Posted by: Gisella Borioli

Interview to Paola Antonelli.

She is the most famous, esteemed and the most sought-after. She is the curator of Architecture and Design sector of MoMa of New York, where she arrived very young answering a job-posting on a newspaper, but also of the Broken Nature exhibition at Triennale of Milan where she points the finger at the environmental disaster. Gisella Borioli met her on the occasion of Lexus International Design Award. 

Your professional history is emblematic, especially in Italy. Is America always America?
I would rather say that New York is always New York. MoMa was an exceptional starting point. If you do something at MoMa, everyone sees it. There are extraordinary curators in the world that have not the visibility and opportunities that I have. However things are changing. There are many Biennials, Triennials, Design Weeks that are becoming popular, in Indiana, Istanbul, Beijing for example. Curators search for innovation. Nothing better than having the opportunity to discover other cities.

Your vision of design is transverse and your exhibitions usually talk about big ethical and environmental issues.  But can design redesign the world? 
Nothing and no one can do it. General collaboration is necessary. Designers must change politicians, politicians must change the legislation, and then they must impose a new way to operate on industries. It is a complicated system. I always say the designers are the enzyme of innovation as they are those who turn technological and scientific discoveries into objects that people use. Then everything has a financial background, designers can do so much, help or protect people, but not by themselves. If designers don’t know a bit of politics, a bit of anthropology, a bit of science they stay relegated in the role of decorators. Aesthetics is extremely important, it is a communication factor towards other human beings but does not find an end in itself. 

 was shocked after having seen your Broken Nature exhibition at Triennale. Nature is broken and it seems impossible to repair it. And now? 
That is exactly what I wanted. I hope people come out of the exhibition with your same reaction. The curator group that worked with me has been outstanding. The exhibition is structured so as to begin a comprehension of the long-term problems we are facing, but it was also very important to confront with everyday problems, from the biodegradable pregnancy test to the way to transport water in Africa. I would like people to leave the exhibition with an idea of what can be done at home. 

What is design today? Planning, industry, science, technology, engineering, philosophy, history, future, aesthetics are all part of today’s design. With such complicated concept, how can it be represented? 
It is hard to embrace complexity, almost no one is able to in its wholeness. It can be dealt with in pieces or trying to understand it as a whole, and computers help us so much in this. We should not be afraid of the science fiction type.  Computers and artificial intelligence are tools that we have to understand complexity. The capitalist system is very complicated. It is difficult to comprehend the profits for the sake of profits. How can wealth be accumulated without the rest of the world going better. I see students with very clear ideas, they are hope. 

How important is the mise-en-scène of an exhibition? And what should it transmit especially? 
It is extremely important. You can have the best ideas but it is of no use if you cannot communicate. It is very important also because it helps understanding, emphasize emotions, collects history and memory. There is no juxtaposition between ethics and aesthetics but it is important to begin with a precise ethical purpose and that aesthetics is motivated and dragged by such purpose. 

Dematerialization is one of the ways of representation of design with video, augmented reality and virtual reality in many ways, and more that we probably cannot imagine yet. Is this the future of your mise-en-scène?
Not necessarily. There is always a lot of space for more real, tangible expressions.  If you have a look at the results of Lexus Design Award, where I was a jury member, there has been a lot of research and “material” representation. To give my vote I searched for a synthesis of many things, between science and form, and to find today’s objects drawing from the past, that combine technology and handicraft, such as the bra for women who had breast surgery.

In Milan, two ways to represent design and production and culture of design presently co-exist. The Salone, with its great offers of new products reserved to professionals, with admission fee, and the Fuorisalone, with its spectacular installations, cultural moments, free and open to everyone. What do you think about this “system”? 
I think there is not enough experimentation yet and that there is still too much prevalence of furniture. Our industry is extraordinary and took us to a level that we must never forget.  The future however cannot be just dependent on the object and it is very important that manufacturing companies encourage other forms of design and visualization. I like attention to social issues but there is more, for example biodesign and other forms of design that are still not being contemplated. A lot could be done by industries but also the city, creating more open forms of hosting young researchers who are unable to afford high costs of everything. Our future could pass through there. We must be careful with this obsession for furniture. 

Design with technology and science have the task to design new houses, new cities, the new world. Could this sweep off ugliness, mess and vulgarity and make everything more beautiful, people more respectful and aware? 
I hope not, violence yes, but not the rest. I think vulgarity and ugliness are needed anyways. When I went to New York at the age of 25 my father gave me a horrifying golden mosaic vase telling me “bring it with you because you will need something ugly in your life otherwise you will lose your mind”. And honestly, who are we to judge what is ugly and what is beautiful? We need to develop critic ability: the opposite of beauty is indifference. 

Capsula Mundi - Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival
Algorithmic Design di Lisa Marks, 1st winner of Lexus Design Award 2019