It's never a perfect analogy, but it can be interesting when it comes close enough: Attempting to translate one creative discipline into another is, to mutilate the metaphors, more difficult than turning water into wine—rather, the old saying regarding "dancing about architecture" comes to mind. For Milan Design Week 2014, the Centrum Designu Gdynia ambitiously sought to distill a dozen products by Polish Pomeranian designers into culinary delights. Although the concept itself was executed to varying degrees of success, "Taste of an Object" offered a nice twist on the tried-and-true local design showcase.
Taking inspiration from Richard E. Cytowic's The Man Who Tasted Shapes (MIT Press 2003), the Gdynia Design Centre worked with razy2 design group to develop an exhibition in which "an object goes beyond the limits of how it's typically perceived."
"Flavors have shape," he started, frowning into the depths of the roasting pan. "I wanted the taste of this chicken to be pointed shape, but it came out all round." He looked up at me, still blushing. "Well I mean it's nearly spherical," he emphasized, trying to keep the volume down. "I can't serve this if it doesn't have points."
..."When I taste something with intense flavor, the feeling sweeps down to my arm into my fingertips. I feel it—its weight, its texture, whether it's warm or cold, everything. I feel it like I'm actually grasping something." He held his palms up. "Of course, there's nothing really there," he said, staring at his hands. "But it's not illusion because I feel it."
So goes the excerpt of Cytowic's book, a seed of source material that is planted in the geopolitical context of the Pomerania region of northern Poland, across the Baltic Sea from Sweden. Described as "a region of a turbulent history linked with and age-long fight for independence," Pomerania is also an incubator, "a base for brave yet developing, unique projects."
Mouthwatering though they may be, chef Rafal Walesa's gastronomic concoctions are only obliquely related to the products—but that's precisely the point. After all, one can only imagine that literal interpretations of, say, a radiator (there are actually three heating-related products in the show) or an urn might not be nearly as appetizing as the photogenic treats that were on view. (Note: The captioned images below alternate between food and product, with the dishes followed by the design that inspired them.)
Chocolate sponge cake is perhaps the ultimate comfort food
It's an increasingly pressing question in this day and age, and one that has certainly seen some interesting responses—including this interdepartmental collaboration from Switzerland design school ECAL—as an evolving dialectic between two closely related design disciplines. Exhibited in Milan's Brera District during the Salone del Mobile last week, "Delirious Home" is comprised of ten projects that explore the relationship between industrial design and interaction design. (Naoto Fukasawa, for one, believes that the former will eventually be subsumed into the latter as our needs converge into fewer objects thanks to technology.)
Both the Media & Interaction Design and the Industrial Design programs at the Lausanne-based school are highly regarded, and the exhibition at villa-turned-gallery Spazio Orso did not disappoint. In short, professors Alain Bellet and Chris Kabel wanted to riff on with the "smart home" concept—the now-banal techno-utopian prospect of frictionless domesticity (à la any number of brand-driven shorts and films). But "Delirious Home" transcends mere parody by injecting a sense of humor and play into the interactions themselves. In their own words:
Technology—or more precisely electronics—is often added to objects in order to let them sense us, automate our tasks or to make us forget them. Unfortunately until now technology has not become a real friend. Technology has become smart but without a sense of humor, let alone quirky unexpected behavior. This lack of humanness became the starting point to imagine a home where reality takes a different turn, where objects behave in an uncanny way. After all; does being smart mean that you have to be predictable? We don't think so! These apparently common objects and furniture pieces have been carefully concocted to change and question our relationship with them and their fellows.
Thanks to the development of easily programmable sensors, affordable embedded computers and mechanical components, designers can take control of a promised land of possibilities. A land that until now was thought to belong to engineers and technicians. With Delirious Home, ECAL students teach us to take control of the latest techniques and appliances we thought controlled us. The students demonstrate their artful mastery of electronics, mechanics and interaction, developing a new kind of esthetic which goes further than just a formal approach.
The ultimate object—still missing in the delirious home—would be an object able to laugh at itself.
Photos courtesy of ECAL / Axel Crettenand & Sylvain Aebischer
Inhabitants of the small town of Disentis, in the Swiss canton of Grisons, still mainly communicate in the Romansh language—a Roman dialect that has survived here over centuries. This is mainly because this part of Switzerland had remained rather untouched, due to being a little cut off from the rest of the world (even for Swiss standards). In fact, the name Desentis derives from Desertinas (deserted), but yet it's the birth place of the most innovative skis that the world has seen for many decades: the ZAI skis.
They're the brain child of passionate skier and "son of the mountains" Simon Jacomet, whose main objective for designing these skis was to "create a tool which enables people to ski easier and have more fun—to forget about the skis and just be creative themselves in the snow." Educated in the local Disentis ministry by abbots, he developed this rather Zen design approach of "constructing a ski that is doing the skiing itself."
