Column by Max Bruinsma, editor & design critic
Photo’s by Ilco Kemmere
Quite a few seasoned design aficionados warned me, the first time I planned to visit the Salone. Prepare for disappointment, they said, adding that they for sure wouldn’t come this year. Been there, seen it. So you can imagine I was slightly surprised when I met most of them again in Milan a couple of months later. Well, yes, they explained… you simply have to be there. It characterizes not only the importance of the event, but also the paradoxical experience it offers. Everything and everyone is there – and that is at the same time a bit disconcerting. The buzz often tends to drown out the content. But then again – you’re a design expert, so you are used to filter the gems from the rubble, and even the seemingly formless mass of things on display tells you something. It shifts ever so slightly each year. One of those slow but steady shifts is the growing participation of educational institutions and students at the Salone. They may be marginal for the business that goes on in Milan, but they are increasingly essential for creating a sense of urgency. For whatever the slogans are of the leading brands and those who want to follow in their footsteps – the business is mostly usual. Beyond the spin of ‘great breakthroughs’ and ‘paradigmatic innovations’, the new new often feels very much like the old new. With only few exceptions, innovation in design has been a rather gradual affair the last couple of decades. Product-refinement-design, as Buckminster Fuller once termed it. The radical change, meanwhile, rages under the surface of both industry and society; the home, for instance, is not the opaque hull around the privileged individual anymore. Not only is it more open to the world than it ever was, it is constantly invaded by it. The home has become a node in a vast globe-spanning network . This is in a sense as unsettling as the Salone itself – the apparent chaos does carry a message. The design industry’s obsessive appetite for endless variations on a rather small repertory of items made for no other purpose than to stress their buyers’ individuality, provokes a disconcertment, which is often only acknowledged openly by students and young graduates. They are free enough from the ties of tradition, economics and industrial agendas to engage with the real world, that of total transparency, of linkage instead of detachment. They can afford to be unregimented. Of course, there are countless design schools that educate for business-as-usual. But look for the ones, and for the individual students and young designers, that dare to challenge it and are out to undermine the massive system that manifests itself each year in the great halls, palaces, refurbished neighborhoods and abandoned factories of Milan. To experience the dramatic tensions between the two – between the great continual force of the industry and the sensitive design rodents gnawing at its root – you need to be there, at the Salone.
This interview was published in Connecting the Dots #9 for the Milan Design Week 2014.
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