The New Mediterranean Libbanery develops contemporary design in the heart of Basilicata, in a project with a high social impact
A project rooted in the collective memory of Maratea, reviving the ancient craft of libbani (vegetal ropes) with a view of sustainable social and economic development. Two emerging designers, Sara Bologna and Davide Tagliabue, interpret its expressive potential during two experimental residencies.
Though innovation and tradition may seem like a worn-out pair, they truly converge in Basilicata, Maratea, a village framed by the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, in a wild landscape that (in the words of Pierpaolo Pasolini) "has nothing of what is conventionally considered beautiful. The coast is simply tremendous. I have never seen such perfection.
Here, the New Mediterranean Libbanery is born reclaiming the ancient craft of libbani, the vegetable ropes once produced in Maratea, reimagining them in a contemporary context.
The project, already a winner of an ADI Design Index award in 2020, involves a group of beneficiary women in a training program aimed at creating new skills (empowerment) and fostering social and work integration.
The residencies of Sara Bologna and Davide Tagliabue have recently concluded, giving them the opportunity to experiment and explore the creative possibilities of vegetable ropes, alongside photographer Marco Deodati, who focused on narrating the stories of the women involved. The residencies of the two designers, selected through an open call within the framework of the "INTRECCI DI COMUNITÀ" project, supported by Fondazione con il Sud and Enel Cuore, the Enel Group's non-profit organization, aimed to introduce experimental elements into Libbanery production and open up new scenarios of technical and semantic innovation through the lens of design. The approaches of the resident designers proved complementary: on one hand, Davide brought a "maker" focus on the production process, while on the other, Sara worked on the poetic narrative of the material.
Sara Bologna: Tenacissimae
Sara Bologna's design approach was guided during her two-week residency by the poetic suggestion of the material and its connection with the tenacious history of the libbanare. Drawing inspiration from archival photographs depicting women sitting on the ground weaving ropes as a collective activity, Sara proposes a collection of objects to reconnect with that same history through communal and collective practices.
The result is a collection of poufs and outdoor furniture through which to inhabit the symbol: adorned with crowns, the seats frame and ideally elevate the women who wove the history of libbani with their hands. An aura of saintly Maratean women, as tenacious as the saltiness and the sea. After all, the very plant of the grass rope belongs to the phytological class of "Stipetea Tenacissimae", precisely because of the stubborn resistance of its leaves. The launch of the collection, prototyped during the residency, is planned for summer 2024.
"With this collection, I wanted to primarily test a practice of re-enchantment: to narrate aesthetically and symbolically the redemption of a territory and a community. I wanted to give substance to this creative force that supported the community of Maratea in the past, the same force that now fuels the project of the New Mediterranean Libbanery and the incredible group of women it consists of."
Sara Bologna is a designer and design curator based in Milan. She designs on various scales, from objects to installations, venturing into the liminal territories of design practice, testing and challenging its boundaries. Her research focuses on the anthropological and intangible aspects of material culture and develops both theoretically and practically. Her imagery is permeated with rituals, symbols, graffiti from prehistory, fragments of poetry, and grimoires in a process of semantic deconstruction and reconstruction based on iconographic and historical research. Through her work, she also addresses the need to recover a radical human dimension of life, through the rediscovery of its ritual dimension and the valorization of craftsmanship. She is a teaching assistant at the School of Design of the Politecnico di Milano in the Metaproject course. She is part of the first generation of designers at co/rizom, an incubator of craft projects for which she developed a collection of vases dedicated to the material and immaterial tradition of Grottaglie ceramics.
Constellations Davide Tagliabue's approach is that of a maker, who with hands-on the material stresses its limits, proposing new forms dictated by the process. During the two-week residency, Davide worked side by side with the libbanare, leading them in an experimentation process on new sewing methods.
His organic aesthetic derives from generative processes starting from the so-called "metaballs", forms described by pure mathematical expressions whose elements relate to each other as if attracted by a magnetism that brings them closer until the unprecedented amalgam where the initial modules, though still present, are no longer recognizable.
Tagliabue grafts his personal formal research onto the Maratean holm oak wood, chosen as the base for his seat. The holm oak, besides being the climax of the Mediterranean scrub ecosystem, was the wood used for the "mazzoccole", the tools the libbanare used to soften, by beating the grass bundles. But legend has it that it was also the wood used for Christ's cross. Thus, the reference mazzoccola-cross, a tool of punishment but also of redemption, enriches Tagliabue's work with meaning indissolubly linking it to the history of Maratea. The result of the residency is a throne with decisive forms that lends itself to infinite conformations of the backrest, a constellation that is different every time.