A few years ago, I saw a picture of a desk that captured my eye. I can't remember exactly where I saw it—perhaps it was this very blog—I just remember not being able to stop thinking about it. I searched the Internet to find out who had created this lovely desk and ended up on the website of Manoteca. Now, when I see something that I like, I have to tell the person who is behind it that I like their creation (or what they are wearing, or what they are singing, or what they are drawing, etc.) Call it what you will, OCD if you wish.
So I found the e-mail address for the person behind the brand, and it turned out to be a young woman called Elisa. Since then, we haven't written much, but my curiosity for the person and the visions behind the brand is still there. So, here comes the second article about young ambitious entrepreneurs working within the creative field.
Core77: What led you to start Manoteca?
Elisa Cavani: Before creating Manoteca, I was working as a visual merchandiser for fashion companies, for more or less ten years. I traveled a lot and gained a lot of information. In those ten years, I met very respectable people with so much talent. Yet the structure of big companies crushed them—I saw many people forget the things they believed in and give up any kind of talent. I was scared because I could feel that it was happening to me as well, so I decided to "fire" myself and create something that I had had in my head for so long.
This was the beginning. I moved the furniture in my apartment and for a year I worked, lived and slept in the middle of tools and sawdust. To me, the pieces of my first collection represent the freedom of expression. I loved them so much. I spent my evenings watching them, cleaning them one by one, every single hole and crack in the material. I really treated them as if they were the most valuable things I owned. In fact, they still are.
Did your ten years of experience as a merchandiser have any influence on how you started your brand?
I didn't think so initially, then I thought again and came up with a better answer. The visual merchandisers work with the visual language, they communicate feelings and moods but cannot use words. There is so much of this in Manoteca. There is a maniacal attitude, for which everything have to be perfect, and a meticulous attention to every detail. There is the organization and optimization of the time. There are the administrative and commercial skills, which I unwittingly absorbed and modified in favor of the brand. There is the knowledge of foreign markets that I have followed for a long time, the awareness that every person have different habits and cultural characteristics that you need to know, otherwise it is impossible to communicate. There are errors that I have made in the past, from which I can benefit today. There is a predisposition for solid and professional structure, which hasallowed the project to go around the world.
In retrospect, I should say 'Thank You' to my past.
While much of the Northern Hemisphere clenched its collective teeth through yet another week of bitter cold, the end of February was a rather multifaceted celebration of art and design in South Africa when Design Indaba, World Design Capital 2014 events, the Cape Town Art Fair, and the Guild Design Fair converged in Cape Town (surely not by coincidence, as 2014 also marks the 20th anniversary of the nation's independence). The latter event was organized by the same folks behind Southern Guild, who made a strong showing at the very first Collective Design Fair last May, and like the NYC event, Guild skewed toward the Design Miami crowd. Not that there's anything wrong with that—I wish I'd had more time to explore the eclectic offerings on view (not that the multi-building venue was that big anyhow).
Nacho Carbonell exhibition in the courtyard
Instead, I chanced upon an exhibitor whose mission is precisely to engage the Cape Town design community and public at large in a meaningful way. I recognized Daniel Charny immediately—I posted a video of his talk from Design Indaba 2013 just a few days prior—and he proudly gave me a tour of the Maker Library at Guild.
As its name suggests, it's a variation on a makerspace, a community hub that serves as a library-like resource for designers even as it transcends the scope of a mere repository of information. Rather, the Maker Library is designed to be a workshop and studio as much as it is a gallery, and the 'Librarian in Residence'—Heath Nash, in the case of Guild—is not only a knowledgeable administrator but a well-connected member of the local design community.
The Maker Library initiative finds its origins in the British Council, an organization is tasked with "educational opportunities and cultural relations" around the world. This year sees a focus on South Africa: As 2014 sees the nation enter its second decade of independence, so too is the first generation of "born-frees" on the cusp of adulthood, and an arts program called Connect ZA (sometimes styled as "Connect/ZA"; pronounced "Connect Zed-A," per the local flavor) is intended to meet them halfway.
Although the exhibition closed on March 9 along with the rest of the Guild Design Fair, the British Council / ConnectZA have posted an open call for other Maker Libraries in South Africa; applications are due on April 4. Here is a selection of the work from the Maker Library at Guild, which Charny organized with V&A curator Jana Scholze:
This year's Design Shanghai was absolutely packed with visitors, to say the least, as the mixed international and local Chinese audience managed to fill the vast Shanghai Exhibition Centre. Compared to many other design fairs and exhibitions, Design Shanghai was extremely well advertised to the Shanghai public—the lines for general entrance and the Collectibles were astronomically long, but this was quite a welcome sight, showing the general public's growing interest in design and design culture.
