Irene Cattaneo

Our founder, Nadja Romain sat down with Irene Cattaneo to discuss Murano glass making and the symbolism of clouds.



N. You studied design at Central Saint Martins, you have worked in fashion. What was your first creation and inspiration as an artist developing your own vocabulary?

When I was a kid, I wasn't intellectually thinking about what it meant to be an artist, but I have always been creative. Rather than playing with dolls or toys, I was more interested in making fantasy worlds, tree houses, flower compositions. Once I started to dedicate myself to product design I came up with a collection of wearable light art. I wanted to make tangible and wearable my fascination for light, nature, art and architecture. My first collection: light-up clutch, had integrated light technology and featured messages the client could choose to personalize. It lights up at night, or can be left turned off; this very concept drew me closer to glass later on.

You moved to Venice from London. That's a big stretch?
I. Yes! It wasn’t a decision driven by reason, rather by intuition.
Venice has one of the most magic lights and skies, thanks to the interplay with the lagoon and the reflections. Venice allows you to be inspired even during a 10-minute ferryboat ride, and then you can immediately transpose what you see on a glass canvas. My poetic clouds have reflective properties, and that comes from the sky reflecting in the water. It reflects, and it helps me reflect. 

N. Murano had been the center of glass making for 700 years, with the same families running their furnaces. Murano is your workplace. Did you find it hard to be accepted?

I have been very lucky to have Marcantonio Brandolini [owner of the Venice-based family business, Laguna B] introducing me to everyone, so I always felt welcome. That being said, there are obvious difficulties. The process of glass making I chose is very artisanal, thus it’s hard to control the outcome.
It’s beautiful because every piece is different, but, at the same time, it's challenging to be satisfied with the final product when your idea is so specific. Having witnessed first hand the struggle Murano’s furnaces have been facing these past few months has brought me very close to the people I work with, creating a special connection.
I don’t hide that some moments have not been easy for me, going there as an individual with a limited number of orders, developing conflicting relationships driven by competition has been challenging. But besides that, I’ve enjoyed meeting these people and have learned a lot from them, not only from a technical perspective but from a chemical standpoint as well; an aspect I’ve grown fond of: the post-production, the finishing, the texture.


N. The clouds require highly skilled hands. How do you achieve the shape you want ?

I. The clouds might appear simple, but it's very hard to make them aesthetically perceivable as clouds, with a very soft movement and shape whilst ensuring that their shape is also functional and not merely sculptural. We have a limited amount of time to work on them because when the glass becomes hard, you can't shape it anymore. It’s also hard to make the objects with the aesthetic of clouds, whilst giving them enough depth to contain jewellery, snacks or keys as well as being functional. Finding the right mixture of finishing, the mirroring, the iridescence, the sanding, which I use to engrave the wordings on top of the clouds, are all demanding steps. Once you have gone one direction you can’t go back, there is no way to be retroactive.

N. Words are a major element of your work. Together with light are they not the core of your practice?

I. My fascination with words, anagrams, word plays and puns is a recurrent element in my projects. Especially for the clouds, which I see as the sky’s thoughts.They’re passengers like our thoughts in our mind, they can be moody or happy, light or stormy. I engrave my own thoughts on the clouds, lately often occupied by the notion of time. It is important to share that and give the client the possibility for their cloud to reflect their own thoughts. We brainstorm together to phrase what they have in mind but in a way that is compatible with my ironic language - my friends refer to it as Irenic. My clients can decide between a typographic, bold font or handwritten by me.

N. Do you blow glass?

I. I did try glass blowing with my clouds, due to the weight of the hook and the glass, it’s very challenging. One step that I have tried and want to be more involved in is shaping the cloud. I love the idea of giving shape to my objects.
It's something that you need to do fast, the glass goes from liquid too hard
in a couple of seconds, then you can’t force the shaping any longer.

N. You can’t control the outcome with glass. Would you say it is a metaphor of life: exciting, dangerous and unpredictable?
I. That is something that glass making has taught me and that I am trying to apply to my life. You know, it’s never good to force things. With glass I'm trying to shape things the way I preconceived them. Sometimes it's good to have a direction. But it's also impossible to control the outcome too much.
Sometimes beautiful things happen out of a mistake. Then the more you try to fix it, the more you're ruining it. I think it is applicable to life as well. 


What evolution do you see now for the Say It Out Cloud collection?

I. I'd like to give these shapes light. Just like the sun or the moon give life and colour to the clouds in the sky. I'm developing a second line based on the same shapes and inspiration, but with integrated light-up technology. 

N. You're working on many projects, your collection of poetic clouds, your personal research on light, what about the new gallery opening in Tuscany?

I. This project actually started from the clouds when I was looking to develop them in different, more brutalist materials. I thought marble would be great. I went to Tuscany with Ugo Cacciatori, an architect and designer who has been working with marble for the last 30 years and came up with the concept of a bed. We co-designed a bed made out of recycled materials, from the case and reused marble. We are both interested in the ethical and sustainable aspect of design, so we are currently working on the opening of a gallery that is going to showcase our artistic collaboration. It’s going to be called Brumance, which stands for brutalist and romance. Other than having a creative and artistic expression of our two visions, with different materials, we will also have an Italian vintage design collection, including Mario Bellini, Gavina, Scarpa. Additionally, we’ll be helping designers develop their products in Italy by making the artisanal network that we've been consolidating in the last years available to other visionary creators. We are committed to supporting those artisans who don't have the infrastructure to communicate and to be found by international designers and artists that would like to create in Italy.


Venice, March 2021


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