Peeking through containers and contents

Containers have always fascinated me. Border and threshold between inside and outside. Forms that the vacuum can take. They contain and protect, open and close. Who contains what? What relationship between container and content? I invite you for a walk through very different containers I met.

exposition of kitche containers

In our daily routine, we often choose and associate containers and contents… Are we aware of it? On closer observation, everyday objects can reveal interesting details, shapes, colors, surfaces. This was the main theme of a kind of “treasure hunt” for children about kitchen containers, which I designed for a public library.

children assembling a cake dish

Children, divided into small groups, could choose from time to time a colored envelope containing a playful test: riddles, reconstructions of disassembled objects, questions, research of details – inviting to carefully observe, to use touch, photography, drawing. Jars, cake tins, fruit bowls, butter dishes, salad bowls, bread bins … the characteristics of these objects have suggested me the tests for the children. And of course, at the end of the game, we found the coveted treasure preserved in the cake pan!

a child touching a bowl without looking at it
a child drawing a bowl

Even the most common object is not obvious. How many ways can you use and transform it? Here are some pieces of the Emboutillage collection by the designer Antonio Cos, who explored the potential of a common glass bottle.

the designer Antonio Cos and some of his creations with glass bottles

The first intuition goes back to the day when Sophie, Antonio’s partner, asked him to roll out and level the dough for pasta: not having a rolling pin at home, I used a bottle. While doing it, I was thinking about this function shift … The object already exists, I enjoyed formally analyzing it. A bottle is mainly composed of two cylinders of different sizes joined by a semisphere. So its geometry guided me in exploring the object and breaking down its different parts.

some of the designer Antonio Cos creations with glass bottles

We should be aware from the beginning that our idea will be translated concretely by an artificial (vs natural), mechanical process. We need to know these processes, what is possible and what is not. It is a parameter to which I remain attuned, I like to construct objects that are not technically complex. However, one must not be “a slave to the technique” or let oneself be taken by the ease that a process can involve, but use it wisely, so that it can reproduce an initial idea or concept.

some of the designer Antonio Cos creations with glass bottles

From glass bottles to plastic ones, from a design studio to an infant toddler center. Valentina Tonucci is a teacher that recycled some common plastic bottles transforming them into special playing objects for children. Valentina explains that she chose this bottle because it is commonly used, easily recoverable, transparent, light, small and manageable; a container you can experiment with many different contents.

plastic bottled trasformed into toys for children

Without water, the bottles become sound objects: by shaking them, the contents hit the walls. But my interest was mainly focused on the interaction of water with other elements. So I thought about what common materials could I put in relation to water (…) I had in my mind the classic snowballs that create an interesting movement inside, everytime arousing great amazement.

plastic bottled trasformed into toys for children

Starting from this exploration, Valentina created many variations. In the picture above you can see some of them: (from the left) perforated colored plastic sheet; fake leaves, small stones; silhouettes of sponge fish, plastic strips; a tree with rings that can be fitted into the branches; metallic stripes. Of course, many others could be created… New small enclosed worlds, magical microcosms.

plastic bottled trasformed into toys for children

Observing and listening to the material, keeping its aesthetics, form and function connected: I think that this is the key to a coherent and conscious use of materials. In this regard, nature is always our best teacher. What better examples to end our walk?

surprising containerw in nature

On the left, you can see the fruits of a crucifera: these rods of Billeri primaticcio (Cardamine hirsuta) sprout at the end of the winter in the center of the white small flowers. At the end of March, they are dry and yellowish, ready to react to the slightest solicitation with the sudden curling of the valves, followed by the explosion of tiny seeds. It is a strategy of active dissemination of some plants, which manage to throw their seeds even at a distance of several meters.
On the right, here is the rolled leaf of a field maple: it is the trace of the activity of a larva of a “tortricide” lepidopteran. This small caterpillar folds and wraps, with a silken thread, the tender leaves obtaining a shelter that ensures him protection and nourishment. By gently opening the rolled leaves, you can find a surprise: a small green caterpillar with a black head in April and May, then a dark chrysalis of a few millimeters, which will be empty by the end of June… the butterfly will fly away!

surprising containerw in nature

Finally, here is the Capsella bursa-pastori: a herb belonging to the cruciferous family, whose name comes from its saddlebag-shaped fruits. It is very common in meadows, on the edge of roads, in uncultivated land. Its small white flowers appear at the end of winter and, in April, the fruits open up in the middle releasing many seeds.

playing glass bottles

I thank all the people who have contributed to explore so many different containers, including the artist Michele Ferri for the image above and the first one at the beginning of the article ( The initial idea of this “walk” (and its goal as well) is to develop a theme through different disciplines and apparently distant points of view. I think that only with a dialogue between different fields we ​​can deeply know the identity of our specific one, relate it, insert it into a wider complexity, develop it, finding hew stimula. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the tank-shelter idea was born after a visit to the Venice Biennale of contemporary art, where there were beautiful art installations made with the same material. And the presentation of other “surprising containers” can continue… Do you have any experience on this topic?
You are welcome to share, let’s create new connections!

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