Design has shown a rebellious streak in recent months. At the opening of the Subversive Design exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery on England’s south coast late last year, curator Stella Beddoe defended the ability of applied and decorative arts to challenge convention and tackle serious social issues. …
Oliver Winchester, chief curator of the Design Museum in London, cites Italian furniture design of the 1960s and 1970s as a hotbed of political thought. “Italy was always thinking about the object itself in antithesis to the American focus on mass production,” he says. In the museum’s permanent collection is the “AEO chair”, designed in 1973 by Paolo Deganello, co-founder of the Archizoom group in Florence. Deganello was not interested in beauty, but in comfort, hailing a new era of functional aesthetic in furniture design. “Each constituent part was designed to be as comfortable as possible,” says Winchester. “The focus is on putting the parts together, transferring the power of construction to the user.” By using a network of small-scale suppliers who would produce the individual parts of the chair, Deganello connected craftsmanship to mass production.
What Deganello shared with his contemporary designers was a desire to see the consumer actively participate in his politics. Italian designer Enzo Mari was also a proponent of the blueprint, producing self-assembly kits for chairs and beds throughout the 1970s. He was opposed to mass production and believed home furniture could be a statement of an individual’s social beliefs. “[Mari] was interested in the art of constructing furniture as a way of educating people and encouraging them to appreciate the art of manufacturing design,” says Winchester.
Michael Marriott, a London-based furniture designer, dislikes the current hunger for “eye-catching work that often ignores ecological concerns. Design is now driven by image and a desire for the new as opposed to [the] better”. For Marriott, good design needs to withstand time and passing fashions; that something is robust is the most important facet of an object.
An excellent article by Harriet Baker – that highlights a shift in current design and craft.