The Triennale di Milano International Exhibition opens after twenty years offering multiple events, exhibitions, conferences and festivals all around the city of Milan. ‘21st century. Design After Design’ is the title of the XXI Triennale which will argue key topics affecting our society like the effect of globalisation and economic crisis, the relationship between cities and design, and the one between new technologies and craftsmanship. The global event will also touch issues that the modern society refuses to approach, in particular, anthropological themes such as death, the sacred, eros, destiny, traditions, and history.
The symbol, protagonist of the XXI Triennale’s campaign, is a futuristic object that, realised by the communication agency Kesselskramer, was inspired by Bruce Mau’s statement ‘Now that we have made everything, what will we make?’. The yellow object perfectly embodies the concept of ‘design after design’. Today’s challenge is, in fact, to overcome both aesthetic and functionality to create a design able to make people critically thinking about what is currently surrounding us.
‘The only design you will ever need in your life. It does everything you want it to do. It is both innovative yet authentic. Technical yet user-friendly. For the home yet for the office. For your pocket and you bedside. It is Design After Desing, manifested into a single object’ (Kesselskramer, 2016).
Part of the XXI Triennale di Milano is the exhibition entitled ‘New Craft’. Curated by the economist Stefano Micelli, it is hosted by the so called Fabbrica del Vapore (the Vapour Factory), the result of the reconversion of an ex public transports’ factory that, since 2011, is an expositive space dedicated to creative activities.
The exhibition touches the themes of craftsmanship and its relationship with technology, presenting the new reality that this sector is achieving in the market industry. The thesis that supports the exhibition, as the title may suggest, lays in the awareness that the artisanal know-how is a patrimony that has to be exploited in the era of digital manufacturing to create a new industrial paradigm (La Repubblica, 2016). The objective is not to show a selection of objects but rather to get the visitor involved in the process characteristic of the new world of design and manufacturing. Technology is often thought as a substitute for man’s work; this event will try to convince the visitor of the opposite by underlining the necessary meeting between technology and manual know-how, innovation and tradition.
New Craft erects as the epicentre of a new way of approaching the production of value and believes in the importance of building a new manufacturing that doesn’t live of economies of scales but of quality and customisation, which finds in the artisanal world the strength for establishing ties with end users.
In the curator’s opinion, ‘the technological revolution is transforming the means of production and consuming while inevitably altering the ways of designing. Digital manufacturing is offering the chance to overcome the traditional constraints of the production processes and is prefiguring a world free of serial products. A new generation of artisans aims to take advantage of design and new technologies to promote variety and personalisation. The strength of these technologically evolved artisans lays in having renovated the traditional operative sequence “idea-prototyping-materialisation-distribution” which has characterised the epoch of industrial growth while focusing on the Internet as the most important platform for dialogue and contamination’ (Micelli, 2016 quoted in Domus Web, 2016).
The new manufacturing is approached here by placing together famous and consolidate producers and young artists selected through the Call Under 35 which collected more than 500 candidacies from over 30 countries.
The exhibition design, curated by the company Studio Geza, is made of nine vertical installations, each dedicated to a particular manufactural product and company.
The new craftsmanship does not only arise from the encounter with technology but also with poetry, just like the coat made from tiny feathers created by the designer Janaina Milheiro, who also designed and built the machine for its realisation.
Among the vertical installation, the visitors can also admire Atlas, a seven metres tapestry realised by the Bonotto textile company. The piece ‘represents a map of the earth that uses symbolism and local sceneries to portray a sort of imaginary – but also real – journey of new generations, the millennials. It embodies the extraordinary cultural melting pot of our time, which is the result of a new way of living and interacting with each other: the cultural nomadism that makes us all inhabitants of one single space-territory. Atlas is a mix of heritage, technology and innovation: it creates three-dimensionality and different textures that bring this tapestry to an unexpected level of creativity’ (Bonotto, 2016).
An ‘X’ shaped table occupies the centre of the room dedicated to 3D printing, the symbol of the new technological and industrial revolution, which introduces the viewers to the new kind of manufacturing. One single technology can be applied to several sectors such as fashion, furniture, prosthesis and aeroplanes.
The sides of the space are filled with expository tables displaying not only finished products but also their processes. A proper laboratory thus takes place giving life to magnificent artefacts; a culture of projects, based on the potential flexibility and customisation, typical of digital manufacturing, emerges.
Important is to disclaim that the objects displayed are not experiments, like the one presented in the Makers Fairs, but prototypes that won in transforming themselves into new economic paradigms.The visitors can thus observe revolutionary items and techniques that are making their way in the design and technology market.
