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Unplugged by Gionata Gatto

Subtitled, ‘Pieces of earthenware, wood and human energy’, the Eindhoven-based Italian designer’s project visualises the concept of energy and questions our waste of the world’s resources.

By Katie Dominy / 27-05-2010

Unplugged, shown at Milan last April by Spazio Rossana Orlandi, comes from Gionata Gatto’s future vision of how people would have to create their own energy, once the global resources have been squandered by society’s greed.

Gatto unveiled two prototypes of the new collection at Milan, The Pedalator and The Table Crank. These two pieces offer different ways to power a LED bulb through human effort. The Pedalator – a pared down bicycle wheel and seat with oversized wooden lamp arm with unglazed ceramic shade - gives an hour of light for every five minutes of pedaling. Instead of the leg muscles, The Table Crank gets the arms moving by rotating an aluminum crank atop an unglazed ceramic base to power a table lamp in the ratio of four or five minutes work for almost half an hour of light.  The energy produced is stored in a battery, so that the user can switch the lamps on and off.

Speaking to Gatto, he told us of the reaction of people at the Milan fair to Unplugged. “Initially people stopped by just to look at the pieces. Then, by observing the design, they also understood the meaning of the project. With both The Table Crank and The Pedalator, they could try out how the lamps work and it was funny to see them smiling by winding up cranks and pedals.”

“I talked with lot of people and they told me how fascinated they were about the idea of giving visibility to the concept of energy. Indeed, this also helped me to understand how energy for most of people is a sort of unreal, fictitious notion, although its production process is often complex, long and, at the moment, polluting. This series of pieces somehow helps to make this notion a bit more real, tangible. How much effort do you need to power up a light? Just try it out - it's so easy that in Milan, children were the best at using the lamps.”

And how did Gatto come to create the project? “I often think about future scenarios. Everybody can imagine what will happen if we keep on using up the earth’s resources as we are doing nowadays. People seem to not like thinking about this and I wanted to make something to provoke the imagination on this topic.”

Gatto graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2009, with a final project UrbanBuds (originally called Cultural Roots) that came from his interest on how design impacts on the social environment. The project focused on empowering the public to cultivate transportable fruit and vegetable plots in inner-city locations.

In comparing the two projects, Gatto says, “Somehow, it is the same thought process for Unplugged that I've used in designing UrbanBuds. In that case I imagined a scenario where populations were so increased and cities so full that green spaces and cultivation would become extinct in urban spaces. UrbanBuds is still working in an area of Eindhoven, with cheaper pieces located in the spaces of The Wilgenhof; people are still using the plant bags, but mainly to cultivate flowers and aromatic plants. The good thing about UrbanBuds is also that now people are asking for pieces to put on terraces or spaces inside apartments. Therefore, I am making some adjustments to the design, in order to store water in the bottom of the bags and avoid any water dripping.”

Now with a studio in the centre of Eindhhoven, Gatto is currently developing new pieces in the Unplugged series including The Wall Crank lamp, plus a hand-powered radio and television.

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