design

Giant armchair in Milan's main piazza stimulates an overdue conversation

Updated 10th April 2019
People view a reproduction of Italian sculptor Gaetano Pesce's 1969 revolutionary feminist seat "UP5&6" on April 6, 2019 on Piazza del Duomo in Milan, with the cathedral in background, during the Fuorisalone design week. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Credit: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Giant armchair in Milan's main piazza stimulates an overdue conversation
Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN
A giant armchair reminiscent of the female body has appeared in Milan's famous main square, Piazza del Duomo, right in front of the cathedral that is the city's crown jewel.
It commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Up 5&6, a bulbous armchair by design pioneer Gaetano Pesce that has earned a place in the history of Italian design. The chair, which looks like a fertility goddess and comes with a ball and chain as a footrest, was launched in 1969. The piece was intended to tackle the idea of women as prisoners. Prisoners of the prejudice of men, and living in a world where full emancipation was precluded.
Fifty years on, the image is as timely as ever. The new interpretation of the chair (standing tall at 26 feet) -- installed during Salone del Mobile, an international interior design event -- has 400 arrows piercing the fulsome silhouette. Pesce's aim was to focus the conversation on violence against women -- a very troubling issue in Italy, where the latest government data reveals that a woman is killed every 72 hours and 1 in 3 adult women has suffered some form of physical or sexual abuse.
"Today, after 50 years, the existence of women is even more under threat, although luckily there are more and more voices raising to their defense," Gaetano Pesce said in a statement. "The installation in Piazza del Duomo during Design Week is intended to celebrate Italian creativity, but also to bring back this painful message to the conscience of thousands of visitors from all over the world."
Gaetano Pesce's sculpture is in Milan's Piazza del Duomo until April 14.
Gaetano Pesce's sculpture is in Milan's Piazza del Duomo until April 14. Credit: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The work, titled "Suffering Majesty," is accompanied by six giant polystyrene heads of beasts, signifying human cruelty. Supported by the local government, it has proven divisive among the public and was met with opposition by Italian feminist group Non Una di Meno, which organized a flash mob to protest the fact that the sculpture objectifies the female body and is made by a man.
The original armchairs UP 5 and UP 6 by Gaetano Pesce.
The original armchairs UP 5 and UP 6 by Gaetano Pesce. Credit: picture alliance/picture alliance/picture alliance via Getty Image
Elsewhere in the city, more eye-popping installations have arisen to celebrate the Salone. In the Tortona design district, British sculptor and urban artist Alex Chinneck has left an entire building "unzipped," with its 55-foot (17 meter) facade peeled back. Inside, more zips open up to reveal what's behind walls and floors.
Alex Chinneck's work is part of the "IQOS World Revealed"  exhibition.
Alex Chinneck's work is part of the "IQOS World Revealed" exhibition. Credit: Marc Wilmot
"Through the repeated use of the zipper, we have opened up the fabric of a seemingly historic Milanese building to playfully re-imagine what lies behind its facade, floors and walls. Ethereal light pours through each opening, filling the space with color and filling the work with a sense of positivity and potential," said Chinneck in a statement.
In the city's Palazzo Isimbardi, a 16-century building that hosts the mayor's office, London-based French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani has created a piece called Confiera, a 3D-printed installation made from renewable materials comprised of 700 modular bio-bricks.
COS x Mamou-Mani - Conifera (5)
Conifera at Palazzo isimbardi. The installation marks COS's eighth consecutive design commission during Salone del Mobile.
"Conifera blends the digital with the physical world while addressing sustainability through the use of compostable bio-plastic, produced and 3D printed locally," said Mamou-Mani in a statement.
It is a dialogue between technology and craft, between the manmade and the natural and between monumentality and lightness. I hope the visitors will appreciate the futuristic high-tech aspect of the installation but also that it is deeply poetic and human."