* Emanuele Magini, industrial designer
The Mezzadro seat, the Sella rocking stool, the Porca Miseria chandelier, the Tempo Libero clock, the Toio floor lamp ...
When, as a teenager, I began to be attracted to these objects and research them in my mother's magazines, cut them out and store them in my father's burgundy faux leather ring binders, I began to think that yes, when I grew up, I would be a designer.
I showed them to friends and acquaintances, almost always receiving the same reaction: a brief moment of disorientation, an observation of a couple of seconds, a half smile, and the exclamation: “Ah, design!”. The equivalent of a gravestone on the subject.
I was a little disappointed by how little those objects aroused amazement and surprise, admiration and interest in others but then I learned to deal with it. After all, I also liked grilled liver and stewed pigeon, which did not meet the tastes of most and that's okay.
Those objects were not only ‘odd’ – of a circumscribed and defined strangeness in the ‘design’ category – but, in my eyes, they were above all magical: they reformulated the categories of everyday life, they demonstrated the arbitrary conventionality of the certainties on which we based our personal and collective habits.
Ironic objects are magical because they trigger a relationship, a recognition between those who conceived and designed them and those who see them, use them, touch them, live them.
There are codes and languages to decipher and interpret, and the more these codes are subtle, intelligent, acute, sought after, the greater the satisfaction and pleasure of the user of the object. The complicity that is established between those who thought and gave shape to the idea and those who grasp it gives an intense and profound pleasure, like a friendship, almost like a love.
Irony is defined, etymologically speaking, as fiction, concealment of reality. In my opinion, however, the opposite is true in design: here, irony is an act of sabotage of what's real that is highly necessary to maintain the vital characteristics of our environment and to generate a new space for freedom of thought. As Alessandro Mendini explained: “I am against rhetoric and academia and irony allows me to eliminate the excesses on myself, the ones that sometimes turn me into a joke”.
So is irony an antidote to rhetoric, conformism and fashion trends?
David Foster Wallace, the great American writer, considered it one of the founding characteristics of the postmodern culture. However, he also underlined how the continuous and excessive use of irony, self-irony and sarcasm destabilizes society, deteriorating a key element of collective living: empathy.
Is it right to transfer this thought to the world of design as well? Can we talk about too much irony in the design of everyday objects?
The question - like all interesting ones - is open. My personal answer is that irony is a serious matter, to be handled with care.
Opening photo Giacomo & Fruit Mama, by Giacomo Giannini, taken in 1992 for the book F.F.F. (Family Follows Fiction), Centro Studi Alessi. In the foreground, the Fruit Mama fruit bowl by Stefano Giovannoni, part of the F.F.F. by Alessi.