“If you are reading these instructions, it means that in the end, the Italian Postal Service works”. This is how, a few months ago, the investigation by Stefano Maffei and Marcello Pirovano for this year’s Design Week began. The invitation to Italian designers was to think about the future.
It is a simple idea (but, as Italo Calvino said in his Six memos for the next millennium, simple is neither banal nor brief”). It is an idea which also allowed them to look back and past research (all concerning the future: from food to 3D printing to artisanship) with Subalterno1, a gallery examining independent Italian design. And it is, lastly, an opportunity to reflect on the very future of the gallery itself, now that the curators of the Ventura-Lambrate district, where Subalterno1 was born in 2011, have moved elsewhere and the area is changing.
In practice, Maffei and Pirovano have asked around one hundred Italian designers to get their ideas of the future down on paper. To do this, they have used (with a pinch of enjoyable media provocation) the “old” means of the postal service. They sent a kit with a prepaid envelope, a blank sheet of paper, a sheet of graph paper with precise instructions, and plenty of key words. Almost everyone answered, and the result is a collective exhibition rich with ideas, reflections, and provocations which, as Maffei explains, “laid out and examined one after the other, would lead to thousands of discussions”. So, if you are reading this post, pay a visit to Lambrate, it is really worth the trip.
A few numbers, how many took part? How many refused?
Marcello Pirovano: We sent 100 requests to as many Italian designers of varying ages. 77 accepted. Of these, 68 sent have a design, all by post.
How did the project come about? And above all, why this theme?
Stefano Maffei: We started (late as usual) with a series of considerations on what is happening in the area. The cultural context which was the origin of our kind of work, research, has changed. We therefore have some difficulty in imagining our future. We have asked ourselves “What will happen here? What kind of subjects will we be able to examine?”. Because the environment generates questions, a discussion, even - quite simply - with the people who pass by. This is how the idea of looking at the future came about. We have the many fragments of the explorations carried out over the years. We didn't want to talk about ourselves, however, but rather bring in intelligence and friendships from our network.
An excellent opportunity to involve a lot more designers than usual...
SM: Certainly, also because the Subalterno1 Gallery has its objective limits, we always need to keep things very small. We liked the idea, considering that we are cut out of the Google economy, of appropriating a different way of thinking. What emerged was a kind of home-spun form of critical design (laughing, Ed.) There is the theme of the slow pace of imagination, which perhaps also makes reference to technology, but which is not technological. There is also the idea that it could produce utopia and dystopia; radicalism or even irony.
Different designers of different ages?
MP: Absolutely. We range from the 25-year-old Giuseppe Arezzi to the 66-year-old Alberto Casiraghy.
For the designers, it was also a little like going back to school.
SM: There is the reference to the blank sheet of paper, the idea of a test, the graph paper... However, everything is brought to a more intuitive and less projective level. There are some very sophisticated conceptual works. There is no repetition, each is a different world. The layout brings them together, but in imagining the unwinding of a tape, seeing them all set out, one after another, would lead to endless debates.
MP: The designers did not have the polished feel of the social networks, or the hands of an artisan. It is impossible to be more self-producing than this.
Did anyone have any difficulty remaining within the guidelines?
MP: One that comes to mind is Odoardo Fioravanti, who reduced the entire kit to a creamy pulp, commenting on the liquidity of modern times and on a creamy future. Let’s say he re-examined the limits, rather than going beyond them.
What works surprised you?
MP: I’ll list a few couples. Fabio Bortolani and Antonio Colomboni used the sheet as a canvas, Bortolani created a criticism of “bad places”, a shopping centre which is a blight on the Po Valley. Colomboni made a pop and transgender altarpiece 3.0, with a man breastfeeding two babies. Both have painting techniques in common, as was the case with Duilio Forte. Then we have Diego Grandi, who embroidered a sheet, citing a 1920s postcard, and drawing inspiration from cultivated farmland seen from a satellite. Similarly, Augustina Bottoni sewed the word “utopia”. Gionata Gatto created a post-capitalist lamp, using the sheet to extract residual charge from used batteries through conductive ink and LED lights. The charging paper by Simone Simonelli and Giulia Cavazzani had a receive on the back of the sheet which absorbed a 2-euro donation from anyone placing their cellphone on the sheet. A way to support the designers’ research. Duecitti (with Distopil) and Studio Irvine (with Utopil) both worked on the theme of the pill, the first for dystopia and the second for utopia.
MP: Ideas were divided 50:50 between those who saw the future in a positive way, with irony or in a dreamlike manner, and those who had a negative outlook, through the eyes of the current crisis. There were also those who concentrated on a complete detachment from reality. For example, the masks by Giulio Iacchetti or Lucia Massari. Others used technology, such as Gatto, Corraini, and AM design office. There was a group who made more scientific considerations, such as Studio Graffe, who analysed an imaginary state afflicted by global warming. Or Sovrapensiero, who analysed what is going on on an island in the Pacific, which is destined to disappear with global warming and the raising of the sea level.
- Exhibition title:
- Send me the future. Visions of the future from (almost) one hundred Italian designers
- Curated by:
- Stefano Maffei, Marcello Pirovano
- Andrea Gianni
- via Conte Rosso 22, Milano
- Opening dates:
- 17–22 April 2018 | 10:30am–07:00pm