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PIRELLI.COM / People&planet

Of paper and nature

We met with Carlo Urgerse, art director and artist from Genoa (based in Milan for some time) to discuss a special event: his collaboration with Pirelli for the Geneva Motor Show, 9-19 March 2017.

For the occasion, the company will unveil a new range of tyres offering technical features and aesthetic innovation with the inclusion of colour in three different versions: red, yellow and white. This product, combining efficiency and beauty for the first time, led to the choice of an equally original and artistic communication strategy. Urgese interpreted the aesthetic revolution of the new products in a series of 16 handmade paper birds that reflect the colours of the tyres, which will be displayed in the two showcases used to present the Pirelli products. A collaboration based on the idea of beauty, craftsmanship and artistic inspiration.

P: Let’s start by talking about you: who you are and what you do.
CU: I am particularly happy about this project, especially at a time when it seems that thinking, and knowing how to do things, no longer seems useful to anyone. I didn’t start out as a paper sculptor, but as an art director – I’ve always worked in communications. But in this sector I find that I’ve always has a more “constructive” vision: years ago I chose this profession because it gave me the opportunity to do different things, from the development of communication strategies to handicrafts, using various materials including paper. I’ve always had a very productive mindset and have always accepted all kinds of challenges. I also experienced the decline of the advertising industry: from the magical eighties, when I first started, to the current diktat of extreme savings. And in this context, what has always made me stand out is the attitude: “if there’s not enough money to get it made, I’ll make it myself”.

P: Willingness to accept challenges and creatively adapt to situations is a great skill to have, especially today.
CU: Absolutely. Although honestly I have always found it hard to define myself as an “artist”: in the end I have always “sold” my knowledge, in the sense that I worked as an art director to make a living. But now I like the idea or being an artist, perhaps thanks to the maturity I’ve gradually developed. Working with paper over time, I have discovered specific techniques. And I find that is has strong intrinsic value: we are trying to make paper disappear, just as culture is disappearing; but if we think about it, without paper we would be nothing. Nothing would be left of our past, unless somehow transcribed and handed down. And this is the thought that led me to conceive my most recent projects: it’s an extremely underrated material. Often, for example, we think of things made of paper as low cost. Instead, it takes hours of work to give shape and substance to such a simple and delicate material, hours and hours.

P: In recent decades, much of contemporary art has gradually shifted away from the act and the material to focus on concepts. How important is it for you to make things by hand, directly working with materials?
CU: To answer this I’ll tell you something I recently remembered: when I was a kid I used to make my own toys to play with. Somehow, I’ve always reasoned in terms of how to solve things; if there is ever a doubt about something being possible, I enjoy finding a way to make it happen. I normally start by making a prototype to study, which gets me thinking. Then the processes, the techniques to use, gradually follow. In the case of the Pirelli birds, for example, the feather details came later, and if you look carefully at the wings you can see that they are similar but not identical. Because that’s the way nature is. It always surprises me that to solve a problem all you need to do is observe.

P: Going back to the choice of subject, your work is often linked to nature and plants in particular: is there a reason why?
CU: I’ve always drawn flowers, since I was little: I’m not quite sure why. I remember that all I needed were pens and pencils and I could spend hours in silence. And out of everything, flowers were always the most fascinating. For my collaboration with Pirelli, I worked by abstracting an animal, recreating the almost archetypal image I had in my mind.

P: But the result is very figurative.
CU: Yes, but this is also because when I work with paper, the art director in me emerges: the result still has to communicate effectively. For example, I used a bigger beak than normal, because in these displays there are things that have to be physically emphasized to express what you are trying to say.

P: Staying on your collaboration with the company: where did the choice of the bird come from? Are there parallels between the subject (a fast and free animal) and the product?
CU: Of course. In this case the idea for the project came from Pirelli, which involved me in its creation, Personally, I did not come up with the concept; I just developed the idea. And the idea was the cage they are flying out of: this is why birds were chosen. Then in my opinion, the graphic use of paper, an eco-friendly, natural material, always adds value.

P: So it seems your line of thought and your creative profile matched their communication choices. Is that so?
CU: Yes, of course. They came up with this type of concept, and I made a bird based on my experience in working with paper. In this case the chromatic aspect was essential: I pushed to keep the shapes the same, with just the colours changing. In terms of communication, it seemed the more effective: red, yellow and white are the three colours of the tyres that to be unveiled. Plus, given my professional experience, I always consider where the works will be displayed: a neutral green box, with other elements of the same colour. So the dialectics, the colour association between bird and tyre had to be immediate.

P: Speaking of the display: the two showcases designed by Pirelli will be positioned in two places of transit, the airport and the station – two quintessential “non-places”. Is this an intentional reference to the subject of the installation, birds in flight?
CU: In my opinion – again speaking as a communicator – this was right thinking. The installation shows the liberation of these birds from a cage. And it is positioned in a place of arrival and departure. It is a very effective way to emphasize the message of the display. Then, at a strategic level, these are two focal points of the city: two high transit hubs. In short, the perfect combination of narrative, conceptual and communicative aspects.

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