Recently an interesting phenomenon of syncretism has come to the fore in the world of design, based on the fusion of the two main poles that set the range of contemporary languages.
On the one hand, the visual seduction of the digital continues to exert a powerful force of attraction with respect to decor, leaning towards two-dimensional colors and soft minimal forms (like the icons of an iPhone). On the other, the disruption caused by the shift – still in progress – of design culture from the post-industrial stage to the post-material stage has brought new vigor to the ancestral energies of creative endeavor, always in opposition to the official history of design.
These two fronts, that of the luminous future of objects reduced to immaterial signs and that of the material origins of the creative gesture, are now converging in an unprecedented ‘graphic neotribalism’ that already made itself visible during the last Design Week in Milan, and has grown in a discreet but decisive way over the last year.
The first one to notice that the time was ripe was Elena Salmistraro, accustomed to moving on the blurry borderline between art and design, and therefore more attuned to the para-figurative meaning of form than to the dictates of rigid old-functionalist values.
In this regard, the visual simplification found in digital interfaces and in the look (and morals) of comicbook superheroes – the unrivaled protagonists of cinema in recent years – represents the mirror of sentiment of an entire epoch, in which the individual, overwhelmed by complexity of information that becomes impenetrable due to an excess of transparency, seeks refuge in facile, two-dimensional, ‘graphic’ interpretations of reality.
The worrying spread of conspiracy theories, driven by the production of fake news, also comes from the same need to understand a density of information that goes beyond the possibility of decoding on the part of the individual, who to avoid being swamped chooses the path of extreme simplification, to the point of distorting reality to make it comply with the reassuring ease of comprehension of the narration of plots. Actually, it is precisely the sensation that something unresolved is lurking beneath the glow of glossy graphics that invalidates, like a virus, our faith in the contemporary aesthetic scenario, calling forth by way of opposition the primal energies of pre-modern cultures.
The synthesis Jaime Hayon has applied to these opposing forces in the installation Stone Age Folk for Caesarstone is brilliant, where the graphic sign of faces or masks has been filled with a stony material that is the result of the underground rumbling of the earth.
Likewise, the pieces of the Wise Mirror Mask series by Lorenza Bozzoli are apparently light, ethereal as the digital, though at the same time opaque like the transparent depths of a mirror.
An explicit reference to tribal cultures is found in the Masai collection of vases by Serena Confalonieri, again uncertain masks broken down and reassembled, as if in a post-modern version of Cubism.
The most pithy, abstract and stylized interpretation of tribalism is the one Marta Bakowski applies in the arcane Sorcier walls lamps, demonstrating that this language thrives at the point of oscillation between the abstract and the figurative.
Graphic neotribalism stands out precisely for the ability to display the rugged grain of reality through the immaterial clarity of the sign, as demonstrated by the Beetle sound-absorbing panel Alberto Sánchez, of the studio Mut Design, has created by thinking about a beetle, as the name implies. The design of animal anatomy taken to its basic essence sums up the fundamental break that crosses the history of design, between figurative aesthetics of artistic origin and the abstract aesthetics developed by the Modern Movement.
The graphic abstraction of the Beetle, though transcending the figurative dimension, offers a glimpse of the features of a tribal mask in a nascent state, the sense of a blind gaze aimed at us. While modern design has removed the figurative visage of objects, today this absence of a face observes us with insistent silence.