In Between Chairs at the Milan Furniture Fair 2010Thursday, April 22, 2010 16:45
Dan Colen, Word On The Street. Massimo De Carlo Gallery, Via Ventura, zona Lambrate, Milan 22 March to April 30 2010.
This year’s ‘Salone del Mobile’, Milan’s April Furniture Fair, pulled the usual crowds, but with a little less enthusiasm than before, as if it had lost a bit of its sparkle. Maybe because it takes more than a sexy armchair to turn us on nowadays: if an armchair isn’t eco-sustainable, user-friendly, innovative, functional and sexy all in one it no longer stands a chance under the merciless scrutiny of eco-conscious design hawks, and quite rightly so. Design in general is branching out into newer, more visionary – and possibly more worthy – fields, which in furniture means that only the best survive, on fewer resources. Needless to say the Milan Furniture Fair hosts the best of the best amongst the rest so there was lots to lust after in the booths of companies like Flos, Vitra, Moroso, Droog, Established & Sons etc., etc. However there’s not much to say about them that hasn’t already been said, so after three hours at Rho Fiera I ventured to the Fuorisalone, an array of fringe events in the growing design districts of Milan. Here’s what I found.
From This Day Forward – Jamesplumb
From this Day Forward, Jamesplumb, Zona K Milan 2010, Image courtesy Diana Marrone
In the ‘Isola’ district, a recently opened exhibition space Zona K hosted the first solo foreign exhibition by two young British artists/designers, Hannah Plumb and James Russell, who work together under the name Jamesplumb. For their site-specific exhibition From This Day Forward, curated by the Italian critic Diana Marrone, the London based couple created a living environment entirely designed and furnished with discarded and salvaged objects, materials, sculptures and furniture reassembled, crafted and reworked into fully-functional design pieces, while carefully preserving the character and authenticity of their found condition.
The result, a perfect contrast to the spanking new hi-tech designs displayed at the Furniture Fair in Rho Fiera, was the apotheosis of re-use and re-cycling in furniture design. The room – which was also the designers’ custom-made dwelling for the duration of the fair, and where visitors were welcomed with a hot cuppa and homemade cakes – is so cosy that it draws you in and compels you to stay and examine the collection of unique cast-offs which are so timeless it’s almost uncanny. But the real strength of This Day Forward is that without any sustainability banter or greenwashing, the artists discreetly manage to persuade us that everything we actually need to decorate our homes already exists, without sacrificing the standard, taste, finery or comfort that we desire in our domestic environments.
The exhibition will be running until May 2 2010.
The Tin Compass: Triennale Bovisa
Workhops clockwise: T-Shirt? My Shirt!, image Luca Di Salvo; Ghigos Romanzi – In Divenire, image Pasquale Ettore; Zaykovsky – Fusione Fredda photo LucaDiSalvo; Weldy – DuctTapeShoes, image PasqualeEttorre
I experienced a mild but pleasant culture shock when, fresh from the glamorous pavilions of Rho Fiera, I was greeted by a giant catapult contraption under construction in front of Triennale Bovisa, which is hosting the first edition of The Tin Compass, the exhibition presented by the Triennale Design Museum and the new fine arts academy NABA (Nuova Accademia de Belle Arti) of Milan. The Tin Compass is an initiative conceived by Alessandro Guerriero and Riccardo Dalisi, based on the principles of sustainability and downgrowth, which are core to their work. In view of the current social, economical and cultural climate, the project aims to see designers creating, inventing, and developing the techniques and skills of craftsmanship and micro-production in order to relaunch artisanal culture in design. The exhibition explores the implementation of small-scale projects from the embryonic stage to completion, using accessible, everyday materials and lots of handiwork. Read Riccardo Dalisi’s manifesto here.
Inside the exhibition site, a sort of machine-free factory, workshops were divided into designated areas, where on a roster the designers from NABA and various other international design schools (among them Central St. Martins, Architectural Association and the University of Dundee School of Design) were busy making stuff with just a few tools and lots of hands. Sample projects included the Duct Tape Shoes by Zach Weldy (Environmental Design School, Texas A&M), cool and colourful footwear made on site out of a pair of socks, some packaging foam and industrial adhesive tape. Fun and easy to make, this resourceful idea was originally conceived to provide poverty stricken people on the Texas/Mexico border with inexpensive and readily available footwear. Weldy has been wearing his pair for 3 months and they are faring well. Line Christiansen from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar was teaching visitors how to screen print and personalize their own T-shirts in three basic steps in her workshop T-Shirt? My Shirt! Other workshops ranged from making plastic lampshades out of Vinavil glue without the use of heat, to creating disposable pin-hole cameras from empty sweet cartons and using a coffee solution for film development, or making collectors’ notebooks out of the promotional material binned at fairs and shows. Another recently founded design association, Làbora, was piecing together the results of Turin-based workshop called Fame, where 3 design classes tackled the theme of ‘the obsession with fame in design’ through self-representation, together with tutors from different design fields.
