For the 2017 iteration of the festival, this difficult second album role has fallen to the Vincenzan designer Matteo Cibic. The resulting project, Dermapoliesis, is not as complete a survey of the issues affecting contemporary design as its predecessor was, but it nonetheless offers a satisfying and compelling examination into the ways in which the discipline might communicate with an audience.
Cibic’s basic idea is initially hard to pin down. He has filled the gallery with a series of bell jars, all of which contain a small, white ceramic sculpture or glass form. The sculptures are all different, and sit somewhere between material experimentations (collapsed ceramic tubes; pendulous glass bulbs) and alien vegetative life forms that defy easy interpretation, replete with bulbous gourds, fluttering frills, and plump gills and flanges. Some are suggestive of a function (including a handful which seem to be growing knitwear as bark), whereas others purposefully obfuscate. Each bell jar is fitted with a siphon that emits bespoke scents developed by Cibic.
Dermapoliesis is Cibic’s vision of a future in which new lifeforms break away from an anthropocentric or mechanised world. It is a bewitching vision of heady scents, with the gallery space set up as Willy Wonka Wunderkammer, complete with a heavy, pink velvet curtain and remixed 1950s music that recalls something of the over-fecund utopianism of 2K Games’s BioShock video game – a previous design experiment in creating a new world that played with ideas of dystopia and utopia. The whole effect is woozy and intoxicating, and played entirely straight – at the press preview, Cibic refused to give information on the development or construction of the pieces, describing everything on display as living plants grown in the future.
It is not entirely clear what Cibic is getting at with the project – Dermapoliesis weaves in references to taxonomists such as Carl Linnaeus, artists like Lugi Serafini; robots, artificial intelligence and big data – but the effect is nonetheless engrossing and provides a satisfyingly knotty narrative. Cibic has created an enclave that offers a botanical garden by way of escape during the hurdy-gurdy of the festival. Dermapoliesis may not be as critically engaged as No Ordinary Love, but it has other virtues to compensate. Cibic has produced a charming and strange dive into the realms of design as fictional world-builder.