Design Shanghai featured exhibits featuring over 40,000 designers. Because the event is planned by predominantly foreign organizers, there were unfortunately not as many homegrown designers, but there were a couple of gems we still managed to pick out.
In terms of emerging designers, the CIID Awards were the highlight, recognizing 120 interior designers with the "Outstanding Young Interior Designers of China" Award based on several criteria: performance during 2011 and 2012 in terms of impact, design programs, work experience and participation in competitions. The organization did a fantastic job of identifying and curating a diverse range of interior designers, from those who sparkle a room with traditional elements to designers with who create with entire futuristic ensembles.
Powerhouse design duo Neri&Hu and rebel designer Naihan Li both had fantastic exhibits with their latest products. Naihan prominently featured her Skyscraper Candles, which has expanded in the number of countries and cities. Neri&Hu collaborated with Jaguar, the exhibition's key sponsor, and Wallpaper Magazine to re-engineer the distinctively British picnic basket with a Chinese perspective and carbon fiber.
One of the great things about the Design Indaba Conference is that it not only sparks conversations but also puts them on center stage. In this short dialogue between Marian Bantjes and Jessica Hische, the two graphic designers cover everything from mentorship to being the "one designer friend," as well as the secret to design success. (Bantjes, who reveals that she is entirely self-taught, is the Jury Captain for the Visual Communication category of the 2014 Core77 Design Awards.)
There has always been a big buzz about the Maison & Objet show, which happens twice a year in Paris—and, as of a couple of years ago, Asia, where the brand has expanded to include a large tradeshow in Singapore as well as various "road shows" in different Asian cities.
Whereas the September event in Paris coincides with the Paris Design Festival, the show in the end of January is a pure trade fair on its own, sans side events celebrating the more artsy end of the design world by investigating ideas and concepts. No, this is all about sales, no bones about it.
Unfortunately, I'd say that the majority of the objects on view was unimaginative, average product overload at best—and kitsch at worst. Happening upon a booth that was full of taxidermied animals, most of them dressed up and put into ridiculous poses, I was compelled, in a disgusted kind of way, to take a picture, and briefly considered compiling a truthful photo essay, reflecting an unfiltered version of the 'real' Maison&Objet. After all, as a designer you often hear that "your portfolio is only as good as the weakest project that you present in it." Does this not also apply to design shows?
But then I remembered the conceit of digging through the muck in order to find the truffles—in order to present the "best of Maison&Objet" to our readers. And so I did, the result being yet another photo gallery showing lots of "nice stuff."
What remains undocumented, though, is the halls full of tacky goods aimed at buyers who intend to decorate the interior of a five-star hotel in the Middle East or Russia (or worse, still, a private client in one of those locales). Nor can you feel the headache caused by getting lost in—and overexposed to—the smell of a hall full of fragrance products (how design is that!) due to the poor signage of the whole fair.
Which brings me to the point of user experience, which started with a press room where there wasn't even a working wifi connection... or even a free glass of tap water. In almost every hall, I stumbled at least once over some unmarked bumps, thick cables visually but not physically smoothed over by carpet, which makes me wonder about the percentage of visitors who break their ankles at Maison&Objet. Considering that this show charges every visitor €65 even if they stay only for a day, as well as the rather proud prices for exhibiting, I would have expected a higher general level of experience design.
But once a show is established, the organizers can justify their "laissez-faire" attitude towards these details, since they know they can get away with pretty much anything. But being a critical member of the design community, I do feel very strongly about pointing out the flaws of it all, instead of just tuning into the general praise anthems about Maison & Objet.
As you can see in the gallery, there was of course a great number of delightful design objects on show - but they should be seen as a "best of selection", rather than the standard. The overall experience of my visit is certainly not marked as "delightful" in my memory.
Once again, Core77 is pleased to partner with Design Indaba for their annual design/creativity/innovation Conference and Expo in Cape Town, South Africa, which has quickly grown to a week-long celebration of all things creative. As the biggest design event in the country, continent and hemisphere where it takes place, Design Indaba has firmly established itself as a progressive platform for artists and designers of all persuasions, as diverse as its locale even as the event attracts a global audience.
So much more than a "how-to" conference, this is a forum fuelled by inspiration that breeds ideas, ingenuity and innovation. Creativity is our currency and a better future our agenda. The Conference is your opportunity to learn from and be inspired by the world's foremost creatives, thought leaders, entrepreneurs and trendsetters. It's the not-to-be-missed creative inspiration event of the year, the perfect way to kickstart 2014.
This year's speakers include: Jake Barton, Lauren Beukes, El Ultimo Grito, Naoto Fukasawa, Experimental Jetset, David Goldblatt, Thomas Heatherwick, David Higgs, Tom Hulme, Margot Janse, Nandipha Mntambo, Zanele Muholi, Ije Nwokorie, Michel Rojkind, Dean Poole, Stefan Sagmeister, Scholten & Baijings, Marcello Serpa, DJ Stout and Clive Wilkinson.
