Biennale Interieur: “SMQ, The Quantified Home”

Founded in the little Flemish town of Kortrijk in 1968, Biennale Interieur has a distinctive place in the fast-growing multitude of international design fairs. Mainstream, yet sophisticated, it is often considered as one of the most avant-garde destinations for design trade-show enthusiasts. Its unique positioning is the result of a fine-tuned combination of commerce and culture: the offer of the small-scale expo, in fact, is enhanced by a wider exhibit programme, which takes place in the city centre and has the ambition, since the very establishment of the Biennale, to tease its audience with a provocative concept about design’s state-of-the-art.

For the 2013-2014 period, the task to anticipate new domestic imaginaries was assigned to British architect Joseph Grima and his Space Caviar team. The choice to label their curatorial effort with a smug and ironic payoff, the “The Home does not Exist”, is mainly due, according to their accurate research, to the explosion of social media in domestic storytelling and to the recovery of real estate financialization. Nevertheless, the headline has a subtle charm: if a trade-show is meant to encourage people to buy stuff and renovate their interiors, the denial of the home nullifies not only our emotional common sense, but also the very meaning of organizing and attending the trade-show itself.

“The Home does not exist” program’s explosive semantics, however, oversteps the boundaries of the expo and infects the fair off with the same incendiary spirit. That’s the case of “SMQ: The quantified home”, the very epiphany of the whole Interieur curatorial programme. Set up in an abandoned school, the exhibition is all about a sequence of rooms that are saved from the burden of objects. The first glance is the most sensational one: the room is almost empty, the furniture and the cases that we instinctively search are missing, and the only element that gains our attention is a tiny caption informing us about the first guide to home management, written in 1861 by François Hennebique, of which two millions copies were sold. The progressive timeline continues in the following rooms, retracing the history of modern domesticity without disappointing the same taste for rarefaction.

The space is distinguished only by the ephemeral traces left by the school’s past life, while little construction and demolition interventions, the result of a workshop conducted by Space Caviar, intensify their echoes through unexpected formal compositions. Would the visit to “SMQ: The quantified home” be the same without a wider semantic recall to a home that no more exists? Probably not. If this Biennale Interieur has a virtue, it is that of creating a cohesive net of captivating cross-references.

Giulia Zappa 

The Future of Fashion is Now

Is it time to change the fashion system? An industry which is built on the idea of novelty and a system which is moving faster and faster in the hunt of being the first with the latest, has made many designers questioning the rules and ideals of the fashion system. In the fashion exhibition “The Future of Fashion is Now” (on show since the October 11th 2014, running until the 18th January 2015) at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, young and innovative designers are presenting interesting alternatives.

The exhibition focuses on four current themes – the exploration and development of innovative materials and production, sustainability, body ideals and fashion activism, that all are portrayed by pieces from both established and young designers from all over the world. Among the many talented designers whose work is being exhibited (Viktor&Rolf or Hussein Chalayan, to name just a few) is Pauline van Dongen who has used portable solar cell when creating prototypes of clothes. In opposite to other wearables, she is using the many possibilities of the solar cells in the creation of different structures and finishes – which results in the solar cells improving the design of her items instead of simply becoming items with cool effects.

Another completely different sort of fashion study exhibited, is the Biolace project from Textiles Futures Reachers Center in London. They are studying possible solutions for the task of dressing a world population which is predicted to become nine billion within a couple of decades. The solution could possibly be a strawberry plant called Fragaria Fusca Tenebris which, besides growing black strawberries and being a great source of vitamin, produces black lace from its roots.

The fashion system is not separated from the challenges the rest of the world is facing, even if we sometimes pretend it were. This exhibition is therefore an important eye-opener to some of the challenges of today and tomorrow – as well as their possible solutions, showing that the fashion system maybe not have to change, but it might have to become better in adapting itself.

Hanna Cronsjö 

Foulards for Men?

Who said scarves were only for women? The last Fall-Winter catwalks have proved the opposite, by showing a proud idea of a man wearing scarves with elegance, ease and class. The French term “foulard” usually indicates a smaller or bigger cut of silk, adorned by pattern and illustration. While we already saw urban men sport the trend some seasons ago, this time the vibe is completely different.

