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by Salvatore PelusoPublished on : Apr 06, 2023
For some years now, a certain unease has been felt in Italy regarding the misalignment between the traditional conception of design and the attitudes, impulses, and ideas of a new generation of practitioners. The problems that this historical moment puts before us—the continuous ecological and social transformations—constitute the starting point of these young designers' works. We usually see their work in independent spaces, galleries or exhibitions abroad and attentive eyes can already detect a dense network of contacts and collaborations.
Now, finally, this archipelago of new ideas has found a home in a recognised institution—the ADI Design Museum, founded by ADI Associazione per il Disegno Industriale, the Italian Design Association, active since 1956. ADI aims to bring together designers, companies, researchers, teachers, critics and journalists to nurture a conversation around themes of design. It has played a leading role in the development of industrial design as a cultural and economic phenomenon. Their latest exhibition, Italy: A New Collective Landscape is curated by Angela Rui with Elisabetta Donati de Conti and Matilde Losi, with graphic design by Alice Zani with Paola Bombelli, and installation by Parasite 2.0 studio.
We spoke with the curator Angela Rui about the recently inaugurated exhibition, her curatorial approach and the design horizons in Italy.
Salvatore Peluso: Is there an actual need for such an exhibition today?
Angela Rui: First of all, there has not been a survey of this kind for 16 years. The last exhibition, like this, was curated by designer Andrea Branzi at the Milan Triennale, in 2007. It is as if what is considered ‘Italian design’ has crystallised into an idea that no longer reflects the current situation. The ADI—Associazione per il Disegno Industriale has embraced this more open vision and is interested in repairing the disconnect that we can detect between the production sector and young designers. The exhibition echoes and somewhat transforms the famous exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, which was held at MoMA in New York, in 1972. Obviously, we have different ambitions from that exhibition, which was a crucial moment for Italian design.
Salvatore: Times have changed a bit. Although I believe one should never mythologise the past…
Angela: Many people ask me what has changed from 1972 to today. What has changed is that young people back then were able to work with companies and the risk was shared with entrepreneurs. Today, the attitude of companies has changed, and it is marketing that dominates. The industry is mainly looking for the big names and therefore does not usually look to the young designers, to include them in research, design and production processes that can change the impact—not only environmental but also economic—on the company. In general, the working conditions of young designers have changed. We had a survey carried out, sending it to the main Italian universities, on the work of the under-35s. We summarised the over 700 responses received with infographics made by graphic designer Irene Stracuzzi: we can say that the situation is not the most positive. Elisabetta Donati de Conti, co-curator of the exhibition, also deals with this issue in a text in the catalogue.
Moreover, we are not just confronted with another category of designers, but really another humanity. In the exhibition, we find ideas that we can adopt today or in the near future, but for which perhaps the industry is not yet ready. Young designers are no longer interested in the product itself but work on urgent contemporary issues in a more discursive way. They offer new possibilities and not solutions.
Salvatore: Let us get into some details about the exhibition. Can you tell us a little about the route?
Angela: At the entrance to the exhibition, we find two books: one is the catalogue of another recent exhibition that paid homage to the one already mentioned at MoMA, entitled Italy: The New Domestic Landscape 1972-2020; the second publication is a glossary on the new terms that design can embrace. The idea is to ask ourselves: where to go? Do we look back and try to renew history? Or do we embrace the fact that today this discipline must meet so many other realms? In our opinion, it needs to be as systemic as possible and broaden its perspectives, embracing the idea of collaboration with many different disciplines.
We present 100 projects by as many designers—which are many more because there are so many collectives and collaborative projects on display. The average age of the participants is 30. The works on show are not divided into categories but can possess three virtues: Systemic Design, Relational Design and Regenerative Design. Let’s say that a good project includes all three. We wanted to avoid rigid compartmentalisation and work in a fluid and dynamic way, like the set-up designed by studio Parasite 2.0, which is all movable, on wheels and gives the idea of an open construction site.
Salvatore: Please tell us specifically about these three virtues.
Angela: In Systemic Design, we look at the system of relationships that a project sets in motion for the resources it needs, for the outcomes and outputs it generates and for the promotion of inclusive, sustainable and circular development models involving the supply and use of resources. The exhibition deliberately opens with a series of projects that refer to the domestic sphere, applying this thinking to everyday objects, and then exploding into a variety of formats and applications.
The central section, the pivot and feel of the entire exhibition, is dedicated to Relational Design and radiates the idea that design has always been and continues to be a social practice. Here the collection of contributions is posed as tools to foster community and interdependence, introducing concepts such as equality, collaboration and human and non-human coexistence always understood as collective and participatory practices.
The third quality suggested in the last section, under the term Regenerative Design is actually the result of the first two—considering that the built environment and production processes can have a positive and regenerative impact on the environment, the collected projects range from contextual design—where investigations and research projects emphasise the commitment of many designers towards environmental understanding, activism and eventual constructive response to catastrophic events—to a library of new materials and bio-materials as alternative models to development, where design performs as a practice to facilitate ecological transition.
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