Lake Como Design Festival: the enchantment of nature through the lens of design

On the occasion of its fifth edition dedicated to Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, the festival returned to animate historic and prestigious locations scattered across the city center and on the lakeside.

The fifth edition of the Lake Como Design Festival, organized and promoted by the Wonderlake Como association, has come to an end. Ten days in which art, design, architecture and history were inextricably intertwined within exceptional locations scattered throughout the historic center and on the lakeside. Born with the aim of promoting the rich cultural heritage of the city and providing public access to places that are usually closed, unknown or simply forgotten, this year the festival opened the doors of Villa Olmo, Villa Salazar, Broletto di Como, San Pietro in Atrio and the former Orsoline San Carlo Convent. The link with the city, its history and most significant places was further underlined by the guiding theme chosen by the festival’s creative direction: Naturalis Historia, the title of the first example of an encyclopedia written by the writer and scholar Pliny the Elder, born in Como 2000 years ago. Dedicated to the world of nature and its inhabitants – minerals, plants and animals, including human beings -, the scientific contents of Naturalis Historiaintertwine with architecture, philosophy, art and other creative and productive activities stemming from human ingenuity.

LAKE COMO DESIGN FESTIVAL, Back to Nature, Villa Olmo, installation view

This multidisciplinarity also characterized the latest edition of the Lake Como Design Festival, which was able to bring together furniture brands, independent designers, artists, weavers and artisans from all over the world in a joyful celebration of creativity in all its varied forms. The epicenter of the event was Villa Olmo, an elegant neoclassical-style building overlooking the lake, whose rooms hosted Back to Nature, a selection of special projects conceived by galleries, design companies and designers who interpreted the theme of the festival through the lens of design and art. It was impossible not to be amazed by the evocative floral installation by Kris Ruhs, The Second Song – Falling to Earth, 30.000 flowers that metaphorically streamed continuously from the abundance of the abyss above and fell towards the ground. From the entrance the exhibition unfolded in the frescoed corridors and rooms of the villa which served as the backdrop to compelling visual stories: from the bed-sculpture designed by the Como-based design duo Draga & Aurel, to Ken Scott’s archive materials dedicated to the fashion designer’s passion for flowers, from the fairy Mumo Forest by Melli Ink to the bold selection of collectible design pieces from the rich catalogue of the nomadic gallery Movimento.

LAKE COMO DESIGN FESTIVAL, Contemporary Design Selection, Villa Salazar, installation View, ph Robert Mawdsley

A few steps from Villa Olmo, Villa Salazar opened its doors to the public for the first time to host the Contemporary Design Selection. Curated by Giovanna Massoni, the exhibition aimed to collect some of the best testimonies of the evolutions and new trends in contemporary design. In its sober and elegant rooms, creatives from all over the world exhibited their latest pieces, halfway between design, art and craftsmanship, with an eye to ecology, sustainability and the rediscovery of traditional materials and production techniques. A wide assortment of over 30 young and courageous voices were divided into thematic rooms inspired by the numerous manifestations of nature, such as the ceramic works of CContinua + MAMT, LAM Ceramica and biancodichina, Jonathan Bocca’s histrionic lamp made of waste materials and the Knoturalia vases produced by Dutch collective The New Raw in recycled plastic, from the ethereal glass sculptures by Latvian artist Baiba Glass, to the wooden pieces by Edgar Orlaineta (Tiki I chair), Tim Somers (Piédestal collection) and Como-based emerging designer Mattia Meneghini who presented Spelèo, a console and a stool in solid wood produced by the Turin workshop Studio F. Talking about collectible design, an honorable mention goes to Galleria Ramo, part of the OFF Path of the festival, which presented De Curiositas, an opportunity to get to know in depth the working method of designers, their point of view and their gaze on the world and on things, through the work of four Italian creative talents: Naessi (their Fòlia collection will be talked about for a while longer), Fibra Research, Sofia Albrigo and Riccardo Amarri.

LAKE COMO DESIGN FESTIVAL, Stories of Fabrics, San Pietro in Atrio, installation view, ph Robert Mawdsley

The historic center of Como was the scene of three exhibitions which made the boundary between art and design even more impalpable and confirmed the interdisciplinary spirit of the event. The Palazzo del Broletto, located next to the Duomo, brought to the scene an intense and close dialogue between design, craftsmanship, painting, photography and the words of Pliny the Elder who, in his books dedicated to zoology, carries out a vast and animated census on the different species of animals – land, water and birds. The title of the exhibition, The Other Animals, is inspired by a passage from Pliny that closes book VII dedicated to human beings and anthropology: «Now I will go on to talk about the other animals», underlining the inseparable interconnection of the living beings that inhabit planet Earth. Stories of Fabrics, in the splendid setting of the former church of San Pietro in Atrio, was instead an ode to the art of weaving. Particular attention was given to natural manufacturing – through the works of designers such as ruga.perissinotto, Elena Meneghini and Milla Novo -, made of skillful gestures, ancient traditions, but also innovation, as demonstrated by Arazzi Contemporanei with its geometric tapestries in mineral fibers, and by the Como-based brand Abstract, capable of giving new life to recycled polyester and sample fabrics, otherwise destined for disposal.

LAKE COMO DESIGN FESTIVAL, Between Art and Nature, Ex Convento Orsoline San Carlo, installation view, ph Andrea Butti

Finally, the collaboration with the Sozzani Foundation resulted in a photographic exhibition of great visual and emotional impact. Between Art and Nature. Photographs from the collection of Carla Sozzani, curated by Maddalena Scarzella, represents a unicum in the most recent cultural and artistic panorama of Como: until 14 October, shots by Karl Blossfeldt, Masahisa Fukase, Francesca Woodman, Kenro Izu, David LaChapelle and Sarah Moon, among many others, will populate the silent and austere rooms of the former Orsoline San Carlo Convent. In a mystical – and at times surreal – atmosphere, the public is invited to discover the collection of the Milanese gallerist through those works in which Nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration, study, reference, veneration, estrangement and comfort.

Agnese Torres
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