"I borrowed the concept of the metaball to create a new language that would narrate the process undertaken in Maratea, where tradition, innovation, and individuality collaborate to transform into something new, a new constellation. It was interesting to work on the reciprocity of stimuli, contamination rather than the artifact as the ultimate sense of the project."
Davide Tagliabue graduated in Civil Engineering-Architecture from the Politecnico di Milano and has experience in self-construction and ephemeral architecture. Since 2018, he has been a member of the Open Design School, designing and creating installations and setups for Matera European Capital of Culture 2019. Professionally active in contemporary art since 2020, he has distinguished himself as a sculptor and land artist, winning, among others, the Gabbioneta Sculpture Prize 2020 and creating several sculptures and installations in Italy. In 2021, he participated in the research project "Non-Extractive Architecture" curated by Joseph Grima and Space Caviar at the V-A-C Foundation in Venice, serving as a researcher and workshop manager. Since the following year, he has been a fixed collaborator of the Space Caviar studio as a designer/maker, designing and creating setups for events including Terraforma and Alcova Milano.
Natural Bonds the cycle of residencies concludes with photographer Marco Deodati. The residency - promoted by InMateria aps and Liberi Libri cultural association and funded by the Municipality of Maratea - aims to enhance the territory's identity and local cultural heritage. In view of Maratea's candidacy for Italian Capital of Culture for 2026, Natural Bonds experiments with the intertwining of three dimensions: ecological, digital, and social, reinterpreting Maratea as a place of exchange and connection between local craftsmanship and art with the audiovisual and photographic narration of the New Mediterranean Libbanery.
Marco Deodati immersed himself in the processing of libbani and in the workshop daily, observing the intertwining of grass and life threads and documenting the processes at work. Thus, a choral portrait of the women who animate the workshop is born, and who in these months have woven their stories, building a community that welcomes and supports each other. Individual portraits were composed into a unique and emotionally impactful whole. Each face, traversed by a line, contributes to composing a single thread that connects them all while simultaneously highlighting the uniqueness and beauty of each individual.
Deodati also developed the audiovisual narrative of the two residencies of Davide Tagliabue and Sara Bologna, opening up new possibilities for enrichment and creative contamination. Marco Deodati deals with photography, video, graphics, and audio production. Over time, his interest in unconventional creative expression has naturally led him towards a multimedia approach, understood as the simultaneous use of different communicative tools (text, graphics, images, sounds) which, by integrating reciprocally, manage to convey messages, sometimes even very complex ones. His mission is to try to mix technology and creativity in new and unexpected ways, favoring the associative process and making the user no longer just a mere "end user" but an active part of the entire communication act. Along his professional and formative journey, he has had the privilege of meeting, learning from, and collaborating with various extraordinary artists and professionals including Pepi Morgia, Vincenzo Russolillo, Marco Mazzieri, Lorenzo Baraldi, Duccio Camerini, Gianni Ippoliti, Simone Coen, Corona (Olga De Souza), Marie Claire D’Ubaldo, Pasquale Laino, Francesco Di Bella, and Fabrizio Bosso. He is proudly the vice president of Terrarossa, an association dedicated to the promotion of the territory and its enjoyment through unconventional initiatives.
New Mediterranean Libbanery
The New Mediterranean Libbanery is a project aimed at enhancing the local cultural heritage through the recovery of libbani production - the ancient vegetable ropes produced in Maratea. The production of libbani, which belongs to the historical memory of the entire community of Maratea, comes back to life and builds a typical productive reality of the territory. A microeconomy that historically allowed the survival of many families and which today regains value through an important process of reassessment, with the aim of artisanal production of contemporary design and activities related to experiential tourism.
A contemporary approach that - through the contribution of artists, designers, and landscape experts - conveys knowledge, skills, traditions, and care for the territory and the community.
Today, thanks to the Intrecci di Comunità project, supported by Fondazione con il Sud and Enel Cuore Onlus, the New Mediterranean Libbanery realizes a social enterprise, based in Maratea, for the production of traditional craftsmanship, contemporary design, and experiential tourism. New Mediterranean Libbanery won the ADI Design Index in 2020, distinguishing itself as an excellence in the Design for Social category.