Montclair State University hosted Critical Made in Italy Part 1: Design on October 13th, an event that presented to an interdisciplinary audience of students of Italian, design and business, high school and university faculty, and managers and consultants from the local business community, the innovative design that has made Made in Italy the third most popular brand in the world, after Coca-Cola and Visa. Co-sponsored by Feliciano & Global and in collaboration with the MIX lab and the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, in particular for the celebration of the Week of the Italian Language in the World, which this year is specifically devoted to creativity: Brands and Customs, Fashion and Design.
“This focus of the Critical Made in Italy series – Inserra Chair Teresa Fiore affirmed in her welcome – is not just on the commercial success of the brand Made in Italy but on the concept of the Made in Italy as a philosophy – for the values of beauty, craftsmanship, quality, sustainability, civic sense, and often playfulness, it conveys.” To lead these talks were Wava Carpenter, Editor in Chief from Pamono and Daniele Balicco, a Visiting Fellow in Theory and Critical Studies at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, who were joined by Iain Kerr, co-Director of the MIX Lab (Making & Innovating for X), Montclair State University. They shared their perspective on the rich history and philosophy of Italian design, highlighting the deep and lasting impact Made in Italy has had and continues to have on design.
In her opening remarks, Fiore elaborated that Made in Italy is a lens to look at Italy, in particular contemporary Italy: “Many of us in education recognize the urgent need to emphasize the fact that Italy is a G7 country, Europe’s second manufacturing power and the sixth one in the world, at the forefront of innovation and technology research. While we continue to embrace the more widespread and established view of Italy in our institutions, as the center of world-renowned artistic and cultural traditions and sites, we are aware of the pressure to modernize the curriculum to be in tune with the contemporary globalized world. – she stressed – Italy can be at the center of a modern Renaissance with values coming from the historical Renaissance but revisited and adapted: it’s a fascinating continuum. Because of its intrinsic interdisciplinary nature (fashion, food, design, etc.), the Made in Italy is also a fertile ground to expand and rethink the teaching of Italian language and culture, especially in the metropolitan area between New York and New Jersey.”
To better understand Made in Italy, Wawa Carpenter sketched the Italian design landscape from the perspective of the foreigner who studied it from the non-Italian critical take. At the start of her talk, she invited us to ponder whether Italian design possesses a continuous thread of aesthetics throughout history. “The language around Italian design has remained rather static for many decades even as the country has produced a wealth of diverse talents. – she explained – Whenever we try to lump together the output of a particular region, it always happens that the stereotypes of the culture in general get projected onto the object itself.” She unfolded the story of Italian design to bring us to present day whereby Italian design is perceived as objects of desire, as symbols of a very sophisticated lifestyle (again from the outsider’s point of view). Italian aesthetics have gotten sleeker, more technical, more sexy, and the concept of Made in Italy is a great success: the design world based in Italy is completely unrivaled in manufacturing, production and creativity.
Daniele Balicco demonstrated with his talk how this forty year old brand, Made in Italy, has transformed Italy into a country capable of asserting itself on the international market as the essence of enjoyable modernity. It is an image that has at the same time taken action and been acted upon, on the one hand a response to the demands of the global market, on the other, an autonomous ability to use stereotypes or the outmatched cultural heritage within its borders to its advantage. “It’s time to think about Italian culture in its important stratification of cultural traditions as an integrally modern and industrial culture. Let’s reverse the perspective! – he extolled – Starting with the study of our modernity, and the specific way in which contemporary Italy has transformed the daily life of metropolises around the world, we can then walk back into the maze of our past. This way we will not look at the past as a distant and by now closed occurrence, but as an endless container of possibilities to plan with more courage the future that is coming.” Like the design example of the kitchen, the heart of the Italian home (and perhaps even a political manifesto), the history and future of Italian design has always been and will continue to be sine tempore (both without time and beyond it).
Launched at this event was also a student contest “Inspired by Italy / Designed by you.“ Reflecting on the concepts of Italian design and Made in Italian, students are invited to participate in this contest to envision and produce objects of their own design that, as Iain Kerr explains, will espouse creativity, technological innovation, and problem solving skills. “Italy has really cutting edge 3-D manufacturers and designers of machines, and they’re actually working with historical artisans to try to blur the two. Unlike traditional manufacturing where its only efficient if you make 60,000 to 1 thing, with 3-D printing you can change the design of each one and you can have an algorithm that does that. – he explained – Everything could be variation, so in that way it allows high production runs and the artisanal to fuse, which is to say the uniqueness of artisanal works and the high production run of industrial making can meet.”
Italy is a world leader in the preservation of cultural history, having recently created a special task force in the United Nations (the Cultural Blue Helmets) and embraced 3-D printing to reconstruct national treasures destroyed by ISIS. Additionally, Italy has developed numerous innovative projects for prototyping and digital manufacturing to help Italian artisanship evolve and continue to be on the cutting edge of the global market.
The Critical Made in Italy series will continue in March, 2017, and focus on food, sustainability and biotechnologies. For further information, visit the Inserra Chair site.
Watch a video presentation of the event, by Michele Petruzziello: