Ceramic shape of Romania: a story about a new RONATIV project

He tells stories through design. He told stories about Romania and its potential in pixels (on digital covers) and in ceramic, on 3 Graces project and different ceramic pieces from the limited edition of “Romanian design for International use” project. Cătălin Năstăsoiu – because he’s the designer behind these beautiful ceramic vases that include a national symbol – talked to me about the things that we are going to find into the author room at Galateca gallery (those dedicated to 30 years since 1989), about the most ingenious packaging system I have ever seen and the narrative power of a pixel in shape of Romania’s map.  

RONATIV author room at NEOGalateca – www.galateca.ro / @galateca. There are 9 different shapes, all of them in 30 limited edition series, with a cool package.
The author of the project – Cătălin Năstăsoiu @cat_nastasoiu.

Why Romanian design for… international use? How international? 

After 1989, many Romanians chose to leave the country in search for economic opportunities. If before ’89 traveling was restricted, beginning with the 90’s they started to travel, to visit their families that left the country during the communism, to spend their vacations abroad, to see the World. Others engaged in business endeavours and built lucrative relationships with foreigners, institutions and companies alike. Whether a migrant or “citizen of the world”, wherever their interest landed them, they are engaging in transnational activities and create social realms where they exchange social, cultural, economic and even political impressions and meaning that link their country of origin to the host country. 

Myself, as a migrant or traveler I participated in socio-cultural transactions and I found that the objects I created were a very effective and efficient conversation starter. When people, especially foreigners, realise that the objects I design use the Romanian map, become curios to know more about it. It could be out of politeness or keen interest in the subject; however, it becomes a good opportunity to share information about my country of origin. So, it is quite natural to call it ROMANIAN DESIGN OR INTERNATIONAL USE; besides the aesthetic and the utilitarian, it has a conversational function used mostly in transnational social fields. 

Where did the idea of the containers come from? Why did you choose the cardboard for the packaging?

The notion of containerisation is linked to a system, in International Trade, using standardised containers to move product at global level. The containers I designed are created to individualise and to protect the personality of each object contained, rather than standardising. I played with this idea that the architecture of the packaging should protect the object from outside, instead of building a protective system inside the box. Plus, I purposely avoided extra use of energy and resources.  

Each container has a few graphic elements that reminds of the coded naming of the product subject enclosed in a container. It has some mystery and the curiosity about what it holds is never late to be exposed when someone is seeing them for the first time. 

The recyclable cardboard I am using is part of my ecological concern, using resources with as little impact as possible on the Planet. Although it is a cheap cardboard the feedback on the packaging was very good; it is well done, it looks good, and it serves the purpose. 

Why ceramic? 

The first prototypes I produced were made on a 3D printer using plastic. The technology was useful to see materialised the object and to check proportions and handling, how it fits into space as well as in hand. However, I wanted to produce them out of a noble material and high firing porcelain it is as close as it gets to such purpose. When fired, the porcelain has what we call “memory” meaning that all the interventions the fabricant is having on a surface or the volume, it shows after wards. In other words, if you try to hide a mistake it will show no matter what. It is an honest material therefore you also better be honest. You have to listen more to the porcelain than the porcelain will listen to you. It is a wonderful negotiation!   

How many pieces were broken before the final form to be the actual one?

Well, the fabrication system is made as such as breaking per say is held to almost zero unless purposely. In the developing process of the production line there are a few good months in which we toss the pieces we make and reuse the material for next trials. In this time, as I said before, there is a technical negotiation between the initial design and the material. The adjustments we make are on the molds-system with the sole purpose to make the workflow as smooth as possible and in the same time energy and resources efficient. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting but the actual development of the line, the whole process, is as full as satisfaction as it is of frustration. I am working with a great team of manufacturing professionals (rare breed) and together we come up with solutions that make “breaking” part of a conscious action to get it better next time. 

How many ways of packaging have you tried before the actual one? 

The container packaging, I designed especially for the “30 edition”, to build on the idea of international use, shipping, traveling of socio-cultural product. I explored a few directions and I developed some solutions that I would like to use in future editions. Once I knew where I want to go with this edition’s packaging, it was just a question of research and development. 

