Utopian Communities and Decorative Arts - Studio Alchimia

While not exactly 'Utopian', Studio Alchimia was a collective of Italian radicals that used design as a means to combat inequality and consumerism in the second half of the 20th century. As a precursor of the Memphis design aesthetic, the items were often very eccentric and were a metaphor for a larger idea, rather than a functional element. Between 1968 and 1988, there were over 400 politically based murders in Italy, in addition to frequent bombings and protests, and Studio Alchimia wanted to design an aesthetic to reflect the unrest.

The Italian radicals that made up Studio Alchimia were a product of Italy's expanding social inequality and wanted nothing less than a revolution. In the years after the Second World War, Italy transformed its economy - industry exploded, rural communities became less isolated, and manufacturing became favored over farming. While Italian GDP doubled, it also resulted in a profusion of cheap manufactured goods and a widening gap between rich and poor. Many felt that Italy's rich culture was being traded for the worst kind of consumerism.  

Thus ensued Italy's 'Years of Lead', a time of political and social upheaval that followed its 'economic miracle' marked by political terrorism from both far left and far right groups. These radical designers rejected the traditional minimalist ideas of the Bauhaus School and embraced new technologies, bright colors, and interesting forms. They were known to sacrifice functionality in order to effectively communicate their political and social critiques. 

Studio Alchimia was far from a utopia, but that doesn't mean that wasn't their goal. They used furniture, jewelry, art, and other media to show citizens there are other ways of living; that not everything should be mass produced, everyone should have access to a comfortable life, and not everyone should have the same exact goods. Thus, the items produced in Italy during this time are as distinctive as the time itself.


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