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The generation of the desert

Parody: 'Institution, entity, action or person which constitutes a distant imitation of what it should really be, which lacks seriousness and is almost a caricature.' * 0

When we hear about parodies, we might think about the last comic film we saw or about an event that in its development has bordered on the ridiculous. What is certain is that the term lends itself to the most varied variations, including design.

I recently had the opportunity to read an interesting collection of passages written by De Fusco, ' Design parodies - critical and controversial writings' , where the text certainly does not betray the title. The professor tackles issues related to industrial products, such as disposable or the concept of beauty, and punctuates each chapter with personal reflections, often even amusing. Without falling into a homologated and redundant historicism, hers is a firm and wise voice, capable of teasing the reader's critical conscience with irony. I think that same (sharp) irony has had a stronger impact on one topic in particular, namely radical design.

In the chapter 'The sleep of reason' the author refers to some designers, so-called 'irrational dreamers', together with some of their creations, starting with Arad and the Book Worm bookcase, Pesce and the Broadway 543 chair, the Gray Furniture by Sottsass or Branzi's Pets , up to Colombo to the Campana brothers and De Lucchi, all ' works generated by the sleep of reason '.

Regarding Sottsass writes:

' Let's rejoice instead with some works by the greatest irrational dreamer: the master of design Ettore Sottsass jr, rigorous designer of Olivetti machines and unscrupulous protagonist of a hundred other adventures. To be precise, before moving on to the radical neo-avant-garde design, Sottsass designed “normal” furniture for Poltronova […]. But the models that most remain etched in the mind and in publications are called Carlton and Casablanca, both designed in 1981 for Memphis. The one, perhaps a bookcase with drawers composed of colored panels that open rigidly from the center towards the sides; the other, perhaps a set of cabinets, drawers with laminate fronts and still bristly wings on the sides; someone spoke of their totemic inspiration, desecrated by irony. ' * 1

I would therefore like to use your criticism as a pretext to launch simple inputs in this regard, without going into too complex and cumbersome grounds to deal with here.

Now, the historian's predominantly functionalist position is known: he would even put Watt's steam engine in the living room or buy the Ford 'Model T' at the cost of selling his own house. And it is obvious that a good number of abysses pass between the aforementioned machines and a vase by Sottsass, far not only in time or space. Perhaps this justifies the fact that he almost totally overlooked the radicals in the ' History of design ' * 2 he wrote a few years ago.

To better understand the criticisms it would be enough just to think of the fact that Alchimia was conceived as an outsider to the market and Memphis as an emotional (and sometimes a-functional) provocation. Features not exactly adhering to the 'traditional' design; as non-traditional is the revisited use he made of the pop + kitsch + banal metamorphic addition.

In any case, the furnishings and experiments born from the two groups (and therefore the authors themselves) continually eschew any simplistic and aberrant label, especially that of postmodernism; I do not mean here to deny that that was the starting block, but on the contrary I believe that in the semiotic arms race they overtook all the others by finishing outside the stadium.

Brief but exemplary is Deyan Sudjic's description of this:

' Sottsass created a series of objects that seemed to amiably make fun of modernist certainties, and that intentionally undermined ideas of order and coherence: shelves too inclined to hold books, televisions with a baby pink finish that looked like toys. Sottsass's work was based on a striking exploration of the ashes of modernity, which by the 1970s had penetrated the anonymous Italian suburbs, applying itself, in pale and vulgarized forms, to chrome-plated ice cream parlors and three-star tourist hotels. Sottsass evoked these atmospheres in his 1980s creations, producing an explosive collision between sophisticated design and popular culture. With his colors, his decorative patterns and his intentionally fragmented shapes he was able to create objects of a strange strength of their own, which seemed to belong to an indeterminate past, or to a still dark future. ' *2

The entire radical production did not only propose to offer alternative models of behavior (domestic and urban) sarcastically bypassing current habits, and it was not even aimed only at the demolition of the sacred monsters of the recent past (as is too easily remembered in the texts), since destruction always follows reconstruction.

He sought the poetry of chaos in the depths of the torpor of Western everyday life, he tried to awaken in man the curiosity and wonder he had as a child for what was mysterious and distant. An amazement that he lost growing up, while drowning in the reality that was imposed on him from above. It is Snow White who, fleeing the world, gets lost in the woods and finds something she never imagined could exist.

A few steps further De Fusco seems to return confidently and explains how the master subsequently 'cured himself' and woke up from the dream, quoting very significant words from Sottsass himself at a dinner with Magistretti, Mari and Mendini:

' When I draw I'm not trying to save the world, I'm trying to save myself. I do my little drawing, I put it on the table and then what happens, happens. I am not a revolutionary or a missionary. Memphis came to mind when I went to a dairy in the morning, where two old men were selling cookies and milk. Everything was made of laminate and it was so full of innocence and grace that I thought you could make poetry with laminate too, not just walnut. '

It is not difficult to glimpse in the material the profound metaphor of an entity that has always suffered indifference, and now brought to new life, in a new light. A dormant language that offers itself to consolidated typologies for a new semantic writing.

So my question is:

Can emotion be considered a function? At least as good as its practical utility?

Can it be arousing something in us at a single glance?

I absolutely do not want to reduce the question to banality, but rather I hope to bring it back to deeper discussions. Here I will limit myself to referring to words by Sottsass himself which could be taken as a partial answer:

' With Memphis […] we caused the strongest scar, the one that created the greatest jolts around, is to say that the reading of existence is sensorial and not mental. [...] What mattered to me, at least in my intentions, was to say that objects are no longer measured with minds, they are measured with cock, stomach, tongue, eyes, ears , by touch. And so we have opened up an immense possibility of operations on this level, even if almost nobody understood this, unfortunately, that's not my fault. ' * 3

Maybe De Fusco belongs to this category, or maybe it isn't.

I will always be convinced that the enormous potential offered by objects never ends in pure function alone, but goes beyond the boundaries of production, the market and any aesthetic technicality, to fit into the sweet and violent folds of our lives and our souls. . I will always be convinced that sometimes it is necessary to go beyond the limits, or create new ones, to know that there is much more beyond them. And I will always be convinced that every ten, a hundred steps that we walk along our straight and safe road will come to dark areas, and it is then that the generation of the desert and its fools condemned to transgression * 3 ahead of all and without fear of the unknown will illuminate the path.

And they will make us discover the wonderful curves that that road takes.

Aldo Deli

* 0 Encyclopedia Treccani, online vocabulary, definition 2

* 1 R. De Fusco, Parodies of design - Critical and polemical writings, Umberto Allemandi & C., 2008, pp. 27-28

* 2 R. De Fusco, History of design, Editori Laterza, Rome-Bari, first edition 1985.

* 3 D. Sudjic, The language of things, trans. Italian, Editori Laterza, Rome-Bari, 2008, p. 61

* 4 F. November, South of Memphis, Idea Books, Milan, 1995, pp. 5-6

* 3 Ibidem.

'The greatest irrational dreamer', Ettore Sottsass jr.

© ettoresottsass

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