Interview with Francesco Faccin: The Symbolism of Fire-Making
Fire gives warmth and light. Already for the early humans it served as a means of cooking food and having a place to gather safely. While in some parts of the world, more efficient sources of heat and light have rendered the ability to make fire superfluous, it still holds a special fascination – as is evident from our love of campfires, barbecues, and open fires. During human history various tools and methods have been developed to help us make fire in a safe and controlled way.
Patrizia Coggiola invited the Italian designer Francesco Faccin to design an object for the Stockholm Design Week 2014 which, viewed historically, was to be not just practical but essential. The result was the Re-Fire Kit for lighting fires using the time-honoured method of rubbing a stick on wood. To date, this project has been featured not only in the “Tempo Italiano” exhibition, but also in a number of other design museums and galleries. At present it is part of the “Domestic Futures” exhibition at the National Museum in Stockholm. We talked to Faccin about the idea behind the development of the Re-Fire Kit and his design process.
Francesco, what sparked the Re-Fire Kit project?
For Stockholm Design Week 2014 I was invited to design a symbolic object that could be interpreted as a representation of a historical moment, and would at the same time be absolutely useful and necessary. As I couldn’t see a way of defining necessity in general terms, I began by thinking about whether this has also been true throughout the history of mankind. I realised that if we’re talking about basic necessities, we have to go right back to the discovery of fire if we want to create an object for which necessity has a deeper meaning. Obviously, this is a massive challenge, but I believe that even today every single project should be driven by something deep and genuine.
What made you choose this particular way of making fire?
I opted for this method, because I always think of the bow as one of the first objects ever designed by man. Using a bow to generate heat was a more sophisticated way than rubbing a stick on wood with bare hands, which would have been too primitive for me. And there’s another reason: for many years I played the violin and worked as a lute-maker.
What were the challenges you had to face during the design process?
The main difficulty was how to make the object fully functional. I spent nearly four months trying out different designs and learning what the crucial factors were: the best size of plate and rod, the most suitable tinder for the fire, the right tension for the string, the right length of the bow… To make a long story short, it was an exercise in designing a “useless” object that was full of significance and symbolism. The first time I succeeded in lighting a fire with it, I felt a sense of fulfilment greater than any that I have ever felt before with other projects.
What made you opt for sophisticated manufacturing processes such as CNC milling, even though the technique of fire-making is primitive?
My aim was not to encourage nostalgia and disgruntlement – I am very much a believer in scientific and technological progress. However, I am convinced that humans are committing serious errors that have irreparable consequences. We have to find a way of being innovative and forward-looking while also remembering our roots, including our place in the natural cycle. As far as I’m concerned, CNC milling was the perfect way of bringing these two very different parts of our history together.
Is this more a symbolic project or do you really expect your Re-Fire Kit to be used in
Of course the project is a provocation with a strong symbolic connotation, but it is also fully functional and works. I consider the project to do both. I wanted to design every last detail so that it could indeed be used in practice if that is what people wanted. I doubt whether many of those who have bought the Re-Fire Kit – the limited edition comprises 50 pieces – will ever use it in practice, however. It is more likely to end up in the hands of collectors who want to possess its symbolism.
What did you learn from working on the project?
Since working on this project I have become more aware that every project – even those that are completely pointless from a marketing perspective – can and should be an opportunity for deep and meaningful reflection. It is no longer possible to go about the job of a designer in a superficial or indifferent way, without considering the problem as a whole – and through his or her work the designer can have an impact on industrial and social processes alike. Most importantly, I have learnt how to make a fire with my own hands.