Carolina Melis is a Sardinian-born designer, art director and founder of Mio Karo, a brand of fine textiles based in Sardinia and inspired by traditional motifs. The Mio Karo collections are all hand made in Sardinia and currently include rugs, cushions, wallhangings and baskets.
What is the starting point of your designs for Mio Karo: the traditional element or a new idea coming from another language system?
I start with a traditional element that I simplify and re-elaborate in a personal way. My approach consists of reproducing the idea of Sardinia using new symbols but without re-using traditional motifs. In fact my design are characterised by pronounced geometries, contrasts, bold colours and asymmetric geometries. Some of my works don’t have anything that is Sardinian, yet they are recognised as such. I don’t want my works to look obvious but what I am interested in are those elements that make you think: ‘this is Sardinian!’
How much of your identity is in them?
My identity is definitely embedded in what I do. I am originally from Sardinia and I lived and worked in London for many years. Also Scandinavian design has had a big influence on me; I am half Danish by the way.
Where is the meeting point for tradition and innovation in your design? And what is the relationship between crafts and design?
My approach is to start from a traditional element that I consider contemporary already. For example, I often use the colours black and white, which are characteristic of traditional carpets in the village of Ulassai and are also well-established elements in contemporary design.
The relationship between crafts and design is very close, both are about everyday objects and that is what distinguishes them from art.
In this economy Sardinian crafts have always experienced the tension between being handmade and unique, therefore expensive and hardly replicable, and being in economic struggle. What is your vision in this regard?
With Mio Karo the idea is to create pieces that can be found in shops and therefore be easily placed on the market. For this reason I have chosen to work with collections rather than unique pieces, and to focus on products that can meet people’s taste and be easily commercialised.
Working with handmade products requires a careful balancing of the demand and the actual supply capacity. However, what prevents the craft sector from taking off is the absence of a shared long-term vision. The sector also often lacks of professional skills such as marketing, communication, customer care etc., which are necessary to support the work of the artisans and therefore facilitate the commercialisation of the products.
What is the narrative around contemporary Sardinian crafts?
I believe that the narrative around Sardinian crafts needs to be detached from a general image of Sardinia like for example that of folklore or beautiful beaches, but can rather be built on the already long and distinctive tradition of high quality products and be associated with other sectors such as design.
How is your relationship with the artisans you work with?
I work with small Sardinian cooperatives which are very different from each other. During the production stage it is very important to communicate with the artisans directly and establish a trustfully relationship with them. I spend days in the laboratories working next to them so that it is easier to understand each other’s languages.
How do cultural and economic values dialogue with each other in a project like Mio Karo?
With my work I am very careful to not alter what belong to the tradition either from the technical or design side. However, I want to take a step forward from the past. The artisans are very enthusiast to work with new ideas but it is essential to be aligned with them on the objectives since the beginning. Each cooperative has its own distinctive motif, for example in the village of Mogoro the carpets are characterised by floral elements and for being very colourful, in Ulassai by the colours black and white, in Nule by triangular motifs (‘Le fiamme di Nule’), that I reinterpret in my design. This makes the collaboration quite special and unique. The artisans feel responsible for each single piece of the production; they are the keepers of the tradition and the ones who know how to make the work.
What are your plans for the future?
I have been collaborating with an interior designer in London and in September Mio Karo is going to be part of an exhibition at The Hospital Club during the London Design Festival 2015 (19-27 September 2015). At the moment I have also started other collaborations with some small companies outside Sardinia; I would like to make other kind of carpets. Finally, I have been invited to a conference in Mexico, where I am going to talk about Sardinian carpets.