By Domitilla DARDI
Curator of Rome’s MAXXI Museum describes a recent Italian phenomenon and the exhibition it inspired
If every discipline has its maps and migratory flows, for design it has been ultimately necessary to rewrite a real and actual geography. Until 15 years ago, for example, Italy was for the most part a big attractor for artists from all over the world, flocking to the fold to produce the legendary label Made in Italy. Recently, a previously uncommon phenomenon has been added to this history: the export of their talents. In fact, today many young Italian designers straddle national borders in search of a distinctive design. Those designers, who wish to deal with not only industrial production but with an experimental vision, found in Italy perhaps the same low attention level being given at the level of training as at their entry to the profession. This is the reason why they migrate towards great international schools, where they meet peers from areas traditionally accustomed to this phenomenon of emigration, often due to lack of design-oriented industries.
This lack of production is what created, in countries such as Holland, Belgium, England and Switzerland, schools of excellence that have, as a consequence, invested in a design that goes beyond the industry, on a path that could simply be defined as more art-oriented. In these schools some of the most fertile minds of contemporary design are growing, the artists often finding favor with the critics and specialized press as early as their public debut through their Master’s thesis. They are usually directed towards the major cultural institutions, collectors and galleries in an industry that lacks foresight. On the other side their interests lie in experience and design in a world that is not a copy of an existing formula, but rather the vision of what is to come, the as-yet-unknown. If this project does not then work in the industry, it is probably more due to this, to its now congenital myopia, the difficulty to take risks in the context of a crippling crisis that calls for reassurance from the market, therefore favoring repetition rather than innovation. All this then goes well with the re-discovery and self-production of handicrafts or small production / issues. These are ways of production that allow the designer control over the end result, without compromising if not the effort then the commitment. Many of these young designers become like wise researchers, half-scientist and half-artist, little alchemists of the third millenium. They journey in the discovery of obsolete processing techniques, old materials to be reinvented with contemporary ideas. Sometimes their research, thankfully, brings them back to their homeland, to an Italy so rich with past knowledge and raw materials, where invention has always been the goldmine.
In “Design Destinations” – an exhibition hosted at the MAXXI in Rome from May 26 to October 5, 2014 – we tried to tell some of these stories. Seven Italian designers, who have moved to complete their training in Eindhoven, one of the newest birthplaces of research, have been commissioned to design an object that would show their path of growth. The idea was to show how the choice of destination (such as the Netherlands) is already a design for a professional destiny, a decision that can affect future employment and, at the same time, a way to explain the direction of design research. Very different projects emerged from them, responding from imaginations already highly-developed and full of personality. These objects are “symbolic”, able to narrate an experience which in this case is also a small autobiography. All are united by a sense of attachment not so much to their homeland or to the country that hosted them, but to the need to feel at home in the land of design and creative thinking. Wherever it is.
About the Author
With a degree in Art History and a PhD in History and Criticism, for several years Domitilla Dardi has focused her interests on the study and research of the history of design. From 2003 to 2007 she taught History of Industrial Design and Contemporary Art History in the Department of Architecture of Ascoli Piceno (Camerino). She began collaborating with MAXXI-Architecture in 2007, and became its design curator in 2010. She has been Professor of History of Design in the three-year Master’s course of the European Institute of Design in Rome since 2007. In December 2009 she became the Delegate of Culture of ADI Lazio. She conducts training courses, performs research and consults for various companies in the industry and is also a copywriter. Since 2010 she has been one of the editors of Flash Art Design and a member of the Italian Association of Historical Design. Her articles have appeared in journals of architecture and international design, and she is the author of numerous books, including: Achille Castiglioni (Testo e Immagine, Torino, 2001), Il Design di Alberto Meda. Una concreta leggerezza (Electa, Milano, 2005), Il Campus Vitra, una collezione di Architetture (with F. Argentero, Meltemi Editore, 2007), Lampade e Negozi 2 (Federico Motta editore, 2007), Il design in 100 oggetti (Federico Motta, 2008), Interior Yacht Design. Abitare tra cielo e acqua (with M. Paperini, Electa, Milano, 2009), Universo Rietveld (with M. Casciato, 2011), Il design del bagno nella cultura di impresa (with C. Martino, 24 ore cultura, 2011), Eero Saarinen (24 ore cultura, 2011), Eero Saarinen architetto (24 ore cultura, 2013), Anni Cinquanta (24 ore cultura 2013). She lives and works in Rome.