Every January, IMM Cologne and the off-site exhibitions and events of Passagen kick off the design year as the first international shows on the calendar, hosting nearly 1500 exhibitions in all. We have bundled up in our winter gear to wander the fair and city to bring you the highlights of 2014 in our gallery. The shows are focused on (but not limited to) furniture and interior design, and increasingly flirt with other disciplines with each new year.
Situated in the Messe Koeln along the bank of the Rhine, the IMM Cologne is the business hub for everything furniture and interior related. More than 1,100 companies show their work, from small brands to large scale international manufacturers. To bring you the highlights, we have strolled the southern parts of the vast venue, where the focus is set on design and innovation. Our favorites include Scandinavian interior design, unique materials, and exciting applications for new manufacturing processes.
IMM Cologne nominates a different designer each year to envision their ideal future home, Das Haus. This year, the guest of honor is danish-english furniture and interior designer Louise Campbell. She turned the 240 square meter stage into an open-plan house made out of two timber-framed halves that are visually separated by different color schemes. Amongst the highlights inside were a massive wall in the kitchen featuring 573 tools (at top) and a 16 meter long bed/lounger that was well enjoyed by tired fairgoers.
The Stage hosted lectures and panel discussions with a broad variety of topics ranging from the psychology of color and Bauhaus furniture to leather production and organic hotel interiors.
The German Design Council organized the 11th edition of the annual D3 Contest at IMM, and showed the works of design students and young designers. We liked Jin Il Park's Drawing Chair, which made us feel like we had stepped into a sketch on a napkin. He achieved the scribble effect by hammering, irregularly bending and then welding thin wires.
The Thursday night of Cologne's Interior Design Week traditionally sees everyone heading to Design Parcours Ehrenfeld, grabbing one of the many drinks on offer, and promenading the city's most diverse and creative neighborhood. Ehrenfeld is home to a variety of converted warehouses, owner-run shops, bars, clubs, and creative businesses—and, during this time of the year, draws in even more of the latter. True to its alternative vibe, a lot of the work on show blurs the lines between art, design and fashion; sustainable design and local manufacturing are also recurring themes.
Designers Fair at DQE is one of the busiest shows every year. Amongst the crowds, Vase & Leuchte by Miriam Aust caught our eye because of the clever integration of the plant as part of the design. The object is distributed by Dua Shop, who specialize in realizing small batch series together with designers and small factories.
Another lamp on show by Dua Shop was Like Paper, designed by Aust & Amelung. The delicate appearance juxtaposes the fact that these lamps are actually made from slewed concrete, which displays the properties of the paper cast it is made in.
A new venue has earned a place on the map of Passagen 2014, Cologne's annual Interior Design Week that runs concurrently with imm cologne with close to 200 exhibitions throughout the city. Set in a converted office tower, the t.a.t. new talents hosts two shows exhibiting works by the young and the restless: Designers Tower and Sensing The City/ Capturing Cologne. Designers Tower offers a platform for 15 selected studios and independent designers to show off their latest works. One of them is Markus Krauss with his rocking chair Sway (above), offering plenty of room for two people to lounge in sync, and featuring a patented telescopic mechanism that allows the chair to take on a number of positions.
We loved the graphic simplicity and purity of material of Prolog, by Daniel Rauch and Niklas Markloff. The two industrial design students of Folkwang University Essen developed the structure cast from pure tinted UHPC (ultra-high performance concrete) with their colleagues from the material sciences lab. It's one of the first applications of this material ever and elegantly shows off its amazing compressive strength.
Koelnmade is a label that takes pride in making products that are designed and produced in and around Cologne. Surfin Bird can be both a place for safely feeding your feathered friends in the winter, or a full-fledged birdhouse to provide a space for nesting and extending the family.
What comes around, goes around and this year's selection of vintage design pieces have aged gracefully. The star of this year's show, new or old, was Charlotte Perriand. The architect and designer was best known for her work for Le Corbusier—the creative directors at Louis Vuitton spearheaded a renewed interest in her life and work. Jewelry from designers and artists also had a prominent place on the Design Miami floor show including a special exhibition of Gijs Bakker's jewelry projects. Simple geometries and a focus on traditional craftsmanship are back in favor with fiber art and primitive shapes finding a new audience with today's collectors.
At top: Maria Pergay - Cord Structure, 1977 & Daybed, 1968 Demisch Danant, Design Miami
The works of these two important designers looks contemporary and fresh in the context of Demisch Danant's inviting exhibition space. The bold magenta ropes in Sheila Hicks' wall hanging are constructed with coil-wrapped yarn on a muslin backing. Maria Pergay's stainless steel daybed adds a sleek drama to any room. The 81-year-old Parisian designer's recent collaboration with Fendi was also profiled in our first Design Miami roundup.
