I have always been attracted by the sofa seller on the street of Catania, in Sicily, where I grew up. Just like the carpet seller, the sofas and armchairs displayed on the sidewalks create a disconnection between the private purpose of the object and the public space that the merchant occupies to sell. The unlawful use of the street is something that reminds me of Marrakech or Bombay, breaking the limits between store and street, private-public. But it always gives me a sensation of pleasure, as if I am travelling without moving.
What interests me is the style of the furniture that you see on the side of the street. It’s a sort of modern baroque, exalting gold spray finishing and plastic diamonds for the upholstery, wrapped in film plastic to protect it from the dust. Just like the original baroque, the “modern-baroque” uses contrast, movement, exuberant detail, grandeur and surprise to achieve a sense of awe, being not just a tool to express power but also to impress.
Born with the intention to mark a difference between the capability of the Catholic Church and the simplicity and austerity of the Protestants, the baroque has also been adopted by royal families, such as the Bourbons in Naples for the Reggia di Caserta or Louis XIV of France for Château de Versailles.
There are several movies, such as Scarface or Gomorra, that portrait the houses of the Bosses exactly like a homemade version of Versailles, with terraces, gardens, columns, a jacuzzi and swimming pools on the roof. I think it’s curious that the “real” bosses build their houses exactly like those in the movies. In Casal di Principe, close to Caserta, Walter Schiavone, one of the most well known bosses of Camorra in the 90’s, built his house exactly like that of Tony Montana in the movie Scarface. His brother, Francesco Schiavone, is called “Sandokan”, after the character of Emilio Salgari, described as a formidable fighter, gallant pirate and ruthless with his enemies.
I assume that these gangsters, with wide economic possibilities but usually with limited interest in culture, get inspired by a popular figure whom they think they resemble. It’s curious to make a comparison between the King and the Queen that express their power with baroque, just like the drug dealers do with m(odern)afia baroque, after almost 400 years.
I met a local artisan in Catania, Mr. Salvatore Rossi, who has been making chairs since he was 15. He is at the end of the 3rd generation of chair makers and he was really surprised to see a young guy interested in chairs.I attended the workshop quite often for few weeks to get to know him more.
After the first time I stopped bringing the camera with me because I noticed that he didn’t like it, and actually since I stopped, he became more friendly. Mr. Ross by himself produces beautiful and elegant traditional Sicilian chairs, which are based on drawings from 1800’s, but he claims that after the opening of IKEA his production has dropped down.
I invited him for a coffee and asked what he thinks about the chair sellers in the street and their products. He says that those furniture are usually produced in Egypt, with low-quality materials and if you know about chairs you could recognize the difference from far away. Even if his chairs are entirely handmade, they are still cheaper than the one on the street. The “golden” chair, which is spray painted with cheap, fake gold paint, range from 200 to 300 euros.