We met Ugo La Pietra (Architect, artist and designer) in his studio-atelier in Milan.
His personal way of carrying out research is characterised by the definition of the relationships between individual and environment, varying languages and working in many different areas, including the cinema, painting, drawing and architecture.
Mr. La Pietra, when did you start your career?
I started painting in 1960, with my first works tended towards the informal – towards signs. I got my degree in Architecture in 1964 at the Milan Polytechnic.
How do you deal with the difficult relationship between manual skills or techniques and the creativity of the mind?
Manual work is a fundamental part of my research, precisely because my works are handmade by craftsmen. You must know that I'm the only artist who signs his works with two names: mine and the name of the artisan who carried out the work. To name someone means to give him importance and recognise the added value his name can bring to the work.
There are hopes for Masters of art, then?
Unfortunatly only few experts know what a "master of art" is. It's on the name that people must insist, because until there are names, there won't be any masters, either. This is why it is important for me to sign works with the names of the craftsmen, too.
Manual work is a fundamental part of my research, precisely because my works are handmade by craftsmen.
A passion for research, always. Research oriented towards the "revival of manual skills"
Without knowing any Masters of Art, how is it possible to recognise the uniqueness of their products?
The value of an object is determined in two ways: through the value of the materials that it is made of and through the value that the market assigns it. How do "handcrafted" objects acquire this "added value" if they're not recognised by the market? Exploitation of craftsmanship and artisans' work has been going on for at least sixty years, and probably, if nothing changes, it's because it's convenient that way.
What rapport do you have with the new forms of technology?
Already in 1971 I had carried out a project that was called "The Telematic House" (exhibited at the MOMA in New York during the exhibit Italy: The New Domestic Landscape), which illustrated the use of telematics and computers inside the inhabited space, not only as a place of to receive, but also as a place to divulge messages in urban space.
Together with Gianfranco Bettini and Aldo Grasso I presented the same project at the Milan Fiera in 1982, investigating the transformations that technology was already bringing into our homes.
How, instead, has the clientele that orders your works changed?
In the past few years, there has been an increase in attention to the "Object made as art": my research in the 1970s was based on this concept - of small series made with great care. Perhaps now the market will start to say I am right.
How do you see the role of institutions in managing, promoting and safeguarding art as a trade?
The role of the institutions is practically inexistent. Organised activities are extremely generic because there is no instrument of judgement to provide adequate "promotion or protection" for craftsmen. Unfortunately without any will on the part of politics, you can't get anywhere.
What passion moves, inspires or motivates you?
A passion for research, always. Research oriented towards the "revival of manual skills", as in the 1970s when I was immersed in my explorations of the city and its outlying areas, and the observation of these worlds continually gave me signals, findings, traces, things of beauty, danger and adventure.
Your ties with the territory are important?
Very important, because it is precisely from what surrounds me that I draw the inspiration to create my works. If I had been born in another country, I would surely have carried out research that would have yielded different results.
And how do young people live your profession? Do you have assistants?
No, I don't have assistants because I have never wanted to create a school around myself. If by my profession we mean designer, certainly the young people who are coming out of the schools find themselves in a very complex situation.
"Designer" is a phoney profession; it almost doesn't exist. Many people who have studied to be designers end up doing other things pertaining to the world of design, like consultants for firms or art direction.
But you have always taught.
Yes, from 1964 to today I have always taught, in the beginning as assistant at the Department of Architecture in Milan, but I was also at Monza, Palermo, Venice and I had a chair at the Accademia di Brera.
What difficulties or hardships do you perceive in your sector?
The difficulties I see are mainly concerned with the ruinous approach that design has in comparison with the world of the artisan.
Design thrives on getting ideas from parallel worlds, stealing ideas from worlds that have nothing to do with it, like the war industry. Since invention in these parallel sectors has gradually stopped, a shift towards the world of the artisan has come about: editions that are more and more refined and precious, produced in limited series.
The problem is that this approach is only a trend, and like a wave – once it has passed, no one knows how our poor craftsman will come out of it.