Prada, for example, took inspiration from the Seventies, choosing a contrasting color palette, comfy and casual – in a way typically masculine – silhouettes and, to add a sort of an eccentric detail, she created tight, color-blocking scarves.A completely different approach was the one seen on Burberry Prorsum’s runway. Here the foulard was particularly large, with models walking along the catwalk wearing them fiercely, laid on the back and tied with a knot on the front; resulting in an overall girlish yet masculine aesthetics.

Although the alternative uses of the accessory proposed by these brands are still not very common, its traditional use still very much persists. In fact, the season’s runways showed the original pocket-handkerchief revisited by Andrea Pompilio in strong and impact colors, or that rendered in a typically West Village mood, created by Yohji Yamamoto. In whatever way men should decide to style them, the foulards will always remain a synonym of timeless elegance.

Francesca Crippa 

Between Parchment and Touch Screens: the Abbey of Fontevraud

Taking shelter in the Loire Valley stands one of the largest monastic sites remaining from the Middle Ages. Converted to a modern hotel by a team led by Abbey Director David Martin and designer Patrick Jouin, creative director of Jouin Manku, the Fontevraud L’Hôtel has become a historical location with a future, rather than simply a site that reflects on the past. Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manky is a design tandem whose works meet at the crossroads of industrial production and craftsmanship. In all of their projects they seek to maintain a balance between innovation and grace. Their latest project is a fine example of this rule. “What we wanted for Fontevraud was not the classic hotel and restaurant experience, but something unique; a journey between tradition and modernity that reinterprets the story of Saint-Lazare for the future, marrying emotion, sensual pleasure and poetry,” said the designers.

Built in 1101, the Abbey was open to both men and women from all backgrounds, including aristocrats and penitent prostitutes. In the early 19th century, Napoleon converted the monastery to a prison, saving it from certain destruction. It remained a prison and hospital until 1963, when it underwent a series of restorations which paved the way for its current incarnation. In 1980s it was first transformed into a hotel. Corresponding with the space which avoids unnecessary stylistic effects, the designers introduced their own pared-down and elegant style. This resulted as a sensual and refined interior of a mystical, ancient monastery.

The vision for the Fontevraud L’Hôtel is that of a ‘Cité Idéale’ where cultural, intellectual, residential and commercial interests coexist through a commitment to hospitality, providing unique experiences for guests. The ability to inhabit history within the centuries old walls while enjoying modern comforts and haute cuisine is truly remarkable. Jouin’s contemporary design asserts itself amidst the breathtaking masonry of the Abbey in a contained yet striking manner. Martin describes the Fontevraud and it’s mission quite elegantly: “Between parchment and touch screen, we have written a new page, opened a new historical period, one where we can experience a vibrant living heritage, which, as well as celebrating its past, is forging itself a future!”

Giulio Ghirardi 

BIO 50: Design Biennial in Ljubljana

Looking at the history of design and its main narratives, it might be difficult to believe that the oldest biennial of design in Europe was founded in one of the continent’s smallest and design-wise underdeveloped capitals, Ljubljana. “Biennale Industrijskog Oblikovanja”, or shortly BIO, was founded in 1964, after a decade of great economic and cultural growth in former Yugoslavia, with the aim of promoting the country’s industrial production and establishing its role within a wider European context. Im a country that is often defined as being ‘in between’ – the East and the West, Socialism and Capitalism – BIO served as a pretext to compete with both spheres of influence and show the quality of Yugoslavian design (both product design and graphics) to the country’s expanding cultural milieu as well as its wider public.

This traditional biennial model based on national participations subdivided into different productive categories was kept (more or less) until this year, when, under the creative direction of Jan Boelen, the BIO decided to change. To celebrate 50 years since its foundation, Boelen has arranged the biennial around 11 themes that aim to reassess the meaning and role of design today. With themes that span different areas of contemporary life – from the way we eat, to the idea of travel, from affordable housing to fashion, from our relationship with plants to the space – Boelen set up the biennial as a process rather than a showcase of finished products, with creative teams working on each topic for several months following a call for entries closed in January.

Therefore, the final exhibition – split between the Museum of Architecture and Design and the Museum of Contemporary Art – was conceived only as a one in a series – the fact that it was the final one was considered less important to the project as a whole – stages undertaken by the participants in their journey geared towards re-examining contemporary design practice. On the other hand, though, a viewer who hasn’t participated in BIO 50′s process might consider the final result underwhelming and particularly difficult to grasp. The projects remain at the level of proposals and their potential reach is not communicated appropriately. Among the projects, the ones that stand out are probably those more traditional – the section dedicated to Nanoturism and Hidden Crafts – whose final can be easily understood and appreciated, though these same projects may not contribute to a broader reconsideration of the role and potential of design practice. While trying to innovate the biennial’s formate is surely a difficult and extremely long process, the final result lacks in focus and clarity, making us leave feeling that BIO 50 is still as it was nearly fifty years ago – ‘in between’.

