In the Mix
Lukas Gschwandtner’s new collection for Fendi explores the evolving relationship between design and the human form
Lukas Gschwandtner is fascinated by beautifully made relics of Europe’s complex past. From an anonymously-designed prayer stool in an English Gothic church to a famous 19th-century marble portrait of a princess in an Italian museum, certain traces of European history stir the Austrian artist’s imagination, because they offer intriguing glimpses into lives once lived so differently. Inspired by the evolving nature of cultural mores, Gschwandtner crafts provocative, ghostlike objects and installations that play with the myriad ways that human bodies engage with the designed environments around them.
Currently on view at Design Miami/ in Miami Beach, Gschwandtner’s latest collection, Triclinium, was commissioned by Fendi, a partner and exhibitor at the fair since 2008. While the new project builds on Gschwandtner’s ongoing investigations, it also celebrates facets of the Italian fashion house’s venerable heritage—from essential textiles and handmade techniques, to the city of Rome, where Fendi was founded nearly 100 years ago.
As the title suggests, the functional sculptures and scenography that Gschwandtner designed for Fendi reference Ancient Roman dining chaises, used for reclining while eating and socializing—a prevailing convention of the era. Upholstered in pale, flesh-colored canvas sculpted to suggest unseen human users, Gschwandtner’s lounges also pay tribute to Western art history’s most enduring archetype: the female body in repose.
On the occasion of the project’s unveiling this week, Gschwandtner talked with us about how the unique obsessions that drive his practice have made his collaboration with Fendi so auspicious.
What was it like working with Fendi to create Triclinium? What did you most enjoy?
To me the most essential part of the project was my trip to Rome, where I had the chance to meet the team, visit the ateliers, and share my research with Silvia Venturini Fendi. While there, I also sought out different museums, so I could finally see some of the subjects of my research in real life. I love the city's beauty—as well as a good Aperol Spritz.
How is Rome expressed in this project, and what role has ancient and historic cultures played in your practice more broadly?
Through books on Ancient Roman private rooms, which I’ve read over the years from home in Vienna, I became very drawn to the Triclinium form—the constellation of three chaise longues aligned in a formation that suggests a conversation. I felt a strong affinity for this use of furniture, especially looking at iterations across different historical epochs.
I’m interested in how physical interactions and body language have changed through the centuries, leading to shifts in the definition of certain furniture pieces. This became my point of departure for the project and created a context that felt so natural and personal. Rome offers endless paths of research, so it was essential to be on site to choose the angles that would best support the project.
You’re known for designing furniture, but your work pulls from a variety of disciplines, like performance, architecture, and fashion. Can you tell us more about the unique approach of your practice?
When I was 14, I began my education in the traditional craftsmanship of leather goods, shoes, and accessories. I think this was when I started to become very interested in the body and its measurements and proportions in relation to objects. My leather teacher at the time came from an architecture and theater design background and encouraged me to see the creation of a bag and a room as the same process, just on a different scale. That way of thinking led me to pursue architecture and fine arts studies in London.
I guess my tendency to combine my different backgrounds into pieces that are very body-related developed rather unconsciously, fueled by my historical research and strong interest in crafts and materiality.
What aspects of the Triclinium project are you most proud of?
What I like about Triclinium is that it is an organic addition to a body of work—in particular my Pillow Portraits—that has been following me for some time now. In this case, the emphasis is on Roman cultural history.
It is important to me that my projects continue, unimpeded by arbitrary deadlines. I would love to go farther down this path, discovering something new wherever I am.