Taking to her adoptive city of Milan, Sara Ricciardi embraces her Campania roots with an attitude to life and an inexplicable pagan vein that can only belong to those born in the shadows of Mount Vesuvius. “I go back to Naples in reverence, to render homage to my roots,” she confesses of her first return to Naples as a designer. “I’m grateful for the other homes I’ve had — Milan, Istanbul, and New York — but Campania is my real home, the magma that forged me. My origins lie there, in that land that gave birth to the eyes and fears of a girl that today has finally matured into her personality.” It’s a maturity of the professional variety, conquered in just five years, in which she passed from an emerging talent at the Salone Satellite to the acclaimed creator of projects like No Signal Zone, “a design oxymoron” that became a manifesto for this last Fuorisalone.
But Ricciardi also likes to pair her professional activity with a more theoretic practice at NABA, where she holds a teaching post in Social Design and relational practices. “I’m very grateful to a teacher of mine, who to shock me out of mediocrity, made me spantecare [“to suffer” in Neapolitan dialect]. It was a painful journey, much like when a caterpillar breaks from the chrysalis to become a butterfly, and after six years as a demanding teacher myself, I’ve realized something: the students will either love me or hate me.”
Multifaceted and irrepressible, she tells us about herself while on the way to Grasse, in the French Riviera, where she was invited by Valentina Guidi Ottobri for an artistic residence dealing with the theme of spirituality. “I was inspired by Women Who Run with the Wolves, written by Clarissa Pinkola Estès, and the for the occasion I’ll present a portal with an eye that represents the time of truth, realized with the same technique as the church’s large rose windows — a sartorial method that I’m developing with the company Il Fanale di Treviso.”
Ricciardi first laid the foundations for her creative career in product design when she presented “Peso Specifico” at the Salone Satellite in 2016, inaugurating a study on diverse materialities. “It was at that event that I met Emilia Petruccelli, who was struck by my work. Thanks to EDIT, I’ve once again reflected on a theme more closely connected with the body and with the desire to create a narrative with the space that hosted me” — the former convent of the Monumental Complex of San Domenico Maggiore. In fact, for the second edition of the Neapolitan fair organized by Emilia Petruccelli and Domitilla Dardi, the designer joined forces with Simone Piva to experiment with materials to create tools capable of marking everyday life, like monastic life, whose iron-clad discipline marks the days, desires, and senses.
And so a fountain to awaken the acoustics is born, along with a censer, massagers to activate both the feet and hands, an hourglass to perceive the passage of time, and the weights already presented back in 2016. While Sara speaks of the materials’ properties, chosen for their ability to transmit energies, Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero comes to mind, who not far from the Complex of San Domenico, in 18th century Naples, performed esoteric and alchemic experiments. “He’s a figure I’m very attached to, a figure who wasn’t satisfied with normality. I like to think that in Naples, these realities recall each other,” she says, leading us to believe it was no coincidence that EDIT was located just meters from the Sansevero Chapel.
In addition to the historical context, this year’s EDIT presented a unique atmosphere, not only as the sole physical fair of the industry, but especially for the human aspect that was created between designers, companies and visitors. “I’m grateful to Emilia and Domitilla for their effort and expertise in creating a dynamic of being together,” says Ricciardi before elaborating on her personal experience, confessing her shock upon visiting the three locations of EDIT Cult and recognizing the profound studies to emerge from the new generations of designers. “I was fascinated by the materialistic work of TIPSTUDIO and the younger creatives in which you can see a bit of humus starting grow its own spine.” It wasn’t only the acclaimed designer speaking, but also the passionate professor, who with a maieutic approach helps her students to investigate the contemporary realm to find authentic answers. “I always tell them, ‘I won't give you fish, but bait’. I want to form a process of identity together with my students, one that allows them to work on themselves.” And professor Ricciardi provides that bait in countless ways, beginning with morning exercises — first and foremost by answering the question, ‘how are you?’ “Anyone who responds banally will be in trouble: I expect them to use one of the 427,000 words in our dictionary to better explain themselves.”
More recently, the designer seems to have abandoned pure product design, directing her sphere of investigation towards spaces and installations — “dynamics to be used by people whose main focus becomes proxemics,” claims Ricciardi. “You know, an object is like a flag, it immediately becomes a symbol and is the easiest way to talk about oneself. Instead, I prefer a relational dynamic, looking for links between and with people.” From this comes the desire to reformulate the spaces we experience the most, starting from the home and its aesthetic. As she speaks, Ricciardi captures the provocation posed to her, of a design that often exaggerates in words, which is then presented void of any concrete meaning, and she does so while reinforcing her thesis with references and facts. She references the home constructed from within, Dada’s Merzbau, and the Tarot Garden from Niki de Saint Phalle, but also a careful and detailed analysis of how the home has changed according to economic needs along with the social transformations of various historic moments. “Today I’d like to understand how we can reformulate our spaces, perhaps with a tailored and artisanal approach, with a greater desire to dare and without necessarily having to normalize ourselves — no more placing furniture strictly around the perimeter of a room.” The designer will attempt to do so herself, and come January — Covid permitting — will inaugurate her show PATASPAZIO, a home studio named in honor of the science of all things possible theorized by Alfred Jerry, a member of the Theatre of the Absurd.
“I want it to become the manifesto of my idea of the home and, at the same time, a place to meet and discuss with others.” So what will the future hold for Sara Ricciardi? “I don’t have a creative leash, I go where I’m allowed to develop an autonomous and biting design that doesn’t follow rules and allows me to create an authentic story.”