Among these, there is, for example, the 3D body-scanning by the company Human Solutions Assyst which offers, with its precise, high-performance scanning technology, the customer the opportunity of being directly involved in the product development. This technology enables higher quality product by giving the possibility of choosing ‘made-to-measure suits in-store using a virtual catalogue which has all the variants of fabric detailing and accessories’ (New Craft, 2016). It also contributes to creating customers bonding in the retail trade, aspects which is, as already mentioned, at the core of the New Craft’s philosophy. Shopping becomes a pleasurable experience for the customer, who can be scanned in the store, get the right sample size which is sent directly into the production of his customised garment. The process terminates in the virtual fitting where the customer can try multiple models on the computer instead of trying them on in a fitting room (Human Solution Group, 2016).
A similar technology takes advantage of the 3D scanning technique for the production of customised stools, that are eventually manually completed, and even for the making of innovative shapes for pasta.
Innovation applied to craftsmanship can also be seen in fabrics and textiles, as shown by the interwoven polyester fabrics with stainless steel wires by Luce Couillet and the young artisan Rana Feghaly in Beirut, the collection inspired by the plight of the city during the civil war. ‘Two textile arrangements and ensembles in felt recall the city’s war-shattered buildings. This aesthetic experimentation is part of a wider project for the recovery of textile traditions that can be revived in a contemporary guise’ (New Craft, 2016).
Another exhibition is included inside the room, creating an intimate space enclosed by a thin circular curtain. The small exhibition, entitled ‘Mutations‘, is a project commissioned by Vacheron Constantin, in collaboration with the Institut National des Mètiers d’Arts Dècoratifs and the Musèe des Art Dècoratifs of Paris. The exhibition aims to highlight the way in which the art from the past still inspires the modern forms of artistic expression. Nine groups of master craftsmen, visual artists and designers explore and reinterpret the basics of decorative arts. Pieces of artisanal work from the 18th and 19th centuries are taken as inspiration for contemporary and innovative designs.
The protagonist object of the exhibition is a vase, called Les Metier d’Art, realised by the artist Lycien Falize. Presented at the Universal Exposition of 1900 and used by the president of the Les Art Decoratifs institution during holidays and ceremonies, is reinterpreted by Stefane Perraud in its artwork called Corps de Mètiers. The red laser explains the meaning of the installation: if positioned vertically it reproduces the pouring of wine; if placed horizontally it reproduces an organism that unifies the concept of collectivity with the one of individuality.
Another peculiar item displayed in the small exhibition is ‘Confident‘, a wooden armchair from the 19th century, innovative at the time since it presented a new way of communicating. Reinterpreted by Quentin Vaulot, Goliath Dyèvre, Robert Jallet and Frédéric Gallin, ‘Morpheme‘ represents the new rituals of conversing. While abandoning the classic seated position, the design piece proposes an improvised moment of dialogue. The artwork represents the synthesis of the evolution of uses and demonstrates how artisanal techniques follow social praxis.
The exhibition terminates with an area dedicated to typography and letter-printing machines. The space entitled ‘Print Is Daed‘, results partly empty for being completed in the next months. Frames without posters, composers left on the table, defunct machines and white sheets of paper hung on the wall waiting for being filled. The objective is letting the space at the dispose of those that still are working in the typography sector and finding what printing can still mean in our times.
The concept of ‘handmade’, for a long time associated with approximation and imprecision, ‘has become the distinctive element of a new concept of social and economic worth. […] Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman, together with many others published in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, has paved the way for new concepts of work and socialness, proposing the craftsperson as an antidote to an economy otherwise abandoned to the fate of international finance‘ (Micelli, 2016).
In front of an economy that results to failing under many aspects, all we can do is going back to our origins while reinterpreting the for the creation of a new paradigm of quality and value. The new artisan will not be confined to his workshop, but, as Stefano Micelli argues, will be reinterpreted as the promoter of a new way of enterprising, whose know-how can be used as a resource for launching small and large businesses. Social networks, e-commerce portals and digital manufacturing are redefining the perception of craftsmen and of making.
‘The potential afforded by this admixture of design, crafts and new industrial forms expands and extends its effects thanks to designer=enterprise-which are individuals endowed with personal creativity and potentiated technological abilities that enable them to act like an enterprise and, subsequently, to implement their activities via networked connections, influenced as they are by open, collaborative models. […] We are therefore increasingly obliged to consider craft production as an open, nondogmatic category of ‘making’ capable of generating a new ecosystem displaying both historical continuity and new identities’ (Maffei, 2016).
The priority of our society is, therefore, about ‘creating value by means of dialogue and relating’. We do not need new objects to expand our egos, we need ‘social and cultural connections mediated by objects that succeed in connecting diverse cultures and sensitivities’ (Micelli, 2016).