The artistic approach to furniture design introduced by Memphis and Alchimia in the 1980s shifted into a more underground current in the decades to follow, leading to a gradual weakening of the more explosive aspects of ‘extreme’ creative design, in favor of its absorption on safer market circuits.
In the 1990s the emotional approach to design evolved into what Alessandro Mendini called ‘narrative design,’ based more on allusion than on statement with respect to the previous decade (just consider the furniture by Giovanni Levanti for Campeggi).
In the 21st century the same current evolved in the macro-trend of transitional post-narrative design, featuring oversized soft forms and the prevalent use of pale and pastel hues (as in the N=N collection by Nichetto and Nendo), aimed at reinserting moments of tangible tranquility in the domestic dimension, as opposed to the invasive dematerialization of digital experiences.
Today things are changing again. After a period of hibernation, the lively side of emotional decor is waking up, giving rise to a series of objects that cheerfully oppose the transitional post-narrative macro-trend.
This is the case of the Lobster seating by Martin Thübeck, winner at Ung Svensk Form 2019, which besides the fishy anatomy borrowed, perhaps, from Dr. Zoidberg of Futurama, recovers the use of color as a true physical action that not only covers but even shapes the object.
Diplopia by Stefan Krivokapic (Skrivo) for Miniforms, though with a greater focus on technical detail, also deploys color as a non-violent visual explosion, without disturbing a sense of domestic balance.
The Responsive Furniture of Christian Hammer Juhl and Jade Chan (graduates of the Design Academy of Eindhoven) strives to fill the living room with the dynamics of play, shifting the ‘interactive’ behavior of smart applications into the solid body of furniture, through a system of springs that reminds us of the experimentation of another protagonist of the narrative Nineties, Denis Santachiara, making objects ‘responsive’ to their users.
Apparently more reticent but actually driven by a subversive spirit as well, the Moon seating by Charles Kalpakian, created in an exclusive for Galerie BSL in Paris, is a reinterpretation of a Fifties classic. Katrin Greiling, with F51N, also re-covers the F51 model by Walter Gropius in bright vitalizing tones, reminders of the abstract elegance of non-figurative painting.
But the cheery circus of potent visual thrills is not limited to recouping the legacies of the past. The saturated colors, playful forms and furnishings designed with graphic layouts grant body (and image) to an ‘instafriendly’ design, ready to look its best on the small backlit screen of a smartphone, capturing the fleeting attention of social network users for that brief moment that is all that matters.
In this sense, it is significant that a project like Sunset by Sovrappensiero, which demands a slower release of its aesthetic meaning over the longer residential term, exists at the borderline between the macro-trend of transitional post-narrative furniture and the circus-like counter-trend of high visual impact.
The extent to which this language, in its most complete expressions, incorporates all the chromatic flavor of content created for the social networks can be seen in the artworks made by Anny Wang and Tim Söderström, such as the Treasures series, renderings of synthetic still lifes that seem to be assembled from leftover materials of memes, the ironic little images, often looped animations, that roam the web at viral speeds.
After all, the life of artistic and emotional design is always closely tied to that of design as an act of communication, which not by chance arose at the start of the 1990s (just consider the Starck phenomenon). But what is new about the approach today is the typical character of the age of the web, expressed in projects by a strong aesthetic charge, like a punch in the gut which when it reaches the eye turns out to be as gentle as a caress, with impact but capable of grace in its composition and delicacy of detail.
This is illustrated best by the work of the talented Daria Zinovatnaya, whose rigorous and festive interiors – as compared to the pastel calm that reigns at present – have the same healthy irreverence that was found in the first postmodern design with respect to modernism, the later heir of rationalism that was fundamentally lacking in self-irony, and in the end was too serious to be taken seriously.