BIO 50 will run at different venues in Ljubljana until the 7th of December 2014.

Rujana Rebernjak 

Memorable Fashion Moments in Horror

Rather than being a soft chill that goes down your spine, horrific fashion moments are more similar to an epiphany: stored in the back of your mind as a future reference for dress and style. Despite being known for their macabre effect, horror films from the past have had intriguing moments of fashion that can still be an inspiration today.

After Mia Farrow’s character in “Rosemary’s Baby” cuts her hair, the movie takes an unexpected fashionable turn. Her look with a blonde boyish hairstyle and baby-doll dresses created an alternative to both Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick style, putting an even edgier and raw spin to it. Few horror directors are quite as renowned as Alfred Hitchcock. He made us all fear showers, neighbors and, naturally, birds. In his infamous film “The Birds”, Tippi Hedren wears a mint green suit which built a soft contrast to the harsh reality she was about to face. Previously the same suit had been worn in “Rear Window” by Grace Kelly. A fashion icon herself, there seemed to be little effort from Grace Kelly to turn anything she wore into a fashion statement. And just as “Rear Window” can be considered a fascinating thriller it can also be viewed as a fashion show for the 1950s when Grace Kelly’s fashionable character showcases something new in every scene she appears in. Her black and white evening dress showcased her royal standing, as a remarkable prophecy for her princess years. Natalie Portman’s movement in “Black Swan” was highlighted by the beautiful tulle and feather creations made by Rodarte. It was not only great for the center ballet stage, but also made a powerful visual impact creating an iconic movie moment which was quickly adapted by designers and laymen alike.

The horror genre may be considered as sub-par within cultural circles. However it’s not only made from frames that capture fears. Horror indulges in layered characters creating unexpected and memorable experiences on screen, where fashion takes central part in creating both these characters’ traits as well as bringing fears to life.

Victoria Edman 

Peter Lindbergh: Beauty and Truth in Fashion

When John Keats wrote ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’, he intended that art could sublimate and immortalise beauty and make it eternal, and that truth was to be found in this crystallised idea of beauty. The only place where truth and beauty finally cohabitate is art. From the moment that fashion photography entered the sacred perimeter of the institutions – both the museum and the gallery – it legitimately stepped inside the art world as one of its branches (one of the most profitable, at that). The new retrospective that recently opened at Gagosian Gallery in Paris dedicated to Peter Lindbergh reaffirms this bond between art and fashion photography.

The first solo show dedicated to the fashion photographer in Paris in a decade, the exhibition features works from his 30-year-long career, which saw Lindbergh collaborating with the set of models, designers and editors who still guide the fashion world nowadays, while remaining faithful to his own heritage and aesthetics. Lindbergh is the author of the non-glossy editorials for glossy magazines, such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue; he was the first to celebrate the unpolished truth of the defect within the context of glamorous allure of fashion told through images.

The exhibition features the most iconic Lindbergh’s works, all in his signature black and white; from the shots depicting ‘supermodels’, whose myth Lindbergh contributed to create, both with editorials and expressive portraits; to images inspired by modern dance, in which he tried the impossible, succeeding to capture the compelling power of movement. Some of the photographs are in large scale, which allows the user to dwell on the use of light and shade, forms and details. The exhibition’s structure allows for an analysis of Lindbergh’s style and for an overview of the most recurrent themes or obsessions; the differences in the repetition, the limbic atmosphere, the shades of the human body, but above all the faces: eyes, hairs, mouth, nose, skin; the power of the non-retouched glaze, contaminated only by the vagueness of a trace of mist, a puff of smoke.

Peter Lindbergh once said “I don’t think real beauty can exist without truth”, reaffirming the principle that sees beauty and truth inextricably linked, even in fashion photography. With styling reduced to its minimum, un-set poses and raw locations – metropolitan or uncontaminated – Lindbergh applied to fashion his bold and essential language, which, on the contrary of what proposed Keats, portrays truth to reveal beauty.

