“These Are Only Hints and Guesses”
Visiting Francesca Torzo’s recently opened expansion of Z33 in Hasselt I was initially lost for a point of comparison until I remembered the exquisite Treasury that Franco Albini created for the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Torzo’s hometown of Genoa in 1956. They are projects of very different scale and geometry but each might be characterised as an unusually free constellation of rooms, the component galleries of which are differentiated by means of lighting, proportion and the dynamic ornamentation of their ceilings. In both, long, tangential views offer a register of these differences while maintaining a determinedly labyrinthine effect. The objects on display become points of orientation in a scenography that remains as open and mysterious as that of a dream.
This affinity points to the fact that for all the singularity of her vision, Torzo is also the heir to a very particular architectural culture that developed during the middle years of the last century in conditions that were specific to northern Italy. Central among these was the extraordinary level of craftsmanship that the Italian furniture trade continued to support – a resource amply displayed in the work not just of Albini but such of his contemporaries as Gio Ponti and Carlo Scarpa. Significantly, the career of each of these men was distinguished as much by their achievements in the field of furniture design as in their work as architects. The objects presented in ‘There are Only Hints and Guesses’ form a new and highly self-conscious extension of this tradition: Torzo notes with justified pride that Larga, her three legged walnut-framed chair, is lighter even than Gio Ponti’s famously pared back Superleggera of 1957.
And yet if it is hard to imagine her objects being designed and manufactured anywhere but Italy, each would surely cut a highly exotic presence in most European homes. In the case of her Japanese Kimono or ample sofa modelled on Turkish precedent, the evocations of foreign cultures are explicit. But even when such associations are not foregrounded, the objects in this collection assert a powerful sense of ‘otherness’, as if imbued with lives of their own. Cavaluccio, the brushed stainless steel bottle opener, is a miniature figure that stands upright on a tabletop. Putting it to use, we discover it demands an unfamiliar action of us: a sideways turn of the wrist rather than the usual upward – and in Torzo’s view inelegant – crank of the elbow. Dondolo, the brass cloth hanger, makes a further small refinement to our lexicon of gestures. The act of casting a scarf onto its leather-bound cross bar – rather than dispensing with it on the nearest available surface – is elevated into a moment of theatre by the gentle rocking that it sets in motion.
‘It seems to me,’ Francesca Torzo has said, ‘That we live in landscapes, all the time. They may be indoor, as well as they may be outdoor.’ The quasi-urban arrangement of galleries at Z33 represents one interpretation of that observation and doubtless the ideal home of Torzo’s imagination is another such interior landscape. If not entirely contiguous with the wider world, it is a space determined more by the interrelation of objects, than by the definition of an enclosure. A sense of spatial continuity is compounded by the very ‘public’ modes of behaviour that this domestic scenography provokes. While the contemporary home is so often conceived as a retreat from expectations of formality, here it is imbued with qualities of performance and even ritual. Much as Torzo is concerned that the use of those objects inspires pleasure, one might hesitate to describe them as ‘comfortable’. Frustrating received modes of domestic behaviour, each ultimately represents a demand that we live more consciously in the world.
Ellis Woodman, London, September 2020