La Maison au bord de l'eau, Louis Vuitton (1934) at The Raleigh Hotel
Of course, the star of the show was a Parisian architect and designer from a generation prior to Pergay. Louis Vuitton's research into Charlotte Perriand's life and work sparked a revival of interest in the influential designer's projects. Their La Maison au bord de l'eau installation at the Raleigh Hotel, a prefab beach cottage finally realized 80 years after the project was concepted, was furnished with reproductions of Perriand-designed furniture.
LC4 CP, Cassina (1928)
Cassina, the only authorized manufacturer of Perriand's furniture, re-issued a special LC4 chaise lounge with Louis Vuitton leather on the occasion of the designer's 110th birthday to coincide with the LV project. Perriand's research for Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret lead to the use of tubular steel in the iconic chair.
Une Maison a Montmartre (1959) at Galerie Downtown, Design Miami
And Paris' Galerie Downtown/Francois Lafanour showed furniture and interior features from a 1959 Perriand-designed house, Une Maison a Montmartre.
With over 70,000 people descending on Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach, its no wonder that the buzz surrounding the Design Miami sister show is getting louder with every year. This year's strong showing represented the increasingly international nature of the design business—the gallery list including Galerie BSL from Paris, Spazio Rossana Orlandi of Milan and Victor Hunt from Brussels alongside American favorites R20th Century and Cristina Grajales.
Primitive forms and the wonders of mother nature inspired designers to create objects of bizarre beauty. Nacho Carbonell's otherworldly works were as dramatic as Design Nucelo's monolithic metal tables that paid homage to the bronze age. Crystals and geodes continue to fascinate designers like Hella Jongerius and emerging-ceramicist Charlotte Cornaton with their spiritual properties and natural variations.
UUfie - Peacock L (at top) Spazio Rossana Orlandi, Design Miami
Canadian-based UUfie crafted the dramatic Peacock chair from a single sheet of Corian. The mesmerizing grid casts a lovely shadow and a theatrical profile for its debut at Design Miami.
Hella Jongerius - Gemstone Side Table Gallery Kreo, Design Miami
The iconic Dutch designer was inspired by the depths of color that occurs in natural stones like agate and malachite. Layers of translucent resin and plywood stack to form a revealing cross-section for this asymmetrical table.
Studio Job - Monkey Business Carpenter's Workshop Gallery, Design Miami
A Swarovski-studded monkey wearing a fez stands guard over a brass treasure chest. It's not a scene from an Indiana Jones movie; it's the latest conversation-starter from Belgian designers Studio Job. An embedded LED hints at what treasures might lie inside the chest.
Richard Phillips - The Playboy Charger Venus Over Manhattan Presents Piston Head, 1111 Lincoln Road
Ferrari's art car show in the Herzog & de Meuron-designed 1111 Lincoln Road explores how artists like Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Tom Sachs and Ron Arad have transformed the beloved automobile into sculptural works. The exhibition also included the first viewing of artist Richard Phillips' collaboration with Playboy, the "Playboy Charger."
Eindhoven may be a relatively small city (population 220,000) in a small country, but this year's Dutch Design Week was the largest ever, attended by over 200,000, establishing the week long event as one of the largest design fairs in Europe. Although the annual event has taken place for the last seven years, it is primarily a non-commercial, Dutch-focused fair, meant to stimulate cooperation between designers, industry and business. There is, however, plenty of international involvement stemming from Design Academy Eindhoven graduates and foreign design schools.
With over 2,000 participants exhibiting in 350 events spread throughout the city, there was a lot to see, taste and experience. The venues were loosely grouped in three zones: Area Strijp, a large industrial zone; Area East, a smaller industrial park; and Area Inner City. Due to the distance between the zones and the lack of a metro, a free taxi service composed of Mini-Coopers with objects fastened to their roofs cheerfully shuttled visitors from area to area.
Tessel backpack by Aaron Puglisi and Dan Shirley for Wasatch Design Collective. (Photo credit: Jeroen Aarts)
This was my second year attending the DDW, and even with insider knowledge and a tight plan, it was still difficult to see most of the events in two whole days. Following is a light report on a selection of events and designs that were interesting or noteworthy.
Temporary Art Center
In the city center, the Temporary Art Center contained many small group exhibits and projects of all types from Dutch and non-Dutch designers and student groups. Over a dozen various sized rooms snaked around an outdoor courtyard and colorful central eating area. The largest draw in the building was undoubtedly the group show Pepe Heykoop/Lex Pott/David Derkson/Paul Heinjan, who showed old and new projects in a common space.
