UP-5 Chair

Gaetano Pesce UP-5 Chair

Italian designer Gaetano Pesce has accused feminist protesters of misinterpreting Up, his iconic armchair that depicts a woman as a prisoner, and defended the use of plastic in design products.

Pesce, 79, spoke to Dezeen in Milan after an installation celebrating the 50th anniversary of Up was attacked by protesters.

“I believe these feminists have not read nor understood the meaning of my work in Milan,” he told Dezeen. “Generally speaking, when two entities fight for the same objective, they cooperate.”

He added that rising opposition to plastics, such as the polyurethane foam used to make Up, is “stupid”. He said: “Synthetic materials produced and generated significant progress and I believe we can’t do without them.”

Feminist group Non Una Di Meno staged the demonstration during Milan design week, after an eight-metre high version of the Up5 armchair and Up6 footstool were installed in Piazza del Duomo in the city centre.

The chair and ottoman are attached by a chain, in a deliberate reference to “a female-shaped body with the prisoner’s ball chained to its foot”. But Pesce said protesters are wrong to see this as a symbol of women’s oppression.

Furniture brand B&B Italia was behind the installation, which was on show for the duration of Milan design week. Called Maestà Sofferente – Suffering Majesty – the flesh-coloured installation conceived by Pesce was pierced by 400 arrows and flanked on either side by the heads of wild animals.

Protesters were “seeking easy publicity”

During its installation, artist Cristina Donati Meyer threw red varnish onto the seat of the chair. The protesters claimed Pesce’s design reduces a woman to a piece of furniture, according to a statement on the group’s Facebook page.

“In fact, I think these people were seeking easy publicity, since they haven’t been able to achieve it through their own actions,” Pesce said.

“In particular, I heard about a female so-called artist who sprayed red paint on my chair. I believe this person doesn’t deserve the title of artist.”

“My design raises debates”

Pesce originally designed the Up series in 1969 for C&B, the precursor to B&B Italia, which still manufactures the chair. He said he was behind the “important discovery” that the expanded polyurethane chairs could be vacuum-packed, allowing for convenient packaging.

In return, he claims the brand gave him permission to “have one of the chairs express a political content”.

The aim of the ball and chain symbolism in the Up5 was to express the idea that women are “prisoners of their own making”.

“As you know very well, my design raises debates which help people to advance, discovering new values and possibly letting go of the old ones,” he said.

Chair fills with air like a sponge

Pesce’s Up series consists of seven pieces of furniture, all of which fill with air and inflate without the need for a mechanical device. The items are upholstered in an elastic synthetic jersey material.

“The series was born from thinking about the nature of a sponge,” said Pesce. “As you know, the sponge is made of 80 per cent air and 20 per cent matter. Thinking about this and soft, expanded polyurethane, which back then was a new material, I got the idea to create a series of chairs with no internal structure.”

The designs were first put into production between 1970 and 1973 by C&B, and re-released by B&B Italia in 2000.

For the 50th anniversary edition, B&B Italia has released an updated striped beige-and-petrol-green upholstery, which refers to the original colour palette of 1969. The company also introduced seven new solid colourways: orange, red, navy blue, petrol green, emerald green, and cardamom.

“We can’t do without” synthetic materials

The interior structure continues to be produced from expanded polyurethane, and Pesce defended the use of the fossil-fuel plastic.

“I think there are many misunderstandings about this topic,” he said when asked about the backlash against plastic pollution. “Synthetic materials produced and generated significant progress and I believe we can’t do without them.”

“Today’s political correctness, in my opinion, is stupid,” he continued. “If in the past we had believed that electricity was dangerous. Today the world would be dark and progress would have stopped then. I believe it’s time to educate the idiots in order to allow the thinkers to move forward and push the world.”

Pesce also criticised design education and said that it’s “the fault of the school system” that similarly radical chairs are not being produced today.

“In my opinion, the future of design doesn’t have any alternative but to continue on the path I chose more than 50 years ago,” he said.

Not enough radical thinking in schools

“Beautiful forms, refined details and everything else related to a formal tradition do not express anything more than the designers of a century ago,” he continued.

“Today, design is an art and because of that must express not only practical content, but also content related to a political, religious, philosophical and existential reality.”

The designer suggested that institutions require a radical shake-up to allow students to express themselves and the world around them better through design, starting with the sacking of backward-looking staff.

“Schools should fire conservative teachers and allow the students to express what they feel inside rather than trivial formal or decorative values,” he added.