The exhibition of Peter Lindbergh’s work will run until November 22nd at Gagosian Gallery in Paris.

Marta Franceschini 

Style Suggestions: Explorer

At times, urban life can require a bit of extreme clothing choices: here is a selection of some of the coolest explorer-style pieces brought from the mountain to the city streets.

Backpack: The Superior Labor x President’s, Jacket: Roy Roger’s, Shoes: Santoni, Beanie: Zegna

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 


Ryan Trecartin | Site Visit at KW Berlin

Having participated in many important events around the world – not least the 55th Venice Biennale curated by Massimiliano Gioni – and despite not being “Younger than Jesus” anymore, Ryan Trecartin (b. 1981, Texas. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California) continues to excite the art world with a first show in a German institution – the cool KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.

Resuming his collaboration with fellow artist and long-time creative partner Lizzie Fitch, Trecartin presents “Site Visit”, a show curated by Ellen Blumenstein and Klaus Biesenbach that features a new multi-channel film and a site-specific sound installation. Defined “the most consequential artist to have emerged since the 1980s” by The New Yorker, Trecartin uses a versatile approach, based on skilful use of different media and distinctive involvement of complex characters, to create films and multidisciplinary works strongly connected to the aesthetics and social codes of contemporary pop culture. Wary of half-measures, both in terms of form and content, Trecartin exploits the sharing process among his collaborators in order to display and analyze feelings underlining youth culture. Thus, he shows “over-positivity”, anxiety, nihilism or the effects of uncontrolled consumerism: “We don’t act inside or outside of consumer culture, entertainment, or art culture, we consume and translate, we’re a by-product of it.” At first glance bothersome and sometimes even disgusting, the power of his images is only appreciated by the viewers after a longer period of interaction.

Trecartin’s bizarre characters are certainly freaks (though, in all honesty, they are not that far from personalities we can find broadcast on TV, Internet or in video games on a daily basis), exaggerated simulacrums of our society, flavored with a caustic humor, which overwhelm the scene and make us reflect upon an entire generation dominated by media consumption. These players are part of chaotic stages where kitsch rules and the dramatization of thorny social issues is always around the corner. “Site Visit”, in tune with other Trecartin’s projects, bodes to be an engaging experience that won’t leave you emotionless, for better or for worse.

The exhibition will run until 11th January 2015 at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.

Monica Lombardi 

Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre Wins 2014 Stirling Prize

The new Everyman Theatre in Liverpool by Haworth Tompkins has won the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize 2014 for the best building of the year. Now in its 19th year, the RIBA Stirling Prize is the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize and this year’s award is given out by a panel of judges that was led this year by Spencer de Grey, senior partner at architectural practice Foster + Partners.

The old Everyman Theatre opened in 1964 in the shell of a nineteenth century chapel on one of Liverpool’s main streets. Although a much-loved institution, the building itself was in a state of disrepair. The decision to pull the theatre down and replace it with a new one has been a nine-year project for the architects Haworth Tompkins. They have expertly met a difficult challenge: that of creating an entirely new and sustainable building, whilst retaining and revitalising the best-loved features of its predecessor. The architects were tasked with ensuring that the soul of the old Everyman, one of informality and community ownership – the ‘theatre of the people’ – was carried into the new building. The result is a new building with a striking exterior and elegant interior, all with exceptional attention to detail and sustainability credentials.

This is the first time Haworth Tompkins has won the RIBA Stirling Prize. They were previously shortlisted in 2007 for London’s Young Vic theatre. The Everyman is their first new-build theatre, amongst a portfolio of over a dozen theatres from the Royal Court in 2000 to the recent temporary ‘Shed’ outside the National Theatre. The theatre’s Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz and Executive Director Deborah Aydon described the building: ‘The Everyman was built with humanity at its heart, an intent embodied by the 105 people of Liverpool on its façade. Haworth Tompkins have delivered us a building that is sustainable, technically first rate and with unparalleled levels of accessibility for a theatre. On a small site with many competing needs and technical necessities they overcame every challenge with zeal and imagination to create something which is a beautiful as it is functional. But most of all they have transformed a building that lacked so much into a building that embodies what the Everyman’s ethos has always been: world-class theatre in our auditorium, nurturing new writing, great food in convivial spaces, and somewhere for young people to dream of a future where nothing is impossible.’

Rujana Rebernjak