Nuoro, Sardinia. Bottega Artigiana Metalli (BAM) is a metal workshop based on a novel idea: to craft contemporary objects using ancient manual techniques. Here, metal is used as a structural element, but revisited in its tactile, textural aspects for results that combine art, craft and design. Vittorio Bruno is masterfully marrying the artisanal tradition he inherited from his father, who continues to work in the atelier with him and his brother, to contemporary design objects, interior design and experimental lighting. The innovative and modern results reflect a love of manual work and expert craftsmanship.
What is your background?
I was born in Nuoro in 1977. My schooling and professional training started right here. I frequented high school in the morning, and spent the afternoon in the family metalwork atelier. University brought me to Milan, where I took a bachelor's degree in industrial design at the Polytechnic. After those three years, I specialised in lighting engineering for two years, during which I studied in Portugal at the ESAD in Matosinhos, Porto and went to Bologna for an internship at the amazing Viabizzuno company under the artistic direction of Mario Nanni, a poet of lighting design. After these enriching and instructive experiences, I returned to Sardinia and have been living and working here for 15 years now. I consider myself a designer and an artisan.
Our house was above the workshop where my grandfather and all his children produced incredible objects day in day out
The more enthusiasm you have, the less worn out you feel. And your tiredness is easier to alleviate.
How influential was your schooling in your choice of profession?
The greatest influence was being born and raised in close proximity to metalwork and life at the atelier. It was all around me, I was immersed in it. Our house was above the workshop where my grandfather and all his children produced incredible objects day in day out, and I grew up with the sounds and smells of metal. Being the son of an artisan inevitably acquaints you with the atmosphere of the bottega. You familiarise with the tools of the trade and its techniques. Over time, and thanks to my design studies, I gained the awareness that the workshop routine could be the departure point for a new road. Craftsmanship could meld with design in a natural way, in full respect for the spirit of the workshop.
What is BAM all about?
Bottega Artigiana Metalli is about designers getting their hands dirty and craftspeople making their hands do the thinking. It's an innovative approach to contemporary craftsmanship that lies outside the standard definitions typically used in art, artisanship and design. BAM is the sound of the hammer on the anvil. It's different for the original way it channels the manual procedure toward stylistic experimentation. Vice versa, the designs are conceived in accordance with the quality of the manufacturing process. The workshop has always been specialised in the shaping and assembling of metals such as steel, iron, copper and brass. We have combined design and production by adding other materials that share the same semantics of visual language: wood, cork, ceramics, fabrics, fibre, leather and glass. Doing this has created an open dialogue of continuous exchange between the designers and the interpreters of the art, and between different types of craft specialties found in this area.
BAM was founded by my father Tonino, who continued the work begun by his grandfather in the 19th century. My brother Andrea and I are part of the company. The family's set of skills, expertise and experience has generated a dynamic and novel way of working. We are a new breed of Sardinian artisans.
What inspires you?
Many things, but mostly the culture and landscape of the micro-world I live in. These environs clearly have a strong influence on me. I always try to look to faraway horizons, to have a wide-open view of my surroundings. It's my way of countering insularity and a feeling of being hemmed in on a piece of land surrounded by the sea. This reaction brings me to look beyond the Mediterranean. The design world has an important role, too. Looking at the work of the great maestri, other artisans, or designers is always stimulating. It allows me to better understand the direction I want to take and what road I am following. The sharing of different design approaches is one of our fundamental aims, and we really believe in this philosophy. We are an open atelier; we accept and continuously seek out cultural input, dialogue, exchange and interaction. We think it is a good way to grow and elevate the quality of work of everyone involved.
Can you tell us about the process of ideation, design and realisation?
There is no standard process or steps to follow that guide the work in a conformed manner. Each time is different. Sometimes you start with a sketch, with a drawing on a white sheet or a few lines on the computer. You try to define, calculate, simulate, imagine the finishes, and evaluate the proportions. Then there is a phase in the workshop, where the material, technique and variables are explored. Other times, the process is the exact opposite. It starts in the workshop with a mistake, an unwanted effect or a brainstorm while the material is in your hands, when you're trying to create. In the creative process, design thinking and the search for a balance between form and function are always present, as a guideline at the basis of all our work.
How is design and craftsmanship combined in your creations?
They are intimately linked in a relation of utmost harmony. Having in mind what you want to do and being able to execute it makes a certain equilibrium come very natural. In our case, craftsmanship and design each have a different role, but they are complementary, they are related. I am more in charge of production, so I have a more technical and manual approach. My brother Andrea is more in charge of the design department, and he uses specialised software for that.
What is the most extravagant or original piece you have ever made?
The Boes. They originated in the wish to combine a cowbell and the figure of an animal. It is the first actual object we made where design and craft was explored at the same time. The fusion was entirely spontaneous and based on the symbiosis between a farm animal and its bell. Its sound and shape tell the story of a place. To us, it's Sardinia, but it could be somewhere else. It could be a personal story connected to the memory everyone has of a place in the countryside and an animal.
The sound made by the Boes is part of life on Sardinia. Someone who comes to Sardinia from far away can take one home. Months later, he can ring the bell loudly, close his eyes and imagine being back here again on a country lane.
How attached are you to your birthplace? How much does the genius loci influence your creations?
I have a wonderful relation with this area. It is a fantastic place. I love our nature with its mountains, sea and everything that lives here and belongs here. I love our culture, our traditions, our clothes, language, music and food. All this affects what I do and think, and I try to transfer it to my projects.
You are a designer, artist and artisan. An increasing number of young people are interested in design, but less are interested in the manual skills typical of craftsmanship. Do you think there are youngsters who want to get their hands dirty and learn your craft?
Yes, I do. But I also think that there is a lack of initiatives or schools where contemporary crafts are taught or introduced, where manual skills combined with design are promoted. There are few places where young people are encouraged to develop a liking of different materials and craft trades. I'm not thinking of a vocational school, but a type of university of artisanship where students learn both techniques and high-level design culture. It would cater not just to young people, but also to people who are already designers and want to produce their objects themselves. That would be the right environment to grow and learn. Of course you need a large amount of willpower to create a new trade that draws from tradition while being very contemporary at the same time. You cannot be afraid to get dirty or physically tired. I think that the perception of fatigue is closely connected to how much you love your work. The more enthusiasm you have, the less worn out you feel. And your tiredness is easier to alleviate.