For the first time during DDW, Vlisco exhibited its traditional and festive wax-resist cotton textiles, which until recently have been produced, marketed and sold exclusively for West and Central African markets. The large exhibit was one of the most popular ones of the week, due to the variety of excellent patterns and the company's remarkable history, which dates back to 1846.
The third annual Beijing Design Week kicked off four weeks ago to the day, and once again we took to the hutong to document what is arguably the largest design festival in the Eastern Hemisphere. It's certainly the major event for China's not insubstantial local design scene, and the fact that it attracts a fair share of international guests and exhibitors (mostly from Europe) is a testament to its relevance and scale in the global design circuit. According to a note from the press office that turned up in my inbox this morning, more than 1,000 designers presented their work to over 5 million visitors.
As an American-born Chinese who has been visiting Beijing for over two decades (I spent a few extra days with my family this time around) I felt compelled, for better or worse, to put the burgeoning art and design scene in perspective as a kind of parallel heritage. Thus, I concluded my coverage of BJDW2013 with a hybrid thought piece / photo essay that eschewed specific objects in an admittedly overambitious attempt to identify the meaning of the whole damn thing. But in the interest of presenting empirical examples of what, exactly, is going on in Beijing today, here is a visual survey of some of our favorite projects from 751 D.Park, Caochangdi artist's village, and, of course, Dashilar, the singular neighborhood where I embarked on the weeklong journey through the Beijing design scene and where I ultimately returned on the October 1 holiday, the day before I left.
Still, if I had to choose a single best project from Beijing Design Week 2013, I must say it was one that I got to bring home: Drawing Architecture Studio's A Little Bit of Beijing is not only a felicitous souvenir but also a little bit of incentive to brush on my Chinese for next year.
In today's overflowing world of design, with so many individuals clamoring to be discovered, the most successful method for emerging artists and craftspeople may be to join forces with similarly minded partners. Independent yet connected. Working alone but showing in groups, utilizing the age-old strategy of strength in numbers.
During my first day exploring Dutch Design Week 2013, I chose to focus on small collectives, groups of designers and collaborators who share specific attributes. Firstly, they have all graduated within five years, are currently working in the Netherlands, and they are doing well, so to speak, choosing to remain independent instead of working for large companies or more corporate-minded design studios. The majority of their work is self-funded, self-produced and self-promoted. They're not opposed to working with companies (many of them already are in various capacities—but perhaps they remain independent because they are driven by a desire for freedom of expression, or doing things one's own way.
Here are highlights frome three excellent exhibits from international collectives based in the Netherlands. Workmates, 010-020 and Objects to Play are all on view at this year's Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven, October 19-27.
Comprised of Atelier Rick Tegelaar, Studio Casper Tolhuisen and Joris de Groot, Workmates featured recent works developed with self-made machines and distinctive processes. The three designers met during their overlapping studies at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem and formed an open collective based on their shared interest in a hands-on approach to materials and production.
Rick Tagelaar showed a series of new lights expanding on his experiments with molded wire mesh, as well as a table and bench composed of laminated blocks of waste plywood. Rick collaborated with a woodworking factory, and developed a custom clamping table for laminating herringbone-like sheets en-masse.
Casper Tolhuisen showed his alternative cooking tools, including a distillery, smoking and barbecue pots, made in ceramic, stainless steel and glass. Due to the prohibition of selling tools for self-producing liquor, the lid cleverly clamps to a standard cooking pot which the user must supply themselves.
I was a bit surprised to discover, at some point between my second and third excursions to the neighborhood of Dashilar, that the press kit for Beijing Design Week included a few photos documenting not the myriad pop-up exhibitions or experimental renovation projects on view but rather glimpses of everyday life in the hutong, shorthand for Beijing as a whole. Unimpressed with the exhibitions we visited on a jetlagged first day in Beijing, I had it mind to seek the "real" Dashilar—whatever that might mean—during our second foray, hoping to highlight the non- or un-designed 99.9% of the neighborhood in the interest of making some kind of statement by capturing the beauty of the mundane.1
So I was a bit dismayed to learn that the press office at Beijing Design Week had beaten me to the punch, and I couldn't shake the uncanny feeling that my unorthodox reporting had somehow been preemptively subverted into another instrument of propaganda. Indeed, the 'official' description of Dashilar, per Beijing Design Week, is "a special zone within Beijing's old city," "showcasing the regional characteristics that are the charm of the increasingly international Beijing." Mythologized as a nexus of past, present and future—authentic Beijing condensed into a square kilometer—Dashilar has been cast as an instance of learning from past mistakes, which makes this kind of reporting is squarely aligned with the government (qua developers) agenda. Not that it's really worth further speculation: Beijing Design Week is, by definition, an exercise in soft power (the softest, my friend joked), a vehicle for China to assert itself as a global destination for culture... which, of course, it is and always has been.
