Studio Fludd is a multi-disciplinary collective whose projects blend graphic art, illustration and self-assembled design works. Created in Venice in 2008, it’s the spawn of three fertile minds: Sara Maragotto, Caterina Gabelli and Matteo Baratto.
Caterina, the group’s Venetian spirit, welcomes me in her home-laboratory near the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli. The flat looks as you would expect it to: an array of pencils is lying on the table, and a creative compulsion pervades the rooms, decorating them with floral mosaics and patterns; the bathroom, featuring very tall walls panelled in candy-pink enamel tiles, is a mix between a hammam and Nancy Reagan’s beauty salon.
Once in the lounge, I compel Caterina to offer me a cup of ginger tea: perfectly at ease, while she grates ginger peel, Caterina tells me about Robert Fludd. A physician, illustrator and alchemist, Fludd was a prolific genius who immediately struck the group with his multi-disciplinary skills and his focus on the relationship between the macro and microcosm, between the universe’s huge scale and mankind’s tiny world: these elements became the linchpins of Studio Fludd’s creative project.
Of course, before turning base metals into gold, all alchemists go through a series of more or less failed experiments, and Studio Fludd too has a history of troubled beginnings. For example, the Christmas crafts market where they showcased ‘wonderful, dysmorphic little puppets. It was a disaster, we sold nothing.’ It was a clash between worlds set too far apart, an impossible conversation between XVIIth century esotericism and ladies’ arts & crafts.
The strength of Studio Fludd’s motor grew over the years through this tension between failure and greatness. A strength that lies in the search for a design method devised to discipline and harmonise the group’s three spirits. Caterina finds her cue to explain how their creativity works while we are in the lounge, the windows letting in the reflected light from the church’s light-coloured marble, as we chew on our biscuits and turn them into a bolus: food, digestion and Venetian marble are essential elements to tell the story of Gelatology (‘Icecreamology’), which could translate as ‘ice cream-ology’, a booklet illustrated by the trio through a four-phase work, an exemplary guide for weaving your way inside creativity’s labyrinth.
PHASE 1: ARCHIVES.
The starting point is Metamorfica, one of the collective’s previous works, featuring marble surfaces in churches and the relationship between the texture of natural marble and the artificial feel of painted wood.
PHASE 2: THEMATIC RESEARCH.
Marble sets off a reflection on geology, the trio gives up on designer necklaces’ glass and begins to experiment on rocks and marbled wood. Did you know that marbled paper is a Venetian classic, in turn originating from a Persian tradition? I didn’t.
PHASE 3: IN-DEPTH STUDY.
It starts with the study of ancient, geology-themed images. Working tirelessly on analogy and the alchemical transformation of materials, the trio realises that many images look like fat, bloated baked Alaskas. Charles Lyell, the XIXth century geologist, thinks along the same lines: according to him, during tectonic activity, ‘rocks shift on top of lava like almonds on sugar.’ The details of the picture begin to emerge, a flowing entity made of cream and magma, of the earth’s crust and layered semifreddo.
PHASE 4: CREATION.
Each member of the trio works on a tablet that is handed over, to be elaborated on, to the others in turn. Subtle textures and figurative elements for Caterina, wild brushstrokes and smudges repeated in hundreds of copies and then digitally enhanced for Sara, three-dimensional figures for Matteo.
The booklet, Risograph-printed in monochrome with only a few pages in colour, was selected in 2014 by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. From this experience the trio derived an itinerant workshop and a geology-themed dinner, a banquet first featured in Venice and subsequently presented in Ljubljana and Turin. The edible elements of the banquet’s many courses are camouflaged as amethysts or malachite, while ice creams turn into savoury dishes.
The chain reaction of performances, all designed to involve the public, that followed the publishing of ‘Gelatology’, is proof of one of the collective’s established ideas: to create bridges between the various languages of the visual arts, as well as between art and public life. ‘Illustration is often seen as something separate from the real world, existing in a bubble, while here it is simply the starting point for causing more havoc.’