Triennale Milano's 'Unknown Unknowns' offers new perspectives of our ecosystem

Curated by astrophysicist Ersilia Vaudo, the exhibition presents more than one hundred works by creatives "who confront themselves – more or less explicitly – with the unknown".

by Salvatore PelusoPublished on : Jul 22, 2022

"The planet we live on is an immense open-air unconscious. It is the flesh and life of everything. It is the one great creator of what we see. The one and only true decorator. It is thanks to it that everything can stand beside everything in our experience: the galaxies and the brain, the clouds and the living. It is it and its force, gravity, that designs everything we are and see: black holes and armchairs, roots and celestial observatories. It is not something unknowable and it is not simply a mystery. It is an ignorance that lies within every form of knowledge, like an immense desire that we can only see after it is extinguished." Featured on a large multimedia portal conceived by Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia together with Dotdotdot studio introduces visitors to Triennale Milano. Entitled Unknown Unknowns. An Introduction to Mysteries is a constellation of exhibitions, installations, debates, performances, and events inaugurated on July 15 and open until December 11, 2022.

Emanuele Coccia, Portal of Mysteries, 2022 | 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | STIRworld
Emanuele Coccia, Portal of Mysteries, 2022 Image: Courtesy of 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022. Photo by DSL studio

Coccia's words fully express the general sense of the exhibition, the ecosystem in which we live is much more complex than we think, and our actions have repercussions that we often cannot even imagine. We must also get used to the fact that our perceptive and analytical capacities are very limited and that there are realities that we do not even realise can exist: the Unknown Unknowns. “Presenting the unknown is an opportunity to unleash a creativity that is multidisciplinary and poised between different timeframes. We are aware that the unknown brings with it a series of stereotypes and polarisations – black/white, light/dark, full/empty, science/art – which we instead aim to overcome by creating a balance of different gazes and activating unusual stimuli and new reflections," says Ersilia Vaudo, astrophysicist and Chief Diversity Officer at the European Space Agency. Vaudo was asked by the President of Triennale Milano, architect Stefano Boeri, to curate the main exhibition of the 23rd International Exhibition.

Unknown Unknowns. An Introduction to Mysteries, exhibition view | 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | STIRworld
Unknown Unknowns. An Introduction to Mysteries, exhibition view Image: Courtesy of 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022. Photo by DSL studio

"The unknown is first and foremost a question of how one looks at things. Unknown Unknowns activates interdisciplinary contaminations and presents more than one hundred works, projects and installations by international artists, researchers, architects and designers who confront themselves – more or less explicitly – with the unknown," the astrophysicist continues. Walking through the curved path of the exhibition curated by Vaudo is stimulating and enjoyable, we find the right density of works on display. In the previous edition, Broken Nature, the projects on show were far too many and too compressed. Stimulating juxtapositions between works of art and scientific findings, and the right balance between reality and imagination. The layout designed by the Space Caviar studio, which used 3D printing technology to create all the media, is appropriate. The didactic apparatus is clear and concise and allows visitors to look at hyper-specialised worlds without losing their curiosity. In short, Unknown Unknowns is an exhibition made to open the door to complexities and make us feel happily ignorant.

  • How we met?, exhibition view. Netherlands’ entry at the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | STIRworld
    How we met?, exhibition view. The Netherlands' entry at the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition Image: Courtesy of 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022. Photo by DSL studio
  • How we met?, exhibition view. Netherlands’ entry at the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | STIRworld
    Louise Manzon. Ujumbe, exhibition view. Kenya's entry at the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022 Image: Courtesy of 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022. Photo by DSL studio

The vision proposed by the exhibition is extended with a section dedicated to international participation, 23 installations conceived as insights into specific issues that can be assimilated into the macro-topic of the unknown. Particularly interesting is the Dutch proposal, entitled How we met?, which promotes new ways of understanding our planet as a shared space for plants, microbes, humans and other animals. The presence of six African countries among the nations invited by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is also particularly significant. Undoubtedly influencing this choice is the presence of internationally renowned architect Francis Kéré, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize 2022. Kéré was invited as head curator of the 23rd International Exhibition, together with Ersilia Vaudo, to create four large installations in the museum's interior and exterior spaces. The architect talks about how important the presence of African countries is for the exhibition and its openness: "Africa is often excluded from the international debate. Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya, the Central Republic of Congo, and Lesotho, are not countries in need of help but they have something to say and many things to share with the rest of the world. Being here in Milan dealing with topics of global relevance is fundamental for us, it is a great opportunity to show something different from the usual stereotypes. I am convinced that this choice is in line with the topic of Unknown Unknwons because Africa is a huge continent and very close to Europe, but we feel that we do not know each other very well."

  • Mondo Reale, exhibition view | 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | STIRworld
    Mondo Reale, exhibition view Image: Courtesy of 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022. Photo by DSL studio
  • Situations, exhibition view. France’s entry at the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022 | 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | STIRworld
    Situations, exhibition view. France’s entry at the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022 Image: Courtesy of 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022. Photo by DSL studio

In addition to the thematic exhibition, the 23rd International Exhibition will host two other major shows: Mondo Reale, conceived by Hervé Chandès, artistic director of Fondation Cartier Pour l'Art Contemporain, and La tradizione del nuovo, Triennale Milano, curated by Marco Sammicheli, Director of the Triennale Italian Design Museum.

If the exhibition Unknown Unknowns moves away from the Earth to explore the mystery of the Universe, Mondo Reale investigates instead the mysteries of our everyday life. The unknown is understood as an unexpected reality that leaves one fascinated, incredulous, bewildered, baffled, filled with questions, fears and curiosity, as well as yearning to transcend the limits of knowledge. Among the works selected by Chandés is David Lynch's Weather Report, which will be broadcast daily at 7 pm in an area of the exhibition. The project, absolutely Lynch-esque in its weirdness, combines empiricism and imagination, perfectly representing the exhibition's point of view.

La tradizione del nuovo, exhibition view | 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition | STIRworld
La tradizione del nuovo, exhibition view Image: Courtesy of 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, 2022. Photo by DSL studio

La tradizione del nuovo attempts to tackle the general theme through the history of Italian design that, according to curator Sammicheli, "has always had a courageous and dedicated approach to exploration. It has faced the not yet known, it has confronted what was not yet possible or permitted through research. It has eroded ground to the unknown through attempts, failures, actions that by mistake, by will, by chance or by passion have led to the acquisition of unprecedented knowledge."

However, the approach of Italian design is typical of modernity, linear and assertive, conceived to respond to needs and not to pose new questions. The general trend in contemporary design is instead to question the way we produce objects, trying to make a shift from design to process, from biology to ecology, from the object to the hyperobject, that is, complex systems. New approaches – critical, speculative, narrative – are not really part of the Italian DNA. An exhibition that is forced to enhance the extensive Triennale Milano Archive in some way can hardly challenge or criticise the history of industrial design. Although profound, varied and interesting, the exhibition La tradizione del nuovo does not easily assimilate to the overall theme of the 23rd International Exhibition.

To unite science and imagination, or to tell the story of scientific evolution in a stimulating way, is an arduous and also very urgent task. Dotted with many other special projects, installations, events and various insights, the 23rd International Exhibition is a move away from the traditional conception of design. You may or may not like it, but you cannot say that it does not offer an interesting perspective.

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