by Anmol AhujaSep 24, 2021
The past few years have seen a resurgence of the retro aesthetic popular in the late 20th century. From Pop Art and Bauhaus to the Memphis Style, prominent art and design movements from the previous century serve as muses for contemporary designers. What apart from nostalgia and an optimistically tinted view of the past prompts this revival? Discerning the analogous inspiration that led to the creation and popularisation of the aforementioned trends and styles, one can surmise that their comeback stems from a need to assert control, to voice an opinion, or register dissent against systems and conventions that contain the expression of thoughts, identities, ideas, and rights. At a time when the cracks in the system are more apparent than ever before, a pushback is almost inevitable. This rebuttal is sometimes manifested in the form of conspicuous artworks, installations, films, and performance art that make bold statements, and at other times through subconsciously generated subtle additions to objects, spaces, and other creations. A recent interior design project by the anonymous Milanese collective Studio Paradisiartificiali, touted Tribute to E. Sottsass, designed in the Memphis Style of the 1980s, fits well under this accreditation.
The Memphis Group, a design collective, was born when well-established and experienced Italian industrial designer and architect Ettore Sottsass invited a group of international designers to meet and discuss new ideas, in the December of 1980. Huddled around a table, ideas were shared and discussed, while Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again played in the background. The song stuck with the group of designers, and hence, the collective was named the Memphis Group. “Much of the spirit Ettore dispensed that night seemed like a sort of exotic promise; there was in him an open perspective on worlds so far away that you were eager to listen to him to know what the dark side of the moon looked like,” Studio Paradisiartificiali shared in a statement. The collective debuted in the design industry at Salone del Mobile.Milano in 1981. The Memphis Style is the culmination of various designs and styles from the past. It is, however, first and foremost, an aesthetic that rejects conventional trends.
Moving away from the pallid aesthetic of modernist structures and objects, the Memphis Style embraced bold colours, zany patterns, atypical combinations of hues, and haphazard configurations, all of which was stained on plastic laminates. It made no attempt to hide away. By colouring everyday objects with a vibrant combination of bright colours and amusing motifs, Memphis added fun and humour to items of daily use. Although the style was oft overlooked and soon vanished from the design scene after the dispersion of the Memphis Group members in 1987, its influences have been witnessed in films, art, product design, interior design, and furniture design, across the four decades since its inception.
Milan-based interior design practice Studio Paradisiartificiali, an anonymous collective that claims to work for “beggars and maharajas” alike, came across the Memphis Style while working on an interior design project in 2020. Upon realising that the postmodernist style was born in 1980, the collective decided to pay homage to the movement and its founder Ettore Sottsass on its 40th anniversary, by infusing the interiors of the residential apartment with takeaways from Memphis. Studio Paradisiartificiali shared, "With this project, we celebrate the 40 years that have passed since that evening in December and, seeing as Ettore remains a very bright star for us, we felt it was important to thank him through this small project, about as big as a room.”
Studio Paradisiartificiali was invited to renovate a 15-square metre apartment in via Panfilo Castaldi, Milan, Italy. The need for the renovation arose due to the client’s desire to replace an existing spiral staircase with a new one. This was followed by a complete revamp of the interior space following the prompts of Memphis. "We immediately felt the desire to try to turn this discovery into something special. We had to try to interpret the space entrusted to us as a real celebration of this important anniversary: 40 years since the birth of Memphis,” the design collective said in an official release.
While the sage green steel staircase folded around the periphery of the room dominates the space and connects the room to the area on the upper floor, colourful and geometric furniture, lighting and decorative objects around the space enliven the room. A few products that complete the interiors of the apartment include the Lustrup rugs from Ikea, Eline pouffes and Kensington cactus pots by Maisons du Monde, Pipe settee and armchairs by Moroso, Gregg wall lamps by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba and Foscarini, Callimaco floor lamp, designed by Sottsass and manufactured by Artemide, and Charles & Ray Eames’s stools by Vitra, among others. Niches on the walls accompanied by three-dimensional projections make the space look larger and more open. The array of products and elements—enunciating the Memphis Style—stationed next to each other in the interior space help deliver a theatrical experience that evokes memories of the eighties, and a glimpse into what could have been had the avant-garde style gained large-scale popularity in its time!