While it would be optimistic to extrapolate from Dashilar as anything more than a testing ground at this point, it's certainly worth exploring the impressively thorough documentation at Dashilar.org. Although most of the website is Chinese-language only, navigating to the first menu item on the second of the three 'sheets' will take you to a page with several tiled links (in Chinese), each of which links to a bilingual PDF presentation. I recognized them as poster presentations from the hub in Dashilar, covering everything from the Historic Situation [PDF] to the Strategy Overview [PDF], as well as an overview of the PILOT program [PDF].
One of our favorite stops during Europe's design festival season is Vienna Design Week, a beautiful city with a seemingly endless amount of abandoned shops, spaces and nooks (even pharmacies) to exhibit in. With an impressive line-up of new work on show this year, Passionwege, a platform for emerging designers stole show with the "Experimental Sweet Factory" for Lobmeyr by design duo Bertille & Mathieu. Check out our full gallery for highlights and don't miss the bong-like vessel for vaporizing wine, definitely one of the more obscure concepts in recent memory.
I'd regretted breezing through the NY Art Book Fair this year—I braved the crowds on Saturday afternoon, and the hour I'd allotted myself was not nearly enough time to filter the sheer visual (and yes, tactile) onslaught of printed matter. But a souvenir from Beijing Design Week more than made up for it, and for all the limited editions, handmade zines and other rarities available at MoMA PS1, nary a booth would have had a copy of A Little Bit of Beijing. In fact, I haven't been able to find any information about Li Han and Hu Yan's three-volume graphic novel anywhere online: The book is published by the Luminous City imprint of Tongji University Press—luminous-city.com was offline as of press time—while the website of Drawing Architecture Studio (Li and Hu's practice) is currently "Under Construction."
So it was a happy coincidence to discover A Little Bit of Beijing at 751 D.Park, in an appropriately charming venue to boot: Luminous City had set up shop in a passenger train that had been converted into a gallery. (To further compound the confusion, the expository text also credits architects Li Xiangning and Atelier Bow-Wow's Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, who are behind Made in Shanghai and its progenitor Made in Tokyo respectively.) Along with framed prints along the walls, translucent reproductions of the artwork had been set in the windows of the train to striking effect; even magnified several times over, it's quite clear that the vibrant line drawings are painstakingly detailed.
Chris Ware's signature style is the obvious reference point, and indeed the artists acknowledge a debt to Ware, as well as Jean-Jacques Sempé, as source of inspiration. I gleaned as much from the introductory text to A Little Bit of Beijing, but I'm not too proud to admit that my reading ability is far too limited to attempt proper perusal of the book. (Limited though my vocabulary may be, I do know that the third character of the title, 儿 [er], is an untranslatable reference to Beijing's local dialect.) Thankfully, the illustrations effectively speak for themselves, and their richness transcends language, even in the case of the conventional comic-book panels that depict short vignettes.
As far as I can tell, the captions are descriptions of the scenes
Popping up in a small, leafy square in central Vienna this design week, the 'Construisine' community kitchen and workshop creates a space for local residents to cook food from regional produce and build furniture from recycled wood, whilst drawing important parallels between the two in an attempt to encourage the Viennese public to embrace making.
With a whole host of fun food making tools, the creators Johanna Dehio [previously] and Dominik Hehl also offer revellers 'recipes' for furniture making, the installation thus growing in size the more it is used.
My earliest memories of hutong come from my first visits to China as a child: Pedicab drivers offering tours of Beijing's arcane labyrinth of largely unmarked alleyways that once demarcated the space between the city's traditional courtyard houses. Aside from the principle that upper class residences were closer to the city center, the actual construction of the homes—and the incidental passageways between them—was an ad hoc approach to urban planning at best, and subsequent divisions of the houses and land has resulted in a dense network of narrow alleys criss-crossing the enduring swaths of Old Beijing that have not been razed and redeveloped... yet. (Fun fact: Since courtyard houses, or siheyuan, traditionally face south for better natural light, the majority of hutong run from east to west.)
With hundreds of years of history embedded in their crumbling walls, many of these neighborhoods remain jam-packed with longtime residents; despite the fact that the original courtyard houses have been either been modified or left to decay beyond recognition, there is a tendency to romanticize the hutongs as a kind of cultural artifact, authentic both for their historic significance and their current conditions. But how do you preserve a dynamic relic—one that is defined by the fact that it is lived-in? One that, like an organism, is subject to both an internal logic and external factors? As Oliver Wainwright of the Guardian (a fellow member of the media tour for Beijing Design Week) reports:
... in numerous pockets of the old city over the last 10 years, neighbourhoods have been demolished and rebuilt in the name of heritage preservation... areas designated for historic conservation have been transformed into zombie recreations of themselves. Elsewhere, crumbling courtyard houses have been wrapped in neat jackets but their squalid innards left unchanged, adding a flimsy tourist-friendly veneer to give a picturesque backdrop for lucrative hutong tours.
