by Jerry ElengicalJun 15, 2022
As the great-granddaughter of design icons Giovanni Alessi and Alfonso Bialetti, Chiara Alessi is no stranger to the world of iconic industrial and product designs that have withstood the test of time. An Italian journalist, critic, essayist, author, and a professor of design at the Politecnico di Milano, Chiara Alessi is entrenched deep in the art of ergonomics, functions, science and aesthetics of objects, and what makes them tick, on which she writes, teaches, and when possible, curates exhibitions.
Known for often swimming against the tide, Alessi's latest undertaking was unearthing The Real Imaginary Story of the Salone del Mobile, the moniker of her Talks panel at the illustrious international design and furniture fair, Salone del Mobile.Milano 2022. Marco D'Ambrosio, who signs himself as 'Makkox', an illustrator and designer of comic books and cartoons, as well as a television writer, joined her in conversation, to analyse and re-imagine the 60 iconic years of Salone. Their discussion encompassed decades of the event, across the most pertinent programmes from its foundation in 1961 to the present day. "Protagonists, events, places, images and, of course, objects, chosen by Chiara Alessi and turned into imaginative vignettes by Makkox, (marked) memories and elegies,” mentioned Milan Design Week.
Part of the all-female trio that organised and lead the Talks series at the recently concluded Milan Design Week 2022, Alessi spoke with STIR as a critic ruminating perpetual on the cultural impacts of good design, revealing how important it is to understand its influence on the social, economic, and anthropological fabrics of society.
(Translated from Italian).
Jincy Iype: What is your relationship with the city of Milan?
Chiara Alessi: I was born and raised in a town in Eastern Piedmont, between Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, not far from Milan in Italy, which has always been the reference capital of the province to which I belong, without cannibalising the dimensions of detachment, decentralisation and localism which remain fundamental to me. Eugenio Montale, the great Italian poet of the 20th century used to say that "the best way to be able to live in Milan is to ignore it…” I live well there, but I do not really care about its mundane sides and existence, its fostering of superfluous and substantial events, the fashion circus and the design fairs, because there is always so much happening in the city. If you can distance yourself from the cacophony (which honestly it turns into, once you look at it cohesively and objectively), you will be able to extract advantages and learnings from it.
Jincy: What can you tell us about your panel for the Talks program at the 60th edition of Salone del Mobile.Milano?
Chiara: I am honoured that I was entrusted with the curation of the talk dedicated to the iconic history of the Salone – it is truly a wonderful and interesting topic of discourse and discussion. I am convinced that the modern history of Milan is strongly influenced by this event, and in turn, our nation, which too, has had an incredible impact on the fair, within its design of the cultural, social and political realm. Explaining the story of Salone therefore also meant explaining and dissecting who we are, have been and represented, over the last 60 years.
Jincy: What are some significant moments from your first tryst with curating and writing?
Chiara: Alessandro Mendini was the first person who convinced me to write for Domus while I was working with him on curating the catalogue of the exhibition in Neue Samlung of Munich. We designed this critical retrospective on the last three decades of Italian design, with a focus on Alessi, our brand that started out as a small metal working firm and grew into the creative design factory as it is known globally today.
Jincy: Your talk with Marco Dambrosio aims to "discuss and reimagine, through Alessi’s narrative and Makkox’s artistic imagination, the sixty years of the Salone" - how does Makkox’s experience as an illustrator and television writer give impetus to this conversation?
Chiara: After working in advertising for GDO, Makkox began his blog in 2007, where he regularly posts short comic strip stories and vignettes. He has acquired a discreet following online, catching the eye of various publishers. He also went on to publish a couple of books and contributed to magazines. He then started producing vignettes and funny stories about current affairs for a news blog on a daily basis. These vignettes were then gathered into two books: Post Coitum and Full Monti.
As part of a group of writers, he wrote for the political satire programme Gazebo on Rai Tre from 2013 to 2017 and appeared in the studio live as a designer of vignettes. As part of the same group, he writes for Propaganda Live, an early Friday evening broadcast on La7. He occasionally collaborates with various magazines, for which he produces covers and/or political satire cartoons. He is the cartoonist for the daily newspaperIl Foglio and has a strip cartoon column in L’Espresso.
The thing I like the most about Makkox's work is his innate ability to synthesise poetry through images. He has an extraordinary intuition to connect the dots and present a lateral view on biased and unbiased subjects, which has also earned him my envy. And every time I envy someone but lack the creative agency and instrument pertaining to that person, I look for a way to bring it into my work. It is inspiring, gruelling and motivating.
Since it was very complicated to deal with the 60 years of history, objects and people, coupled with the risk of unintentionally forgetting someone and citing unwarranted jealousy or critique, I decided that all objects discussed would be invented by Makkox himself.
Jincy: How would you define contemporary Italian design culture, in the context of current global trends?
Chiara: Our country comes with a strong design heritage. The Italian culture of design was fundamental in the global context from its genesis and has so far been momentous, for a far longer duration than any other global design movement, so to speak. This meant that anyone in the design supply chain who came in contact with Italian design, from the smallest to the biggest manufacturer, was affected by that experience and was somehow influenced by it. Until today, that has been the value, and remains to me, unique and irreplaceable.
Contemporary Italian design is made of a multi-form of languages, often unknown to the 20th century, that combines to define the complexity and heterogeneity of the processes that feed it. Modern Italian design is an experiential landscape informed by its own history of entrepreneurial, editorial, and self-productive objects.
Jincy: What were some of your expectations from this year's edition of Salone del Mobile.Milano?
Chiara: I always hope for a close dialogue between the disciplines and their non-umbilical reference. As design for 60 years has been the mirror of what was happening in the global context, even with a non-subordinate power to affect the cultural and social fortunes of our country, I hope that the culture of the event, as well as the Talks programme, can somehow still memorise the times we live in, how we are experiencing it.
Just out of a devastating worldwide pandemic, and in such a precarious moment of international equilibrium with the war in Ukraine, the crisis that has ensued and continues to - it seems to me that the world of design and furniture is a bit late in coming to terms with this dramatic emergency. My expectation, desire and prayer are to think that someone is noticing what is happening and changes course in the world of unbridled production and manufacturing, that is at a pace no longer sustainable for the planet. We have to reassess, step back and put into place stricter measures that help the earth heal. We have already done too much damage.
STIR takes you on a Milanese sojourn! Experience Salone del Mobile and all the design districts - 5vie, Brera, Fuorisalone, Isola, Zona Tortona, and Durini - with us. STIR’s coverage of Milan Design Week 2022, Meanwhile in Milan showcases the best exhibits, moods, studios, events, and folks to look out for. We are also excited to announce our very own STIR press booth at Salone del Mobile - Hall 5/7 S.14, Fiera Milano RHO.