Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima discuss unused buildings, independent designers and a new bar and entertainment area; at Alcova the location is just as important as the exhibition.
A network for exhibition
When Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima met in 2007, they knew that 10 years later they would join forces to start Alcova. The platform for independent design, now it is a Salone Del Mobile exhibition. Valentina founded Studio Vedèt, which joins four intersecting disciplines; Creative Direction, Graphic Design, Interactive Design and Curation. Joseph on the other hand is the founder of Space Caviar; an architecture and research studio operating at the intersection of design, technology, politics and the public realm. They have worked together on several projects and after realising that both their studios, but also their personal aesthetics, were extremely complementary, they decided to come together and launch Alcova.
Alcova is a platform for independent design which is reminiscent of the original Salone del Mobile in the 1980’s. Currently Alcova operates as an itinerant network of exhibition spaces across multiple sites in and around Milan. Activating forgotten locations of historical significance, temporarily recasting them as venues for exhibitions, installations and performances. This form of exhibition allows the concept of exploiting the net of people both Valentina and Joseph knew from years within the industry as journalists. From inception until today, Alcova is not an open call and while they have become recognised and known within the industry. Valentina and Joseph still handpick the talents that are exhibited each year. Alcova is not a curated event, but rather a commercial project. Joseph states «We want Alcova to always reflect the idea of being the expression of a network to friends».
The location is important as the exhibition
At the core of Alcova, along with the exhibitions, is the location. These locations are handpicked by a select team of individuals currently employed by Alcova. The team is constantly scouting for new locations year round, but funnily enough the few times that both Valentina and Joseph have been able to go scouting together. They find what they had been looking for. This year, in the same location as the previous. They are hosting the week long exhibition at the Centro Ospedaliero Militare di Milano; three historical buildings submerged in a large inner-city park. The 3500 square meter location consists of both indoor and outdoor spaces for exhibitions, events, talks, site-specific installations and performances.
In addition to the yearly exhibitions from established artists and emerging talents. Covering subjects of technology, materials, sustainable production, social practice and many other branches of design, this year will also have a new section titled Curated by Alcova; a platform dedicated to highlighting and promoting international talents partaking in Alcova 2022.
Every year, a new location
At Alcova, each year comes with a new set of challenges. It is important to note that the locations used by Alcova are not abandoned, but simply not used. As Alcova is an urban project there are some unforeseen difficulties involved every year. These locations evolve from being empty for extended periods of time. Oftentimes being buried by vegetation, that in some circumstances can become violent. This adds to the reason why Valentina and Joseph see the importance of using each location at least twice; to ensure the quality of the exhibition while remaining agile and unpredictable. To both Valentina and Joseph there is something poetic about these buildings within the city and a part of their passion for the project lies in scouting these locations and unearthing the potential of such structures.
Alcova is a temporary project, only live for one week a year. As a result the experience for the attendees is as important as the exhibition. This year they also decided to include a food and beverage section within the exhibition. But staying true to their style, all the companies they are working with are small independent places in Milan. This addition to the exhibition is a core part of the experience. It is important to them that they offer the highest quality of food production.
The method behind Alcova
The process of starting the project yearly is something that is ever evolving and oftentimes before the previous instalment of Alcova has ended. They are already working on the next season. The community surrounding Alcova is imperative to Valentina and Joseph and the close knit exhibitors evolve each year.
We think of Alcova as a community and each year we have to reform this community again and allow it to take form around the ideas that are in the air». The entire concept is built on an ever evolving network of creative individuals who share the common goal of merging design with nature. As Joseph states, nothing is accidental. Everything is in a specific place for a specific reason. «Both of us are curators, in all of the other activities in life as well». As a result they strive to find harmony within the exhibition, balancing the different themes of technology, materials, sustainable production, social practice and several other branches of design. Joseph believe that every aspect of life is curatable and wants the atmosphere that you breathe at Alcova to be a dialog and conversation of which project you put in which room. Joseph states that «Ultimately it is about taking care of how things are experienced and how they appear within the exhibition».
Alcova 2022 exhibitors
This year Alcova is taking place on a much larger scale than previous which according to Joseph has had its challenges, but has also allowed for new exhibitors to enter the exhibition. For Valentina the success of Alcova is predicted by «a matter of how the space dialogs with the execution of the exhibition». Some of the exhibitors include POLCHA; an aesthetical design wave that is reminiscent of the 1990’s in a hyperbolic way. TABLEAU + Post Service; a group from Copenhagen that Valentina is intrigued by.
In terms of sustainability there is a project by Studio Plastique, Snøhetta and Fornace Brioni titled Common Sands; a collection of recycled glass tiles made from the glass components found in discarded ovens and microwave ovens. Another one is PROWL; a collective from Los Angeles which presents a new furniture collection PROWL, the design and foresight studio based in California, presents a new furniture collection bringing the harsh realities of our impending environmental disaster to the forefront. Both Valentina and Joseph are intrigued by this studio and their work.
SolidNature by OMA Joseph believes is a photogenic and central exhibition. OMA designed an immersive experience to showcase the different strategies on how to present natural stones. This exhibition spans over several rooms and Joseph states that it will be remembered after Alcova 2022 has finished. The bar inside the exhibition is also an integral part of the experience and titled ‘The Offcut Bar’. «We are really trying to not just have exhibition spaces in one place and the relaxation space in others, but to make it a space that people can really inhabit and pass time in». The Offcut bar is located right next to the OMA exhibition. Valentina believes that Waterschool is one of the highlights of Alcova 2022; «a very poetic one. Some other exhibitors worth mentioning is Muthesius Academy Kiel, Giovanni de Francesco and TRAME.
The next steps for Valentina and Joseph at Alcova
Alcova has been taking place in Milan for six years now and while the prospect still excites Valentina and Joseph. They are aiming to introduce the practice to different cities and countries in the near future. The long term goal is to keep scouting for locations in and around Milan, but to keep expanding as well. They believe that this format will also be viable in cities that do not have design fairs such as Salone del Mobile and that Alcova can be reproduced worldwide.
Alcova is a platform for independent design operating as an itinerant network of exhibition spaces across Milan. The core focus is to activate forgotten locations of historical significance. Temporarily transforming them into venues used for exhibitions, installations and performances.