Métiers d'Art

The Empire of the Senses

2 Min read

Installation view of L’Impero Dei Sensei at Wunderkammer Visionnaire Design Gallery, Milan, 2023. Image courtesy of Visionnaire

Italian design brands Visionnaire and Studiopepe united to present an evocative capsule collection in an intimately immersive installation exhibited at the Wunderkammer Visionnaire Design Gallery at Milan Design Week 2023 and running until the end of the year.

Between design, art, history and fantasy are the Shibarichair, Paradelighting system and Blancheduo of mirrors. These undulating organic forms are born from a collaboration between Studiopepe – a Milan-based design agency founded by Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara Di Pinto – and Visionnaire, a brand who pursues a cerebral approach to contemporary beauty. While the three Studiopepe creations express the firm’s emphasis on multidisciplinary design rooted in research – which creates an eclectically poetic aesthetic – they also embrace conceptual dichotomies with sophisticated restraint. First presented at Milan Design Week 2023 at the Wunderkammer of the Visionnaire Design Gallery, the capsule collection bridges visual fields to activate a broader, more experimental approach. Entitled L’Impero Dei Sensei (“The Empire of the Senses”), the unique installation, which will be open until the end of 2023, induces a complex experience that aimed to evoke reflection, identification and the sensation of time standing still.

“The senses are our first way of perceiving the world, they are tools of knowledge,” explains Studiopepe of their approach to flipping passive viewing on its head. “The inspiration for the installation we built together with Visionnaire, L’Impero Dei Sensei, is a journey through sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing.” Comprising a space covered ceiling-to-floor in soft flesh-hued eco-fur by Jab Anstoetz Group, the setting emanates a bespoke sweet amber fragrance created with perfumer Antonella Bondi. The scent is also contained in dark glass bottles sat atop three fur-covered plinths. The muted beige-pink coating is likewise adorned by Nam June Paik-esque stacked televisions that play nearly 21 minutes of archival film material depicting bodily contact and sentimental connection on loop, a contribution from Variante Artistica. This fleeting display of familiar moments is able to draw visitors into the tangible intimacy forged by the collaborative efforts of meta-luxury brand Visionnaire. The overarching effect of the installation is profound and universal, but speaks to the Bologna-based company’s ability to produce experimental, one-of-a-kind designs that emphasise the value and skills of local artisans.

Installation view of L’Impero Dei Sensei at Wunderkammer Visionnaire Design Gallery, Milan, 2023. Image courtesy of Visionnaire

The space is mysterious, a quality further embodied by the playful manipulation of visibility conjured by heavy velvet curtains. The swathes of fabric simultaneously reveal and hide glimpses of the strongly craftsmanship-oriented furnishings. A set of snake and female figure-engraved Blanche mirrors employ relational art theory in that they can only be witnessed in totality if the ‘screen’ of thin leather strips attached to the frames are gently pushed aside. Similarly, the Shibari armchair draws upon the symbolism of the knot. “The art of knotting is an ancient craft technique common to all cultures,” says Marco Morandini, Wunderkammer Visionnaire curator. The technique relies upon human activation, highlighting another through line of the installation: the body. It is a subtle, unmissable reference visible from function and form to texture. “The Parade lighting, inspired by taste and made up of glass fusion elements, has the shape of the tongue,” explains Morandini. The impact is viscerally corporeal – as sensual as it is unsettling, a phenomenological experience wherein visitor and installation blend into one.

The result, agree the collaborators, is a mystical, ancestral atmosphere. “The installation was conceived as a synesthetic story featuring a collection that the duo of designers has created precisely to celebrate the senses and sensuality,” notes Morandini. The welcome into a fully tactile environment – which also includes dance performances – immediately disarms visitors and repositions them from distanced spectator to cherished guest. Studiopepe’s use of innate tools – the five senses – to forge an enveloping experience is intelligent, thoughtful and, despite a boldly and possibly polarising artistic debut of the collection, renders the collection warm and accessible. “It was also an invitation to introspection and to reconnect with oneself,” say Lelli Mami and Di Pinto. “Something that we hope brought a feeling of well-being.”