A map of Romania stays in every piece you have designed. Why the map, why not the flag or some other item that identify with Romania? 

Well, it is so mysterious and unique. And, the way I am using it creates three-dimensional shapes that were never created before. The map is the last element observed by most of the people who encounter my objects. There is an “intriguing attraction”, the way a gallerist from Washington called it, the nonsymmetrical forms, the proportions, somehow drive the viewer to see what the source of its construction is. When discovered or told what it is about, the narrative starts. It has a story to be told in it.   

These pieces are part of a bigger project – RONATIV – when this project started and what was the starting point? 

In 2010 I was having this conversation with two friends about the image of Romania. It was right after the “leaf” campaign was launched and we were all a bit disappointed. Someone said that we are too small, as a communication culture, to be able to come up with something as strong as in other countries. Anyway, there were other proposals for such projects that I actually really liked, but somehow they were never materialised. Long story. Then I asked, how small? What is the smallest controllable unit in an image? And the answer came quite naturally: A PIXEL.

A pixel (pix = image, el=element). It is the smallest addressable unit on an image. It is displayed on a two-dimensional grid. Each pixel has an address on this grid, and it varies in intensity. Each pixel is a sample of a native image and more samples of the image create a better representation of the original. So, I took the map of Romania, I reduced it to the (visual meaning) value of a pixel and I started to build 2D images with it. I called the element RO of my NATIVE image: RONATIV.

When I published the project online, in the form of cover magazines layouts, people responded very well and they adopted it and use it the way I was using it, as a form maintenance of my relationship with the country of origin, as at that time I was living in New York. 

In some of the layouts were sometime depicted 3D objects and when I collaborated with the department of Digital Fabrication from Parson, in New York I had the opportunity to turn some of these 3D images into actual objects. The principle was quite similar, instead of using pixels I used layers. So, I developed a formula that allows me to generate an infinity of shapes.  

What’s the story that you want your pieces from NEOGalateca to tell the people buying them? 

The story is self-spoken. I already mentioned a few “chapters” in previous answers to your questions. By the data that we empirically collected, 99% of the pieces purchased are destined to people leaving outside of Romania. It is clear that the design is for international use. 🙂 I worked probably more on the narrative of the product than on the object itself. I want people to make a good impression when they offer RONATIV as a gift. I want them to feel good about the choice they made. I want them to add to the narrative I created, their own narrative, and the ones who receives it as a gift to add their own as well. The stories from the people who purchased the objects and offered them to friends, families are overwhelmingly compiled of joy and appreciation. I thank them much, much more than they generously thank me! 

So, when someone enters the RONATIV author room at NEOGalateca, I want them to know that these pieces are made for them. If they are Romanians who left the country, or they have friends and families who moved in the World, if they are foreigners of Romanian descend, non-Romanians with Romanian friends, curious about Romania, people who spent a while here and they want to take something with them as a reminder of a good time… and the list can be continued, these pieces are made for them. If you are a citizen of the world, be the vessel for a container with a RONATIV in it and make the story travel the world.  

Why only 30 pieces (limited edition)? 

As I mentioned, there are three decades since we became free to travel or found an easier way to make the decision to migrate. This edition is dedicated to these 30 years since 1989. The next editions will come after in different numbers, because there are more stories to tell and narratives to build. 

The Three Graces, Romanian design for international use… What’s next? 

I am hoping for this collection to travel and now I am working on a new series for the spring 2020. Keep tuned on RONATIV, it will be different. 

About Cătălin Năstăsoiu we should know…

I tell stories through design. I had the privilege and luck to have great teachers, to collaborate internationally with very talented people and to deliver pretty good products. Whether it was about broadcasting, live shows, advertising, product design or quite a variety of commercial projects, the group of people I worked with was always the key aspect of the success. I graduated Decorative Arts and Design, specialised in ceramics. After almost 20 years of doing anything else but that, I returned to what I think I was programmed to do. It feels pretty good! My past is not my potential.