz, an artist, interviewed the two for Bomb magazine in 2008, he said that their work expressed “the wonderful chaotic subtlety of the Brazilian soul.” Their work mirrored “the beautiful chaotic subtlety of the Brazilian spirit.”

They had no intention of going into the design industry. Although Fernando had a degree in design, he had always dreamed of becoming an actor or perhaps an astronaut. Humberto, who was eight years Fernando’s senior, had completed his studies to become a lawyer.

But Humberto came to the conclusion that he would be happier working as a sculptor, and he started producing mirror frames and other such items. In the 1980s, the brothers started designing things together. One of their first collaborative efforts was a collection of rough iron chairs that were a reaction to the end of Brazil’s nearly two-decade-long military dictatorship. These chairs were covered in spikes, flames, whorls, and jagged edges. They became household names in the art world because to the collection, which they dubbed “Incomfortables” (also written as “Desconfortáveis”).

The Favela chair, which was produced in the early 1990s, was a more upbeat piece of furniture. It resembled a frenetic bramble of little slats of wood hammered together and was motivated by the ad hoc constructions of Brazil’s favelas, often known as shantytowns.

1,640 feet of rope were wrapped like spaghetti over a metal frame to create their Vermelha chair, which was made from a bundle of red rope that was purchased from a street kiosk. Vermelha is the Portuguese word for scarlet. One of their most famous pieces, the Banquette chairs, was inspired by a street vendor’s harvest of stuffed animals. The Banquette chairs are nests of plush toys, similar to the assortment that is seen on a child’s bed.

They continued to draw inspiration from the many areas of their city, as well as the city’s craftsmen, whose work they purchased and displayed in their own shop. A local wicker company that was on the verge of shutting down produced a series of pieces in 2006 called Transplastic out of a woven fibre called Apu that was embedded with inexpensive plastic cafe chairs. These pieces were made by the company before it went out of business, which would have eliminated the workers’ decades-old skills and their means of subsistence. The origin of the series is representative of the brothers’ working style, which may be described as a commentary that is both deadly serious and fantastical.

The piece that launched them into international renown outside of Brafzil was published in Domus, an Italian design magazine, in the year 1993. Edra, a company based in Italy, shifted their production focus at the end of the decade to concentrate on exporting their wares to other countries. Around the same time, Paola Antonelli, who was an associate curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art at the time, invited them to New York City to do a show with Ingo Maurer, who was a German lighting designer. The exhibition would expose them to the rest of the world.

The work of the Campana brothers, which can fetch prices in the tens of thousands of dollars, can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, as well as the Pompidou Center and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo, and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

When asked about their lengthy partnership, Humberto likened it to “a marriage without sex,” despite the fact that it had been going on for far longer than the majority of marriages in today’s society. “It was something like a symphony,” she said. When we first began, we did not have any plans or tactics in place. What brought us together was a love for our nation and a burning desire to represent it without resorting to cliches but rather with respect.

“But there is no comparison between us. Fernando enjoyed isolating himself from the rest of the project and drew in his home by himself. Personally, I like the action of doing things and being in the workshop. He had a really anarchic and nonconformist attitude, and I found myself feeling rather agitated by him. He had the ambition to go to space. I wish to be an indigenous person and live barefoot in the Amazon rainforest. It was the ideal pairing of elements. I had him pinned down, but he launched me into the air.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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