Fuorisalone, the (perhaps more popular) sibling of the Salone del Mobile, is again this year enthusiastically welcomed by the city of Milan, which comes alive with events and exhibitions dedicated to design. If you visit the galleries, institutions, exhibition spaces and various showrooms, it is impossible not to notice the trends that are characterizing this edition. Among these is the prevalence of “singular” furniture items, a term that should be understood here in all its meanings and that this year has brought collectible design more than ever to be central to Design Week. The unique, handmade piece, charged with a strong personality and with innovative features, seems to provoke a thinning of the invisible line that separates design from art. The object becomes a work, the designer becomes an artist, and even the language itself undergoes changes.
This change is partly driven by the space the event reserves for emerging designers, bearers of innovation in terms of experimentation and the search for new solutions. Changing, then, is also that idea of “design” which is more linked to mass production and the concept of “industrial design,” now carried less and less toward factories and more and more toward ateliers and art galleries.
Seen from the perspective of young designers, the reasons for them to choose collectible design are to be found in the more limited economic availability and, in general, in the limited availability of materials, which lead them to prefer self-produced organic ones or those recovered and then recycled. The self-production of the materials and the object itself implies a turn to craftsmanship: the designer no longer just designs the sketch (then delivered to the company for production) but works directly on the piece, producing it from A to Z, thus obtaining a unique specimen.
By this is not to say that industrial design is not still the central focus of the event. The Salone del Mobile, as well as the big brands and fashion houses, primarily offer design produced on a large scale. While these brands still have a responsibility to look to a broader segment of the public, this edition of Design Week has emphasized a focus on unique products. It is mainly the connoisseurs of the sector, but also the younger public, who appreciate handcrafted and hand-made design, on which it is possible to bet, just as happens with the artworks of emerging artists. Here then comes the question of narrowing the art-design boundary. This topic sharply divides insiders into two factions: those who, like Antonella Adriani (vice-president of ADI), believe that design can never be considered a work of art, because design is democratic, inclusive and is something that “must not be understood but must be used,” as Lisa Rosso states on Spigola Podcast; while there are those who increasingly consider it an artistic expression on par with sculpture. This second faction is not entirely to condemn indeed, its thesis finds confirmation in the language used within this week’s design events. Paying attention, one can see how the word “designer” or “designer” is often replaced with “artist” or “creator,” just as the term “work” is preferred to “object” or “product.”
The reasons why collectible design has emerged prominently are certainly technical and environmental, as mentioned earlier, but it is also preferred by designers as a way of being able to express themselves artistically. The contact with the public is more immediate, especially the young public, and the creative self has more space to surface. The handmade product creates more empathy with the viewer because it affects feelings, rather than the more cold and mechanical industrial product.