Fernando Mastrangelo: A Record of What Might Be Gone

“I like to think that our work lives in the city but transports people outside of it. I’m making work for the city dwellers who want to escape.”

The natural forms of Fernando Mastrangelo’s design work reference icebergs, mountain faces and sand dunes. While his work is sculptural, it is also political and uses visually striking objects as a means to discuss the changing environment. Without compromising their environmentally focused practice, his studio, FM/S, has created work for art fairs, high-end boutiques and is only dreaming bigger as their capabilities increase. Their material choices, political slant and Mastrangelo’s background in visual art place the studio in a unique category of interiors with poise to grow.

The way FM/S works now is a product of early experimentation in materiality and form. Back in 2006, casting with sugar for the first time was a turning point. He describes a light bulb moment that led to emptying the shelves of his local grocery store for pedestrian items like sugar, coffee and salt to experiment with. Sugar not only had an unexpected materiality, but, at the time, was also going through wild fluctuations in the commodities markets due to its connection to ethanol production. This allowed Mastrangelo to work with it both conceptually and aesthetically. “I like materials that have a narrative built in,” he explains.

This openness to experimentation is what has led him to work with unconventional materials such as ash and gunpowder. Recreating an Aztec calendar with corn rather than a material like plaster, as Mastrangelo did in 2008, adds a narrative dimension that is tied to a sense of place. The calendar spoke to the mass production of corn in Mexico - where Mastrangelo grew up and continues to draw inspiration from.

Following a trip to the glaciers of Patagonia in 2015, his works began to explore global warming and climate change by using sand to imitate those fleeting glacial formations. This became a major focus of his work and while he has not returned to Patagonia, his travels there have kept his eyes open to the effects of global climate change.

Having moved from sculpture to design, choice of material remains central. Whether it is a coffee table made from coffee grounds or an upcoming project inspired by the landscapes of Switzerland and built out of stone unique to the same region, the materials are in harmony with the form and the content.

“We are, visually, always trying to achieve an almost photo realistic version of nature, because the materials then abstract it,” Mastrangelo explains. Specifically, many of his pieces depict shapes that allude to climate change. Collections titled “Flood” or “Drift” reference changing landscapes that are unavoidably political. With the studio’s work, though, they have the power to present this dialogue in the form of an aesthetically pleasing piece. What may first seem like a beautiful mirror, depicts a melting glacier and is made from a regional stone. These pieces are, as Mastrangelo describes, “a record of what might be gone.”

As Mastrangelo’s practice grows, so does his desire to work on a larger scale. The studio’s Space Program, which is a new collaborative project that works with interiors, is a start. The project is intentionally loosely defined, but so far has led the studio to create ambitious interiors for Thakoon and Stella McCartney boutiques, right down to pouring the concrete directly in the changing rooms. This allows FM/S to flex their ability to work on a scale physically and conceptually bigger than that of object and furniture design, while still experimenting with materials.

This is where the role of the consumer has the potential for impact. As Mastrangelo describes, these materials are rarely used in this way and it is important to find the right clients who connect with both the form and his intention. One way he is showcasing the studio’s concepts and capacity is through the design of his own private home.

“I want to keep looking at space conceptually like this. My dream is to build interior spaces that feel like we’re outside.”

Text by Emma Macdonald

Images taken by Justin Ryan Kim

Fernando Mastrangelo recently curated “In Good Company,” an annual show of emerging designers out of his East New York Studio.