The workshop exhibition and the three parallel exhibitions: Tin Compasses collection by Riccardo Dalisi, Clothes Pegs! Four hundred of four thousand (Gad Charny and Yoav Ziv collection) and Enea Bracciali’s Playful Inventions will be showing until the end of May at Triennale Bovisa.
DMY Berlin: Made in Berlin – Open Process
left: ‘Malva’ Lamps by Ett la benn, right ‘Malva’ product design process, images courtesy DMY Berlin
An intriguing exhibition by the design platform DMY Berlin and Create Berlin called Made in Berlin – Open Process showcasing the prototypes of seven designers and creative labs from Berlin, with a focus on the design process, made a visit to the ‘Tortona’ district worthwhile. Among the objects on show were the remarkable low-cost, compostable ‘Malva’ lamps by the Ett la benn studio which, inspired by the natural qualities of cellulose and viscose, are made of moistened sponge which hardens around a mould when exposed to the air, producing stunning, eco-friendly lampshades.
‘Stitching Furniture’ Werner Aisslinger, image ©Werner Aisslinger, design process for stitching furniture, image ©Uwe Walter
Other projects included the Network 3Dstitching furniture – lamp, stool, armchair and bowl series by Werner Aisslinger, a series of ultralight ‘pop up’ furniture pieces generated through a combination of innovative high tech and traditional stitching techniques.
Zona Lambrate: hot design schools, art and concepts
The Wind Knitting Factory by Merel Karhof, Hotel RCA Milan 2010, photo courtesy Royal College of Art
The up and coming zona Lambrate, a former industrial district in east Milan and a new addition to the ‘Fuorisalone’ circuit, was where the cutting edge design schools and galleries were showing the latest achievements by graduates and emerging designers. These included London’s Royal College of Art with Hotel RCA; the Design Academy in Eindhoven, with “?”; the Belgian contemporary design Gallery Z33 with Design by Performance and the In Residence / Design Dialogues project from Turin with Ten Small Atlases. The Gallery Massimo De Carlo hosted the first solo exhibition by the American artist Dan Colen called ‘Karma’ and showing at Francesca Minini was Jan De Cock with Via Dell’abbondanza. The buzz on the street was all about Maarten Baas’ new ‘Real Time’ project, conceived as an iPhone app.
The inspirational Hotel RCA=, curated by RCA’s new head of Design Products Professor Tord Boontje, was held in a disused factory with projects displayed hotel-fashion, each area corresponding to a function. Works included the famous folding plug by Min Kyu Choi, and the fabulous Wind Knitting Factory= by Merel Karhof, an autonomous neck scarf knitting machine which runs on energy generated from urban wind power – the time it takes to knit a scarf depends on wind speed. Other designers included Shu-Chun Hsiao, Benjamin Newland, Jen-Hui Liao and Hwang Kim, Sarah Colson, and Georgi Manassiev.
left; Designer: Students Man and Well Being, project: Remember Me, photo courtesy Design Academy Eindhoven; middle designer: Anna van derLei, Project:Badkast, photo Rene van der Hulst; right Designer: Julio Radesca de Carvalho, project:Personal Fresh air, photo Lisa Klappe
The exhibition “?” by Design Academy Eindhoven, which stressed the importance of initiating the design process with a question, showed the most recent work and more conceptual work by graduate students. Projects ranged from bathtubs in cupboards to cruelty to animals at the table (in the food industry?), and air purification at home to online drawing publications. The project Man and Well Being by designer Students Man and Well Being looked at death and memory, exploring the future design of funeral rituals and the role of memory in less religious western societies.
Ten Small Atlases by Barbara Brondi and Marco Rainò of the In Residence project was a captivating exhibition that presented the design outcomes of the In Residence workshops, with the focus on how things are made. Water 2010 by Pieke Bergmans was a series of carafe prototypes that create a visual illusion between the containers and their contents when filled with water, recalling the transformation of glass from liquid to solid. Moulding Tradition by FormaFantasma translated links between history and local tradition into ceramic artefacts inspired by current day clandestine immigration into Sicily. In Settlements Julia Lohmann investigated man and marine life by submerging a series of objects into seawater tanks, allowing aquatic organisms to encroach and eventually co-design their surfaces.
In the flux of people and stuff at the Milan Furniture Fair and off site events it was difficult to pinpoint an overall vision; perhaps the clearest message was that of Swedish furniture manufacturer Brikolör, which took part in the Salone Satellite with its No Thing stand, empty apart from a written statement, here’s their vision:
“Our new vision ‘Fewer products for the many’ indicates that we don’t feel a need to present new products on a yearly basis. Actually, we’d rather not. Maybe a biennial or even a triennial would be the perfect setting for showing new products in the future. So, this year in Milan we exhibit a thing-free stand and launch some thoughts”…” We are aiming to guarantee our products for 300 years. Emotionally and technically. By doing that and other things we believe that our products and what we do can be a part in changing the economical systems in its foundations and be part of saving the world.
This year in Milan we had planned to launch our first product and to show several new prototypes. The work is done. But we aren’t happy. Brikolör products need to be tools in changing systems and saving the world. The things we have are done, but doesn’t live up to that. Quality takes time and to make a difference takes more than a year. We stay at home working.
They’ve got a point!