I am convinced that celebrations only make sense when they are used to look forwards and I would like to say something about Naba’s thirty years from a
very special point of view...that of a designer who is only now setting out to face the world...
If I were a very, very, young designer, I would start with the fact that, today, this profession is a very difficult one because we are living through a huge change that is turning upside down all the traditional categories which previously provided a focus for the word design. This is because, currently, this profession has taken on a multiplicity of features; it is part of a social reality whose outlines are still unclear. As a consequence, I would start by calling it ‘black design’ or
design ‘everything seems black’.
At this stage, I would try to get to the roots of the problem and would ask myself whether there is still any point in using the word design for this collection of features, or whether this will just perpetuate late-industrial ambiguities and outdated, schematic structures of reference. Controversially, therefore, I would also call it ‘new craftwork’, in order to bring it back into the ancient flow of the applied arts which, obviously, include IT.
In fact, if I were a very young designer or what might be called an IT-artisan, I would use the typical self-de-fence of the very young and instinctively dismiss the aggression used by the entire ‘monumental’ area on which the values of the era in which we are living are based. I would free myself from the oppression of so many words (such as, for example, specialism, func-
tion, standards, profession, employment, series...) in an attempt to re-design (or to de-design) ex novo my ‘different’ design problem. Thus, in this era where one of its most unquestionable elements is the multigenerational approach towards fragile, uncertain and fleeting thoughts, I would, nonetheless, find the strength (the generosity) to express myself by opening up to the disquiet of the unknown, in an attempt to find (at long last, after so many years of the prevailing
dominion of logical culture) more complete, stratified and magical kinds of design, of emotional design.
In order to achieve this from the very roots, I would need to shake off even the most attractive references, those that provide me with momentary and significant salvation. By this I mean the Italian neo-avant-garde of Alchimia and Memphis but also the methodological charm of Ulm or the radical ‘post-Ulm, post-Alchemia time’. I would wipe out, with a combination of love and hate, all the masters and counter-masters, neoplasticism, pop and the reassuring attraction of the
If I were a very young designer, I would try to identify the philosophy of the coming era which I would hope would be different to that of today in its hypothetical behaviour. Because, today, despite the liberatory slogans, peoples’ souls are closed up in defence of a clinging kind of involution that appears to accept, but in fact excludes, diversity and what is new.
I would like to make it clear, to both myself and others, that the new times require a different kind of being, undoubtedly as ambiguous and artificial as we increasingly are, but capable of overlapping the two opposites: telematic synthesis and existential dispersion. If I were a very young designer I would want to experience the re-discovery of a loving and ancestral being,
formulate a hyper-ethical manifesto for an anti-worldly design, I would want my designs to know how to absorb hunger, violence, poverty and inequality.
Because, if I were a very young designer, I would always try to keep in mind what Nadine Gordimer said when she claimed that “responsibility is what we can expect outside the Garden of Eden of creativity”. Personal responsibility is knowing how to respond to the consequences resulting from my designs and my ideas and my behaviour. And, by appreciating this, I can allow to grow within me the understanding that even the products of creativity are never innocent because they interact with the world and on behalf of the world. Aesthetic products are always, as the very word suggests, in a rather lateral but still significant way, aest(east)-ethics.
Therefore, if I were a very young designer, I would reject the certainties that guarantee a ubiquitous, joyous and amoral language which nowadays (forgetful of its revolutionary role) has become part of the establishment. I would follow uncertain, tortuous and ancient pathways in a circular vision of the past, the present and the future where the centre is always occupied by
another person to whom my designs are addressed. This person is made of feelings, dreams, intimacies and reserves and the desire to communicate.
For this reason I would expect my fragments (the minimal movements that my objects consist of) to be like acupuncture in the flaccid body of an erroneous social context: in favour of a new being (a ‘sentimental robot’) and a different concept of the relationship between designing+producing+experimenting (post-industrialism) to counter the kind of frenetic competition that leads to the terrorism of contemporary marketing which wants to expand the merchandising spectacle into the innermost spaces of its interlocutors’ minds, convincing them to participate acritically in the race towards a lack of differentiation between themselves and the objects to be acquired.
So, if I were a very young designer, I would be somewhat romantic. I would look closely at the actions of those who have worked in the past, the scars and scabs that we, the contaminated, leave behind us. But to make it real even above and in opposition to myself, I would try to do all this by living through a project of availability capable of leading me to new, non-violent, calm, poetic, delicate objects suitable for the stages upon which the new beings will perform the ‘rites and fantasies of the clan’ for the immediate future of ‘people who are living but are destined to die’.
If I were a very young designer, I would look for a reference map for my work - not, however, thinking about current technology, or the forms of industrial design or the mercantile fortunes of my recently launched work. I would rather think about Giotto, Kierkegaard, mothers’ wombs, the kitsch, Africa, Islam, the wind, miniaturisation, religion, lack of communication, artists, the desperate – I would think about marginalities. Margins that are boundaries because “the boundary – as Paul Tillich claims – is the most truly fecund area of knowledge’. Margins that are boundaries but also frontiers, thresholds for something new, refuges from our times of ‘cultural apocalypse’ where chaos and uncertainty reign supreme. Margins like the threshold of a house
into which we can withdraw in order to reflect, like the limits of the days which have been assigned to each and every being. Margins like the limits to the will of omnipotence.
For this reason, even if I felt that the generational problems had been overcome, I would still need not to comply. It would not be enough for me to enter the safe path of mannerism, of the prevailing eclectics. On the one hand, I would like to be cruel, restarting and questioning everything before me and, on the other, to set out on my ideational adventure, alone or in a
group, searching, in the darkness of a black design, for a fascinating, unknown risk that is hidden more inside me than outside. I would call into play even my own, personal perdition, my credibility, my isolation – because every new era needs continuous commitment, often without any hope of return. As in a walk through space performed in a ‘vacuum’ of goods and metropolises, there exists a wandering design for cultural communication between human beings, forgetting – in the precisely etymological sense of ‘removing from the heart’ – the informatics design that expands into infinity the Nirvana of its own cold brain.