There are many artists and designers who breathe new life into old and unloved objects, but it takes real vision and skill to achieve great results in this type of work. You may remember Massimo Sirelli, who makes incredible little robots out of salvaged materials, and today we’re bringing you an interview with another great talent, Elisa Cavani of Manoteca. Elisa’s workshop in Bologna is where she transforms disused objects, found in all sorts of places, into new ones which always retain some of the original article’s character, creating articles of furniture which are works of art as well as functional pieces. Working in this way, Elisa manages to tell the story of each and every object she works with, and now she’s told us her own story in 8 questions…
1. How was the idea of Manoteca born?
Manoteca was born in 2010 in an apartment with a parquet floor. It was my brother’s old house. An apartment which was well kept, with a wooden floor that very few people had walked on with shoes. I lived there for over a year. I moved the furniture into a corner and turned the space into a carpenter’s shop. This was the perfect incubator for me. I had fun and felt at ease. I lived and slept amongst sawdust and tools. I only went out to get useful things. It was an amazing time.
Before Manoteca I worked for 10 years for fashion houses. A certain degree of imagination was required in order to survive. I was used to communicating with shapes, objects and colours. I wanted to do the same thing, using that language with a new subject. I especially wanted my imagination to work freely, with no restrictions or contamination. Just once, I wanted to create something following my own conditions, without worrying if it was commercial or not, without worrying who it was for and if they’d like it or not. I didn’t care at all. I looked for objects which I considered evocative and I constructed my own stories around them, choosing elements which had allegorical meaning for me, and which in that precise order took on a particular meaning. I could choose to do whatever I wanted, use the language I wanted to, add or take away elements as if they were words, sleep until late and work until morning. In my imagination I transformed each object into an living character, and as it was alive it was necessary to respect it, get attached to it, and listen to what it had to say.
I don’t know if this is an understandable story, but that’s how Manoteca started.
2. What inspires you?
Playing. For me, recreational activity represents the line between reality and imagination. I find it hard to understand the difference between these two conditions. In my life, they are more or less equally important.
3. Where do you find the elements which you go on to transform?
Everywhere. I started in markets and antiques shops. As time went on, I’ve discovered treasures of collectors and compulsive hoarders, I’ve created relationships with restorers and antiques enthusiasts. I choose very few objects. My search is very long, and constant.
Everything that I buy has characteristics that make it an object of value in itself. They’re authentic objects, neither too new nor too mistreated, with the right shape, colour and size, rare, Italian, and made from original pieces. If the elements have all these features, it doesn’t really matter where I get them from.
4. How much time does it take to create each single piece?
A lot. If it’s a new object, it takes me from a few months to a year. I think about it and change it until it’s perfect. According to my criteria, of course. If it’s an order that’s been commissioned from an already existing object, it takes from 30 days to three months. Organic materials, like wood, are alive. Wood moves, oxidises, changes colour. Rust is the same. You prime the mechanism with water and salt and as time passes, it needs to be guided in the right way.
Every Indoor table, for example, has characteristics different from the others, and each time it’s necessary to study the frame, treatment, and proportions. It’s a long job, and if it doesn’t work right, I do it again. I perfectly remember every object I’ve made. I know the owners because I communicate with them during the entire manufacturing phase and even afterwards. The last Indoor that I made, which now lives in California, was my January-February-March 2015.
5. Is there a particular place where you’d like to exhibit/sell?
Most Manoteca pieces have been bought in Asia, America, and Northern Europe. My laboratory is in Bologna, and despite this I have the possibility to communicate with the whole world. I appreciate this and I consider myself lucky. Let’s just say I wouldn’t change this. I don’t have a favourite geographical place. I do however have a space preference. I like semi-empty spaces, similar to galleries, within which pieces can breathe and be treated well.
6. What is the strangest object that you’ve transformed?
Box Sir. It’s not that wooden boxes are strange, but the process of their transformation was. The boxes, due to their age and originality, were all uneven in shape. There were no two sides alike, and we’d decided that none of them would be altered for any reason. So, we designed the frame using a specially built wooden template. We folded each one of the iron levels individually. Because the boxes were so uneven, it was necessary to create various levels in order to guarantee that the top, with the boxes on it, was flat. The blacksmith couldn’t understand the reason behind all the hassle until he saw the finished piece. When I was planning Box Sir, I thought of an object which could turn into at least another two objects. Something which could be used in the same way as kids use LEGO. The original layout featured a horizontal closet, a table, and a bookshelf. During construction, I discovered numerous uses, with the constant sensation that they’d been there forever and that I was just now discovering them.
7. What is your favourite piece?
La Nuit de Noel. It was the first piece that I made and I’m particularly attached to it. When I quit my job, my colleague and friend Irene gave me 5kg of transparent resin to start my new work. Alongside the resin, I also received a fantastic card with instructions. I still have that. It was Christmas Eve. That’s where the name comes from. La Nuit de Noel is, for me, a representation of the process of chlorophyll photosynthesis. It’s made up of a large tree (almost 2 metres) which was dried naturally, planted in a tilted tank filled with amber-coloured resin. The lightbulb that hangs from the branch represents a drop of water and the light of the sun. Falling to earth, it transforms into sap, in this case into energy, and travels back up the trunk to transform itself once more into water and light in an infinite circle. It represents the tree of life. In the tank there are all 5 kilos of resin, poured in by hand in very thin layers.
8. What are your upcoming projects?
In September/October, I’ll be releasing two new pieces, inspired by illusion…