The first Italian product “with a political meaning”

A press release announcing the installation claimed the Up armchair was “the first product of Italian design with a political meaning.”

The product was ahead of its time both for the way it was sold in vacuum-packed form, and for the way it depicted “the woman as prisoner,” according to the release.

“It came as a flat transparent PVC disk, free of air, to find its shapes only once opened,” it said. “A happening in the living room, a performance at home.”

Its political message was also radical, the release said. “She was certainly a male prisoner, who was forced to live behind the scenes, except for some lonely exception, certainly not holding important roles in any aspect of life (political, economic, social etc).”

Born in La Spezia in Italy in 1939, Pesce has worked across architecture, interiors and design. Other design projects include a pair of plastic shoes for Brazilian brand Melissa and a set of 61 tables that together make up a map of Italy.
Uma referência da história do design, a icônica Poltrona UP 5, também conhecida como Donna, tem atributos que vão além da questão estética. Ela também é inovadora pela tecnologia empregada e principalmente pela concepção ideológica da peça.

A série UP, criada em 1969 pelo arquiteto designer Gaetano Pesce e desenvolvida pela B&B Italia, marcou uma era. Formalmente e tecnicamente inovadora, a poltrona foi o primeiro produto industrial com mensagem política, adotando uma forma inspirada pela morfologia feminina e desenvolve uma provocação a condição das mulheres, que ainda sofrem com o preconceito e desigualdade.

Em entrevista cedida em 20111, Pesce revelou que entre as peças que criou, o objeto que mais aprecia é a sua poltrona Donna, criada em 1969. “Ela tem formas femininas e é ligada a um apoio para os pés, que lembra uma bola de ferro. Fala da opressão do corpo feminino e é um dos primeiros objetos políticos”, diz.

Apesar da seriedade do tema, Pesce trata a crítica social com humor e ironia, pois apresenta o outro lado dessa realidade, com uma poltrona extremamente confortável, aconchegante e versátil, que abraça com suas formas e que merece (sem esforço algum) ser protagonista do melhor espaço da sua casa.
Some know it by its given name, Up5_6; others, by “La Mamma.” Monikers aside, there’s no denying that Gaetano Pesce’s anthropomorphic armchair-ottoman duo endures as an icon of 1960s design. For its 50th anniversary, B&B Italia has introduced seven new colorways.

New to the series are six solid colorways—orange, red, navy blue, petrol green, emerald green, and cardamom—as well as a special 50th anniversary limited edition featuring retro beige and petrol green stripes that hark back to the palette of Up5’s 1969 debut.

These new colorways come almost 20 years after the Italian manufacturer’s 2000 reissue of the chair. Unlike Pesce’s vacuum-packed, inflatable original, B&B Italia’s Up5 is formed of cold-shaped polyurethane foam and upholstered in the company’s proprietary technical stretch fabric.

Though five decades have passed since Up5_6’s debut at the Milan Furniture Fair, the symbolism behind its imagery—which fuses the form of a fertility goddess with a prisoner’s ball-and-chain—retains its relevance.

“I was telling a personal story about how I see the woman: despite herself, the woman has always been her own prisoner. And so I wanted to give this armchair a feminine form with a ball at the foot,” says Pesce. “The issue of male violence towards women had only just started being talked about at the time. Back then, I thought that this serious sign of incivility, which was happening all over the world, would have lessened with time, Unfortunately, however, that was not the case.”
FACTUELL’artiste italien autoproclamé « créateur visionnaire » a les honneurs du Musée Novecento de Florence. Une nouvelle occasion pour lui de dénoncer, à travers ses meubles et objets, l’aliénation des femmes.

En 1969, l’architecte et designer Gaetano Pesce faisait scandale, au Salon du meuble de Milan, avec son fauteuil Up – aux formes d’une Vénus paléolithique – enchaîné à un repose-pied tel un boulet, pour dénoncer l’aliénation des femmes. Un demi-siècle plus tard, le revoilà bon pied bon œil (toujours espiègle…), qui inaugure à Florence, l’exposition « Maestà Tradita », « Vierge en Majesté trahie », où il reprend son message féministe avec encore plus de vigueur.

« Au lendemain de la révolte estudiantine de 1968, j’étais un jeune idéaliste persuadé qu’en une ou deux décennies, on ne parlerait plus de l’inégalité homme-femme. Cinquante ans plus tard, la situation est pire : des femmes meurent sous les coups de leur mari ou de leur frère, d’autres sont opprimées telles des esclaves. Et le monde reste passif », assène le créateur italien, installé à New York depuis les années 1980.

