Milan / Mircea Anghel
The Design Edit met the rising talent at his Portuguese studio, as he prepared to exhibit his new work at Milan Design Week.
“COME AND LOOK at this.” Half-way through my conversation with Romanian designer, Mircea Anghel, he leads me across his warehouse studio to his laptop, where he opens a tab and types ‘Zabriskie Point, film, end scene’. “This shit’s crazy,” he says. The video loads up and his eyes begin to shine, a seven-minute sequence of objects dramatically exploding on screen begins. First a cliffside mansion erupts, sending a ball of smoke and flames into the air, the house then reforms set to explode again from a different angle, and then again from another angle. Anghel’s smile widens at each detonation: “That idea of losing control, an instantaneous creation of something else, that’s what fascinates me.”
His own relationship to this idea is just about to come to fruition. From 4th to 10th September, during Milan Design Week, as part of the Design Variations exhibition in the grand spaces of Palazzo Litta, Anghel and his team are exhibiting a project created from controlled explosions – tearing metal objects apart in order to follow them to their own conclusions.
When I speak to the designer, early in the summer, in his workshop at Herdade da Barrosinha (a rural estate in the Alentejo region of Portugal), he doesn’t know yet what will come out of these explosions. The process itself will throw up a lot of problems. But that, it seems, is the point: “Things will shatter and break and melt,” he says, “and then we’ll need to figure out how to rebuild them, that’s when they finally come into form.” The craftsmanship involved is far from the slow, methodical approach of some of the Japanese craftsmen and designers that he mentions as influences, but it expresses the same fundamental idea of allowing a process to govern the outcome, not the other way round.
After all, Anghel has, as he says, a mathematician inside him. Since he was young, growing up in Romania, he has always gained pleasure from problem-solving. “I was always causing mischief as a kid,” he adds, with a glint in his eye, “and so, I suppose I got used to coming up with solutions.” Born in 1986, the son of a diplomat, his family moved to Lisbon in 2001, where Anghel studied economics at the University of Lisbon. Like the equations he was good at solving, Anghel now works with materials through an analogous process of hands-on logic, determined not to skew the solution to fit a preconceived outcome. His empathy with explosions is because they offer a constructive loss of control and the process gives him freedom from a fixed end result. For him, he tells me, this is a liberation of energy.
Birth through explosion however, is only one of the techniques Anghel employs in working with his problematic materials. The first introduction I have with him is in the company of an oak cork tree trunk, with its attendant wrapping of cork. Within minutes of meeting, we are already discussing the very different scale of time used to produce a material. The ethereal patterns made in the cork bark, he tells me, come from years of systematic removal of the outer layer of cork for manufacturing, a traditional industry in Portugal.
The layer then grows back, patching up the annual wounds and slowly forming a scab that chronicles time. He recognises he has no power over this process of creation: he works with the aftermath.
If one obsession is with process, another is with balance and equilibrium. Sitting in a corner of the warehouse is a finished version of one of his ‘Pico’ tables – named after the volcanic island in the Azores they were inspired by. ‘Pico Branco’ is composed of a mountainous chunk of white Estremoz marble, which rises through a smooth pierced plank of White American Oak, narrowed at one end, as if through the eye of a needle.
As striking as the contrast of materials is the daring engineering – beauty vying with danger. Anghel says of his asymmetric piece: “I wanted to do something that wasn’t static. Before, it was just a grounded table, but I wanted something unbalanced.”
By weighting one end of it he balanced the other in the air, suspending it above the floor: “It plays with your perception, so I liked it.” The result is similar to the house strung out over its cliff in that final moment of Zabriskie Point; a poised ledge, stretching out from its mountain base.
Anghel has a history of determinedly seeing through what he wants to do, from sitting exams in both his home country of Romania and adoptive country of Portugal, to changing career from finance to wood craftsmanship, a decision he has taken in the last decade. The same commitment is evident in his move to Herdade da Barrosinha, an environment where industry and innovation have taken root for decades.
The place where we eat lunch, I’m told, was once a school and the warehouse Anghel uses as a workshop was only recently used for building fishing boats. It’s a place where communities of people have been coming to carve out their work for years and the site has an atmosphere of resilient determination; he feels right at home.
The other project fighting tooth and nail for attention with his design is his wider vision for a creative community, focused around Cabana, his workshop. “We want to create a community of creators – artists, designers, makers and scientists – then support them with a freedom to explore different fields, different interests.” It’s highly ambitious and dominates our conversation. The basic structure is to bring together established artists with trained technicians, adding to the mix a group of new, energised creators. With the support of ‘Artworks’ in the North of Portugal, which encourages young creators with collaborative residencies, it has taken inspiration from a similar group in Brussels, Belgium – Lionel Jadot’s Zaventem Ateliers.
The piece of land the Cabana sits in is next to the birthplace of the 1974 ‘Carnation Revolution’, the military uprising which transformed Portugal from a dictatorship into a democracy, and both of the nearest towns remain staunchly left-wing. The area offers fertile ground for a sense of community. The project, Anghel tells me, is very close to starting up with a small number of creators currently being selected to stay for initial residencies.
As we tour the ground he wants to use for the project, his excitement is obvious. He points over to a long abandoned but beautifully built grain store and describes the gallery space he is going to install and the ways in which the spaces will be twisted and reformed to his plans. A little sceptical that such energy and vision can actually come to fruition, I ask him how close his ambition is to reality. “Well” he says, “I’m 100% confident that it’s going to happen.” He leaves little room for doubt.