De Natura Fossilium

De Natura Fossilium

Gallery Libby Sellers, 2014

When Mount Etna erupted on 20th November 2013, the dramatic event was broadcast by a haunting noise of rumbling stones and a vast plume of dark smoke that completely obscured the sun. After the smoke, black earthen debris began showering down over the villages and cities within the immediate vicinity of the mountain. From the highway through to the Greek theatre in Taormina, everything was covered with black.
№ – Volcano stones, Mount Etna, Sicily.
"Mount Etna is a mine without miners – it is excavating itself to expose its raw materials." 'De Natura Fossilium' is an investigation into the culture of lava in the Mount Etna and Stromboli regions of Sicily, two of the last active volcanoes in Europe. With 'De Natura Fossilium'1 Formafantasma investigates the cultures surrounding this particularly Sicilian experience to bring both the landscape and the forces of nature together as facilities for production, questioning the link between tradition and local culture and the relationship between objects and the idea of cultural heritage. 'De Natura Fossilium' is a project that refuses to accept locality as touristic entertainment. Instead, the work of Formafantasma is a different expedition in which the landscape is not passively contemplated but restlessly sampled, melted, blown, woven, cast and milled. From the more familiar use of basalt stone to their extreme experiments with lava in the production of glass and the use of volcanic fibres for textile, Formafantasma's explorations and the resulting objects realise the full potential of the lava as a material for design.
№ – Salina.
№ – Linguaglossa.
№ –
In homage to Ettore Sottsass, the great maestro of Italian design and an avid frequenter of the Aeolian volcanic islands, this new body of work takes on a linear, even brutalist form. Geometric volumes have been carved from basalt and combined with fissure – like structural brass elements to produce stools, coffee tables and a clock. The clock itself is deconstructed into three horizontal basalt plates to represent the passing of hours, minutes and seconds. A brass movement spins around the plates, shifting three different ages of volcanic sand that have been sampled from three different sites on Stromboli. Volcanic glass, procured by remelting Etna's rocks, has been mouth – blown into unique vessels or cast into box – like structures that purposefully allude to the illegal dwellings and assorted buildings that have developed at the foot of the volcano. Drawing on their vocabulary, these solitary glass boxes and mysterious black buildings have been finished with such archetypal Formafantasma detailing as cotton ribbons and Murano glass plaques.
№ – Volcano rock, Sicily.
№ – Lava through the lens of a pethrographic microscope.
By returning the rocks to their original molten state Formafantasma are reversing the natural timeline of the material and forcing a dialogue between the natural and manmade. A black, obsidian mirror that is suspended on a brass structure and balanced by Volcanic rocks continues this line of narrative, as the semi-precious glass – like stone is produced only when molten lava is in contact with water. Formafantasma has also investigated the tensile properties of volcanic fibre and woven two different wall hangings. These pieces combine illustrative references to both the Greek mythological gods of Mount Etna and the microscopic views of volcanic rock's geological strata as ascertained through the designers' collaboration with the Volcanologist Centre of Catania    (INGV2). As a sustainable alternative to carbon fibre, Formafantasma's use of volcanic fibre has effectively re – appropriated a conventionally high tech material for artisanal ends.
№ – Big Pillar.
№ – Big Pillar, detail.
№ – Small Pillar.
№ – Small Pillar, detail.
While the collection focuses on a specific locality, the project has been developed in collaboration with a number of European experts: from the CNC cutting of basalt in Sicily to the scientific analysis of volcanic stones at the INGV of Catania, through the experiments with lava as glass at both the Glass Museum in Leerdam and Berengo Studio3 in Murano, to the brass developments with Carl Aubock4 in Vienna and the textile works with the Textile Museum5 in Tilburg. The collection is also accompanied by a photographic series by long time collaborator Luisa Zanzani6.
№ – 1892 Stool.
№ – 1892 Stool, detail.

Notes, References and External Links

1. De natura fossilium (1546; “On Natural Fossils”) contains Agricola major contributions to mineralogy and, in fact, has been called the first textbook on that subject. 

2. INGV. The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology is a research institute for geophysics and volcanology in Italy. INGV is funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research.

3. Berengo Studio. An innovative glass-production company that has been working with glass for over three decades, pushing the boundaries of glass making.

4. Carl Auböck (also Auboeck) is the name of members of the Auböck family, who owned, own and run the Vienna – based Werkstätte Carl Auböck.

5. TextielMuseum. The museum is a dynamic and creative working museum located in a former textile factory in Tilburg. It is the only place in the world where textile design, art, fashion, industrial heritage and innovation come together.

5. Luisa Zanzani is an Italian photographer based in Cologne, Germany. Her work focuses on the relation between men and landscape.

Libby Sellers is a design historian, consultant, curator and writer. She was a former curator at the Design Museum, London and supported concept – led design through her eponymous gallery for nearly 10 years.

 National Glass Museum. Unique to the museum is its Glass Studio in a former wood warehouse on the river Linge.


CONCEPT, DESIGN Andrea Trimarchi, Simone Farresin
DEVELOPMENT Francesco Zorzi, Nicola Lorini, Francesco Pace Emile Kirsch, Bettina Bohm, Luisa Zanzani,
PRODUCTION Ingv/Catania (Rosanna Corsaro, Lucia Miraglia) Carl Aubock / Vienna, Berengo Studio, Leerdam Glass Museum, Textiel Museum Tilburg, Sergio Grasso, Teun Vinken, Giuseppe Amendolia


Wallpaper*, Design duo Formafantasma turns volcanic rock into furniture at the Salone del Mobile
Vogue, Formafantasma: prima i materiali, poi la forma
Klatmagazine, Fuorisalone De Natura Fossilium
Designboom, Formafantasma transforms mount etna lava into experimental furniture
Domus, De Natura Fossilium / 89
Dezeen, Formafantasma experiment with lava to create furniture collection
Corriere, Formafantasma al Fuorisalone
ATP Diary, Formafantasma ☛ De Natura Fossilium #miart2014
Frame, De Natura Fossilium by Studio Formafantasma
DAMN°De Natura Fossilium, Studio Formafantasma
Yatzer, A Force of Nature: Studio Formafantasma Transforms Volcanic Rocks into Design Objects
Experimenta, De Natura Fossilium, Formafantasma experimenta con lava
Sample Studio, De Natura Fossilium
Cooper Hewitt, Efesto Textile, from De Nature Fossilium collection, 2014
Dzek, ExCinere, Formafantasma, Fuorisalone, Milan
ICON, Formafantasma: Designing in lava from Mount Etna
Código, Formafantasma: De Natura Fossilium. El paisaje activo