The space and place are still the same as before: Milan, with its reputation of excellence, its unchanged appeal. It is time that has changed, compared to the last Salone del Mobile in the pre-COVID era: we are now in the time of uncertainty.
If before, design and the system that revolves around it and is recognised in it could count on confidence in the future, substantial optimism and some shared beliefs about the role and function of design, now, on the other hand, the Salone del Mobile 2022 and the related FuoriSalone open up to a substantially different design, creative and market ecosystem.
No certainty. No dogma. No confidence that is not in need of continuous and precise concrete verification. Rather, many questions: what will the cities of the future be like? How will the ways and forms of living be redefined in a society probably marked by endemic health crises and chronic and alarming forms of conflict? What role will design play in redefining the possibilities of sustainable development? How will the relationship between nature and culture be redesigned? That between real and virtual in the age of the Metaverse? And the relationship between the machinic and the anthropic in a world increasingly characterised by the pervasive presence of artificial intelligence?
These are the questions echoing in the minds of many at the opening of the Salone del Mobile 2022. But around these mantras (sustainability, recovery, rebirth, re-generation, technology, quality, circularity, green, inclusion, etc.), what will be the forward guidance that the Salone will be able to provide?
Waiting to see and check it out in the field, I would like to share here a few expectations that could make a difference and stand as symbolic models of this Salone del Mobile 2022 edition.
Concerning the themes of reuse and sustainability, it will be particularly interesting and evocative to observe the work carried out by Paola Lenti with the Campana brothers. How to really reuse? How not to waste? How to give new life to thousands of offcuts, fabric scraps, cords, selvages, leftovers? How to reuse a multicoloured heritage of still performing, resistant – alive – yarns and materials normally for the landfill?
Paola Lenti started asking herself these questions a few years ago: how is it possible to be sustainable, she asked herself, if more than 10 tonnes of leftovers are produced and their disposal requires energy, employees and machinery? And why call them waste, or treat them as such, when they could turn into something unexpected? Following this logic, Paola Lenti first filled dozens of boxes with different materials, meticulously catalogued by colour, type of fabric, size, and then asked the Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana, famous all over the world for their iconic products made from waste materials, to think with her about a concrete, innovative and unconventional reuse project.
Thus, Metamorphosis is born: a collection inspired by the natural world and its changes. From leftovers and offcuts, the Campana brothers have created a rug with a patchwork effect, soft tubular pieces, resembling tentacles, to be used as backrests, and soft textile “flowers” as cottongrass in infinite shades of colour, or expanses of “seaweed” that feel like silk to the touch, used to cover large seats inviting you to rest. Migrant men and women and asylum seekers, frequently facing the risk of social exclusion, were involved in making these unique pieces. A reminder that sustainability and inclusion can never be separated.
Another key word at the Salone del Mobile 2022 will be artwork: alongside large-scale, serial and industrial production, there are more and more designers who want to experiment with new things, self-produce, seek new expressions. In this direction, it will be particularly interesting to see the work by Mario Trimarchi at Palazzo Visconti with his project Close to the Edge: a collection of unique pieces of marble and glass that offer themselves as borderline objects between the human being and nature, between the body and the soul, between the earth and the sky. Between ready-made and objet trouvé, Trimarchi juxtaposes and recombines glass, marble and stone, in search of a meeting point, or a possible balance. The collection is inspired by the ancient Japanese art of Suiseki, or the art of meditating by creating small sculptures made of stones that evoke mountains. Historically, Suiseki served to learn to reduce one’s self, to relativise one’s bodily and spiritual presence in relation to the world around us, to make oneself small in front of the mountains that observe us. An exercise in modesty, therefore, and respect for nature and its forces.
Therefore, Mario Trimarchi is one of the three Italian designers called upon – together with Michele De Lucchi and Francesco Faccin – to reinterpret Korean craftsmanship in the exhibition Again, From The Earth’s Foundation promoted by the Korean Foundation and hosted at the Fondazione Feltrinelli, which opens its doors for the first time at the Milan Design Week. Here, the themes of respect for nature and the exaltation of craftsmanship are explored in a transdisciplinary key that promotes and calls for dialogue between different cultures.