But in Dashilar, things seem to be going in a different direction... the "nodal" Dashilar pilot strategy, developed by local architect Liang Jingyu from 2011, [facilitates] several model projects in strategic locations across the area—and show existing owners how investing in their properties and businesses could help turn a profit and improve the area.
Thus, although Dashilar has been among the major design districts during previous Beijing Design Weeks, the dense neighborhood saw more exhibitions than ever, including a pilot program that showcased works-in-progress from architects and designers examining the neighborhood itself. Here are a few of our favorites:
Hidden behind a faux-ramshackle façade on the Dashilar's main drag, standardArchitecture's "microHutong" was definitely a crowdpleaser, not so much for its ambitious scope but the fact that it was open for exploration. (The highly regarded Beijing-based practice was founded by Zhang Ke in 2001; although it hasn't been updated since December 2012, the News Feed on their site provides a nice survey of the studio's recent work.)
The installation itself was something like an inside-out treehouse: human-sized plywood boxes arrayed at varying heights and angles around a kind of micro-courtyard. Compelling? Certainly—children took to it as a veritable playground. Inhabitable? Sure—a studio assistant mentioned that some of his fellow architects (visiting for Beijing Design Week) had indeed spent the night in the cubic chambers when their lodging arrangements fell through. Scalable? Not so much—the team demolished an extant edifice in order to build the structure in situ at the rear of the space and essentially rebuilt an ad hoc façade / gallery afterward (credit where due to the tradesmen who made it happen in a week or so).
It so happens that I upgraded to the iPhone 5s just before I took off for Beijing Design Week, and once I'd acclimated to iOS7—arguably a more significant new development than the improved hardware—and a bout of jet lag, I found myself playing around with some of the other new features of the device. I'd assumed that the Slo-Mo video feature would be gimmicky at best (and maybe it is), but I must say it was surprisingly fun to explore a cinematographic trope with a smartphone camera.
The media tour of Beijing Design Week was, in fact, a perfect opportunity to play around with the Slo-Mo camera: Since the venues are spread out throughout Beijing, we spent a not insubstantial proportion of the time simply getting shuttled around town by a hapless Shifu. Several of major building projects—namely the Rem Koolhaas' CCTV Building and Zaha Hadid's Galaxy Soho—happen to be adjacent to major north-south routes in the Chaoyang District, which extends from 798/751 down to the historic city center (i.e. Tiananmen Square and Dashilar), so our time in transit doubled as an incidental architecture tour.
In other words, I had a lot of time to kill on the bus, and Slo-Mo video almost justified the horrendous traffic of Beijing... almost.
Another example of the intriguing collaborations between young, emerging designers and Austrian industry supported by Vienna Design Week, German designer Sebastian Herkner has developed an ingenious new technique for historic Viennese textile and embrodery merchants Zur Schwäbischen Jungfrau.
A contemporary twist on the family-run company's age-old monograph napkin embroidery, Sebastian has devised a much more fleeting and flexible way of embellishing the table linen—embossing lettering with a custom-made letterpress set and iron. The crisp yet subtle effect created lingers only until the fabric is washed, leaving room for all sorts of creative communication at your next dinner party.
Whereas the Museum of Bicycle Parts materialized (or popped-up, as they say) in a quirky storefront space in Dashilar's labyrinthine hutong, the Factory No.8 space a couple alleys down served as a more traditional venue for about a dozen Beijing Design Week exhibitions as it has in past years. Both the main two-story building and several project rooms—organized around a communal courtyard, as in the surrounding abodes—had been converted into galleries for a week, featuring a mix of temporary installations and new work from Chinese and European designers.
A standout amongst the exhibitions was a joint project from the Moscow Design Museum, curators Evgenia Novgorodova and Peipai Han, and a handful of supporting agencies. Spanning two large rooms (and an interstitial corridor) on the ground floor of the Factory, Common Objects: Soviet and Chinese Design 1950–1980's is the "first retrospective of its kind, bringing together daily objects designed in Russia and China in the second half of the 20th Century."
A shared dream of equality and prosperity was one of the motivators for an active exchange of goods, which lead to a common social experience for Chinese and Soviet consumers. The primary function for design and branding of day-to-day-Soviet and Chinese items in 1950–1980 was to satisfy basic human needs. At the same time, designers—or 'artistic engineers,' as they were called in the USSR—were responsible for creating a new, unifying aesthetic, guided by the principles of functionality, sustainability and durability, while coming up with a design fit for mass production.
The Chinese and Soviet industrial and graphic design objects selected feature significant moments in the design histories and the similarities in material culture of the two nations.
Packaging for confectionary goods
Bidon with logo of Youth and Students Festival 1985