“Good Italian design is for the rich and poor…”
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Good design is like democracy and should be enjoyed equally by the rich and poor, believes Italian curators who have assembled a showcase of their country’s homeware, furniture and luxury goods at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
The New Italian Design Exhibition, which opened this week, “presents 288 pieces by 133 designers. Its visionary is Arturo Dell’Acqua Bellavitis, president of the Milan-based Triennale Design Museum, and its curators are Silvana Annicchiarico and Andrea Branzi.
Bellavitis says Triennale, the first museum focusing on Italian design, aims to present the viewers with an “overview on contemporary Italian design that explains and describes its transition”.
This exhibition is intended to “analyse, value and promote new Italian creativity”.
Its catalogue explains that it “starts from furniture design and touches upon new forms of communication, from food to web design, from fashion to textile design, from jewellery design to graphic and multimedia all the way to interior design and object design”.
“The exhibited works range from self-produced prototypes to large-series products, from works of art to merely industrial artifacts.
“Many of the involved designers are already well established at an international level and are employed by important companies in the industry, many others deal with the art word and small-scale production, able to control the entire process of a product, from the concept to the communication.”
Bellavitis says Milan has “always been a window to good design in the world”.
“South Africans already know the icons of Italian design. It was our duty now to show them new trends and areas that young designers in Italy are working in,” he says.
“We want our audiences to be aware that design is around us. It is part of every day life. Your packaging and the cup you use for your coffee in the morning is design.
“A bottle of water can be good design. People must understand a bus stop is an interesting element that can part of the redesign of a city.”
And design, says Bellavitis, “shouldn’t be a social or economic status”.
“In some countries design is just for upper classes. But it is very democratic to have good products for everybody,” he says.
“All Italians want to have good products in their homes. These are products that have a story, a designer, and it represents a lifestyle. In Italy, we think design must make people happy.
“Many times you will see there is humour in design. Sometimes that can disturb very stiff traditional people. But it’s a way to make conversation pieces. That is important.”
He adds: “And we are not afraid of the commercial point of view of design. If you have a good ethic of how you are producing it, then why not sell it?”
Annicchiarico says contemporary Italian designers “are something else”.
“Finding one’s way around the new, ever changing world of Italian design, which is made of team effort and horizontal movements more than individual, vertical actions, requires no nostalgia for a Golden Age that has had its time,” she says.
“What is needed is a new ability to explore and take risks, and possibly even lose one’s way, only to find it again.”
She says previously “design culture aimed to create finished, functional products”.
“Today, in a mass profession, design generates processes more than products, and appears primarily as a form of self-representation of the designer’s ability to imagine, create and innovate,” she adds.
“Design is a new art. Design can now be a political manifesto of a designer.”
Her co-curator Branzi says the new generation of Italian designers creates work that has become more “delicate and sensitive”.
“It has less testosterone but more intelligence. This new generation of designers is experiencing a sort of re-foundation of the world, starting from the bottom, from the domestic, the superfluous, the autobiographic, the useless. They represent a new world, but have no plans or even manifestos,” he says.
Bellavitis says showing in South Africa is part of Triennale’s ongoing engagement with Africa.
Before the end of this year, the museum plans to open an exhibition that focuses on architecture in Africa. Coupled to this, it would also host talks by Italian architects in Cape Town this month, during the course of the exhibition.
“We would like to have bigger exchanges with South African institutions. We are waiting for South African design to be exhibited in Italy. We hope to get good talents from South Africa in our country,” he says.
The museum plans to host South African designers in 2016 at its international exhibition with various countries participating.
Bellavitis says: “We also have a design expo next year and we are curious about South African design. We read the novels of your writers. But we know very little about your culture. Our audience is very interested in Africa.
“Africa is a big continent. We speak about Africa, but every country has its own culture. Even cities in the same country are different. You have many different components and people.
“It is interesting to see how you express your cultural roots through design. We want to deal with the culture and production of Africa, for private needs, but also we want to know how you organise your cities and services.”
He adds: “Italy is open to new ideas and we want to compare our way of living. We want to show different possibilities.”
Annicchiarico says most Italians have a “folkloric image of South Africa”.
“We get stereotypical images. We want to know actual contemporary design from your country,” she says.
The New Italian Design runs daily from 11am to 7pm at The Lookout at the V&A Waterfront. Entry is free and the exhibition ends on October 25.