Re-editions or – more generally – the relationship with the past and the icons that the past has handed down to us are another central theme in the Salone del Mobile 2022. This year we are looking at the radical: Poltronova, for example, has decided to recreate Archizoom’s Safari sofa after more than 50 years (with the Afro-Tyrolean Kitsch exhibition at the Fondazione Sozzani in Corso Como 10). However, in this regard, one of the most awaited pieces is undoubtedly the limited-edition sofa (only 50 pieces) of an undisputed icon such as Gaetano Pesce’s Tramonto a New York. However, with the designer’s agreement, this is not a philological re-edition, but a variation or replica that enlarges the sofa by 10%, precisely to differentiate this limited edition from the cult series (itself a limited edition) produced by Cassina in 1980.
Gaetano Pesce was inspired by this re-edition to create – again for Cassina – a semi-transparent polyurethane resin screen, Paravento, as well, evoking the sunset over the New York skyline, in a kaleidoscope of colours and superimpositions: another art object that successfully dialogues and matches the sky-screen seats and the sun-back of the legendary sofa now re-edited.
Still on the subject of re-editions, Cassina’s decision to recreate – more than 70 years after the first edition in 1951 – Gio Ponti’s Leggera is worth mentioning too. The shape of the chair is maintained but the material and construction technique are altered: no longer interlocking wood, but a stainless-steel metal frame. It is a choice that will cause debate: purists might turn up their noses at a change that alters the design soul of Ponti’s concept, but others might rightly argue that Ponti himself would probably be more than willing to update his designs to new materials and construction techniques today. Salone and FuoriSalone, after all, should also serve this purpose: to ask questions and arouse debates.
Talking about green, people are expecting great things from TipStudio’s Disrupted Stability at Alcova, a project that – starting with its oxymoronic title – should invite us to reflect on our relationship with nature and how the effects of our actions turn time and space upside down and destabilise them, challenging not only places but our relationship with the planet. In collaboration with Studio F, TipStudio’s project at Alcova 2022 presents a collection that works with ash wood from trees that have fallen as a result of natural events or man’s destructive actions. Torn, burnt, splintered or corroded wood is recovered and brought back to life in a series of limited-edition furnishing accessories (mirrors, consoles, tables, benches), aiming at restoring stability, form and function to what had been altered, disturbed or damaged, in a vision that aims – here too – at regenerating what seemed destined to be discarded and scrapped.
After decades of culpable marginalisation, the presence of women designers should be by now a consolidated and clearly growing fact. Some designers are now new stars (I am thinking of Elena Salmistraro, Sabina Marcelis, Sara Ricciardi, Olimpia Zagnoli, etc.), but I also expect a lot from Cristina Celestino who, with her Florilegio, pays homage to and redesigns a historic flower boutique in the centre of Milan, reinterpreting the pre-existing premises designed in the immediate post-war period by Guglielmo Ulrich. Working on a space of “domesticated nature” like that of a florist’s shop, Cristina Celestino suggests a new idea of greenery under the banner of a hybrid life suspended between interior and exterior, between public and private.
Similarly, I find very interesting the initiative promoted by IAAD and Accademia Italiana intending to create a café not only as a place of refreshment but also as a place for individuals and communities: the BRA-VERY BAR. The project involves the 14 design and applied art schools of the AD Education group (ad-education.com), reaching a group of 18,000 students located in Italy, France, Spain and Germany.
Visible at the Locanda Alla Mano in Piazza del Cannone, in the heart of Parco Sempione, the BRA-VERY BAR has as its leitmotif the theme of the circular economy, which will be explored through the design and production, by the students of the 14 schools involved, with transversal design projects (from mobility to inclusion to innovation) conceived ad-hoc to trigger the “courage to change”.
Courage that is not lacking in another of the most eagerly awaited novelties of this edition, namely the enlargement of the FuoriSalone, its progressive expansion into the suburbs and even outside the city, almost as if to draw a creative map that no longer stays within urban boundaries and seeks new spaces, revitalises places and regenerates marginalities. For example, I am curious to see how the Belgian collective Zaventem Atelier has used the former Necchi factory in the Baranzate district, a small jewel of industrial archaeology, to make it the propulsive heart of a multidisciplinary project renamed Baranzate Ateliers.
Beyond everything, however, there is one thing I hope and wish for the Salone and FuoriSalone 2022: the ability to surprise us. To amaze us. As the great masters did in the golden age of our design: even in crisis situations, they always knew how to see where we did not see, how to intercept needs before others, how to propose solutions where others did not even see the problem yet. We would need this, in addition to everything else and perhaps before everything else: a Salone del Mobile truly capable of giving us the unexpected.
Opening image: Florilegio, Cristina Celestino. Photo Marco Menghi