Dans le Musée Novecento de Florence, où Gaetano Pesce a été invité à inaugurer trois nouvelles galeries, trônent plusieurs de ses fameux fauteuils Up (appelés aussi Big Mama ou la Donna), habillés d’un costume rayé de prisonnier, boulet rouillé au pied. Au centre, une énorme chauffeuse, occupant tout l’espace, croule sous une accumulation de vêtements féminins et de sacs usagés, venus de différents pays, témoignages en 3D d’existences misérables.

Bande-son de lamentations, assiette de « poison » (sorte de soupe verte amère) proposée aux visiteurs, odeurs insupportables de sueur humaine : dans la pièce suivante, Gaetano Pesce donne à expérimenter la douleur de femmes asservies. Une version moins appétissante de ce qu’il avait imaginé, en 1996, pour sa rétrospective au Centre Pompidou, à Paris, où il faisait flotter une odeur de minestrone. « Attention, prévient Gaetano Pesce très gentleman, cette odeur de transpiration a été réalisée par un vrai parfumeur, un “nez”, et elle imprègne durablement les vêtements et les cheveux !

La statue « Maestà Tradita » de Gaetano Pesce s’inspire du tableau de la Madonna Rucellai de Duccio di Buoninsegna (1285), à la galerie des Offices. VL/LE MONDE
Vite on sort, sur la belle place Santa Maria Novella inondée de pluie où une statue a été érigée dans la nuit, au pied de l’église dont la façade Renaissance est signée du grand architecte Leon Battista Alberti… « Quand j’étais gosse, je jouais au ballon avec mon frère en shootant dans ces murs vénérables. Aujourd’hui, c’est interdit, mais j’ai été élevé dans cette idée de l’art accessible à tous », remarque Gaetano Pesce.

Malgré les hallebardes tombant du ciel, les curieux s’agglutinent au pied de sa statue de résine : une femme enchaînée à un boulet se dresse devant son fauteuil-trône, dans un manteau portant l’empreinte d’une chair à vif, ensanglantée. Une version sinistre de la Madone Rucellai de Duccio di Buoninsegna (1285), conservée à la galerie des Offices, à deux pas de là.
Gaetano Pesce est une figure majeure du design italien et mondial de l’après-guerre. Difficile de résumer une œuvre aussi protéiforme et riche que la sienne. D’ailleurs, si l’on jette un coup d’œil sur la biographie de l’homme, on y lit : architecte, designer d’environnement, peintre, sculpteur, styliste, scénographe, professeur et philosophe contemporain ! Son talent ouvert à d’autres disciplines que le design signe la présence d’une personnalité forte, ouverte sur le monde, et qui par conséquent rejaillit dans la création de ses pièces.

Né en 1939 à la Spezia, Gaetano Pesce a vécu de près les mouvements contestataires des années 60. Souvent associé au mouvement Radical Design, Pesce dépasse de loin cette étiquette… Plutôt que de relater une série de créations dans une carrière débutée au début des années 60, on essaiera d’aborder l’homme et son œuvre à travers la dimension militante et sociale de son travail, son goût pour l’innovation, et enfin sa carrière d’architecte, autre dimension incontournable du personnage.

Geatano Pesce, au crépuscule de sa carrière, peut affirmer qu’il a bousculé l’histoire du design et plus particulièrement la façon de le concevoir. Il a affirmé très tôt l’idée selon laquelle le design doit dépasser la notion d’utilité pour devenir un objet de questionnement.

Ainsi, en 1969, le designer conçoit son œuvre peut-être la plus emblématique, le Fauteuil UP5 Donna ou Chair Up Dressed. Ce fauteuil, aux formes évocatrices est une ode à la féminité… emprisonnée et sous le joug de la domination masculine. Une assise très confortable et profonde pour se lover dedans, complétée par un pouf lui-même retenu au fauteuil par une chaîne. Selon le maître italien : « Cette réalisation m’a permis d’exprimer ma vision de la femme. Toujours sédentaire, elle reste malgré elle prisonnière d’elle-même. La forme de ce fauteuil, évoquant les formes généreuses d’une femme, retenue par un boulet au pied, m’a permis de renvoyer à l’image traditionnelle du prisonnier ».