When Lavazza built a new headquarters in Turin, Italy, they invited New York artist Lisa Hoke, who is known for her ambitious installations of ephemeral materials, to create a site-specific project. Spending more than a month on site, Hoke combined Lavazza’s vibrant packaging materials to create a sensational 51-foot installation in the showroom and lobby. The following interview about the collaboration between Hoke and the Italian coffee company was originally published on Lavazza’s website.
It was an unexpected request from Lavazza for Nuvola, the company’s new sustainable and innovative headquarters. Tell us how you rose to the challenge.
Lisa Hoke: The request came in an email. I saw “Lavazza,” “Torino,” and “Showroom,” and thought, this looks really interesting. I read about the company, its history, the new headquarters, the sustainable mission, the coffee, original family owners, the support for the arts — this was an inspiring and adventurous company. So, how did I fit? I was surprised to learn that I was not being asked to provide a framed artwork but to propose something for the showroom. That’s when I knew that I wanted to do it.
The project had all the elements I love: a great support team and a large-scale, open space I could work with. I arrived with scisssors and staplers with six to eight weeks to build on site, no safety net. The details and plans fell into place, and Lavazza arranged to have every version of packaging available by the thousands upon my arrival. Giant rolls of foils for coffee bags, boxes of unfolded newly printed packages, assorted coffee cans by the hundreds, colored plastic capsules with and without their espresso! Wow. Ladders, scafffolding, tables, and tools were all ready to go. I had complete artistic freedom from the moment I arrived. Dolce Croma could not have been built without the dedication of everyone involved. From beginning to end, it took a lot of help to realize the project.
Your installation casts nature in a new light: flowers, plants, insects, fish… it’s a journey through flora and fauna. How did the idea of working with Lavazza packs arise and how did you breathe life into them?
Lisa Hoke: After adding four new companies to Lavazza, they came to me with the idea of using all the different packaging as a way to look back and, at the same time, look to the future. In previous projects I had used the detritus of recycled cardboard so the elements were unpredictable and random. I liked the idea of this new challenge, working with a vast supply of printed, unused material. It wasn’t until I set to work each day that I started to get the feel for the materials. I used thin tape to draw on the walls, establishing a movable drawing. I had two dedicated assistants who cut and cut and cut for six weeks. Cutting the material into pieces and collating the colors gave me a palette to work with. I could then change the context of the color and use it to create new patterns and rhythms.
I was as surprised as anyone that the smaller we cut the elements, and the more I bent, folded, twisted, and cajoled the materials, the more naturally the forms emerged. I cut, glued, stapled, and screwed the pieces to the wall. One of my favorite moments was drilling and screwing the Lavazza coffee cans directly into the wall. They help create an arch and are just the right balance to the vinyl, foil, and cardboard.
The history of the resulting imagery is tied to the unique and rich packaging, the indigenous color and texture. I gleaned, sampled, and re-purposed for my own pursuits. As I separated the elements by color, I had a chance to examine every piece, one inch at a time, releasing it from its origin and turning it into a building block. I pressed each into action, again and again.
The overall form of the project is abstract, although clearly, a gentle nudge of a tree form appears in the upper left of the mural. I was greatly inspired by the remarkable and innovative product designs and they became the backbone of my installation. The inspiring aspect of working everyday on this was embracing the image taking shape through a slow moving lens. There was a timeless quality, not much seemed to happen, then suddenly spurts and actions seemed right. Every move was informed by the events the day before and it flowed forward into what now appears seamless!
Each one of your artworks is a voyage through a different texture and territory: paper, wood, cement. How do materials inspire you?
Lisa Hoke: I am fundamentally driven by process and materials. With each new material, I have, as a friend once said, “a getting to know you” period. I look for the key to unlock a material for myself. There’s always a mystery to solve. What is it? What does it do or not do? What don’t I know about it? Something often catches my eye, it might be a piece of plastic. How does the light effect it? How about this coconut that I have on my shelf, could it be cast in iron and suspended? Or that old cup of paint on the window sill? Could I screw that into the wall? Could I fill thousands of cups with paint and screw each one to the wall? Weave together muffflers? Suspend automobile windshields? Roll paper and glue it to the studio window? And then could it be a 40-foot window? I like all the stories I encounter with each material.
You have said that you love creating art that is alive and enters our everyday lives. Dolce Croma, your work for Nuvola, will be seen by Lavazza employees every day. What message would you like them to take from it?
Lisa Hoke: It’s not that I have a message. I hope I’ve created an artwork that confirms my belief in the importance of those seemingly small gestures that gather strength and definition through repetition. The slow reveal is that the viewer knows what I know, it’s all there. Their work is part of my work, which is the merging of our stories.
“Lisa Hoke: Dolce Croma,” Lavazza for Nuvola, Turin, Italy. Permanent installation.