Enzo Mari: A Proposal for Handmade
Porcelain by Ettore Sottsass

Excerpted from a Danese Milano catalog, 1975

And now we have the porcelains...I believe these porcelains are, instead diagrams for meticulous gestures of the hands, and for the attentive focussing of eyes that have perhaps found an answer to their questing. I believe they are diagrams (like Buddha rosaries) for cathartic exercises; I believe they are signs for reading medieval Sutras in the correct order; I believe that they are simple geometris for the silent repetition of ancient therapeutic formulas; I believe they are moulds of bandages that have healed difficult wouunds; I believe they are instruments of consolation rather that instruments of presumption. I believe that these porcelains must me treated with care, as one treats a memory of the past. I believe that one should honor them as one honours the instruments of a rite; I believe that one should put them down carefully on the wood table-top, as one lays down the fragile sheet of a letter that tells of melancholic adventures...

Enzo Mari

Irascible, polemical, and influential are just a few of the words most commonly associated with Italian artist, designer, critic, and theorist Enzo Mari, who is perhaps most famous for his favorite (and oft-repeated) quote: “Design is dead”. Born and raised in Cerano, a region of Piedmont, Mari moved to Milan in 1947 and worked a variety of jobs before enrolling in the prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in 1952. He studied art and literature with a specific focus on the psychology of vision, the planning of perceptive structures, and the methodology of design. Not long after graduating he met Bruno Danese, co-founder of the eponymous design brand Danese; it was an encounter that would shape the remainder of Mari’s career.

Danese and Mari both felt strongly that good design should be accessible, economic, and affordable. Mari designed a multitude of creations for the company, including the much admired 16 Animali wooden puzzle. Inspired by his own children as well as his research into Scandinavian toys, it was a toy made from a single piece of oak that, with one continuous cut, came apart into 16 separate animals. Mari went on to conceive of over 1500 designs for many premier Italian design companies including Driade, Artemide, Zanotta and Magis. He also created illustrations, books with Einaudi and Bollati Boringhieri, and works for children. One of his most memorable projects, and the one which best demonstrates his belief that design should be accessible to all, was his Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione (Proposal for a Self-design) series. It consisted of a set of diagrams that allowed anyone to build DIY furniture with cuts of pine and some nails, the instructions for which Mari would mail to anyone who sent him postage.

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