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Modernism and Post-modernism in Gaetano Pesce’s La Mama Chair

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Post-modernism emerged in the 20th century to displace and undermine values introduced by modernism. Postmodernism can be interpreted as “the cultural logic of late capitalism” emphasising his Marxist and post-industrial perspective. Therefore, the stiffness of modernism evolved into the indeterminacy of the post-modern aesthetic that is comprised in the deconstructed style. The Post-modernist style is demonstrated in Italian architect Gaetano Pesce’s artwork UP5 La Mamma Chair (1969) which can be interpreted as a manifestation of self-expression.

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Additionally, through the creation of functional product design, Pesce expanded the notions of Modernism. Gaetano Pesce was an Italian architect and designer, whose humanistic outlook was distinguished by a creative use of materials and colour, as seen in the bright red used in the chair. He maintained connections between the individual and society, through his design to reinforce twentieth century life. Pesce’s design emphasises these ideas through the symbolism and figurative elements of the chair. Subsequently, it can be interpreted as a metaphor of a woman, its physical features mirror a woman’s body the headrest of the chair are the breasts and the seat of the chair cradles the sitter’s thighs. Furthermore, the ottoman connected to the armchair with a cord represents a figurative image of a woman with a ball chained to her foot recalling the idiom of the ball and the chain, emphasising the hardships women suffer in society. Pesce’s progressive thinking allowed him to touch on controversial topics such as feminism during a time when women were greatly oppressed.

Pesce’s Post-Modern context allows him to explore existing societal ideals, in particular feminism. Pesce recalls “At that time, I was telling a personal story about my concept of women, I believe that women always have been unwilling prisoners of themselves. This is why I decided to give this armchair the shape of a woman with a ball and chain, a traditional image of a prisoner”. With the deconstruction of the symbolic meaning, Pesce’s Post-Modern vision for the piece can be better understood. Pesce’s progressive attitude allowed him to take on controversies, in particular whether his position as a male artist allows him to give voice to women’s struggles. To this, he responds “It’s not only Africans who can talk about the problems of Africa, not only Germans who can talk about Nazis, so we are free to talk about what we think is important. We are not supposed to ask permission from anybody”. Pesce’s chair challenges stereotypes of women and brings light to their past, present and future struggles. Although conflicting, both Modernism and Post-modernism have influenced design through their tendency to question and undermine existing design principles. During the late 20th Century, Post-Modernism flourished and countered Modernism, with people attempting to create a world inspired by universal truths and science. The Post-Modern perspective emphasised that Modernism failed to reconcile political tensions and aggravated existing power struggles between authoritative institutions and the lower class. This emphasises Modernism’s oppressive influence on reason, scientific method and objective truth. Italian architect Gaetano Pesce’s La Mamma Chair (1969) emphasises a post-modern perspective. The configuration of Pesce’s chair displays anatomical characteristics and anthropomorphic references emphasising the Post-Modern perspective.

French Philosopher, Jean-François Lyotard asserts “I define the postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives’, emphasising the departure from traditional structures. Post-Modernism evolved from modernism’s simplistic and functional forms to aesthetics such as kitsch, deconstruction, appropriation and anti-narrative. Additionally, Pesce’s understanding of modernism is something that is already outdated “Modernism was an expression of the 20th Century, and already then it was a little outdated. The goal of designing something is to represent our own time and not being nostalgic for the past” Consequently, through a self-reflexive critique of society, Post-Modernism allowed people to feel empowered and liberated social conventions for a renewed understanding. Pesce was disappointed with the modernist idea of perfection and therefore in 1971, he developed a process called “diversified series production”. When producing his products, he instructed fabricators to make unplanned alterations through the process such as allowing random drips, bubbles and oozes and introducing rogue pigments in order to never repeat anything. This contemporary process is similar to the deconstructed style which was characterised by the absence of continuity, harmony, and symmetry. These themes can be seen in Pesce’s chair with the continuity of the shapes, harmony of the colour and symmetry of the spherical elements. Overall, these movements allow a fulfillment of self-expression and humanist thought.

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Overall it is clear that Gaetano Pesce’s La Mama Chair is an example of Post-Modernist design which emphasises the self-expression of the designer. Pesce’s emphasis on feminism and women in society is evident in the design of the chair, with the womanly features and symbolic meanings replicated through its form and function. Furthermore, Post-Modernism’s rejection of Modernsim and desire to be forward-thinking and innovative in every way can be seen in Pesce’s design. The seemingly deconstructed design of the chair can be linked to the idea of diversified series production, created by Pesce in 1971 which allowed him to create one of a kind products in a seemingly mass produced world.

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