17/04/2014

Salone del Mobile: are schools the last reserve of ideas?

According to statistics and editorials, growing participation and increasing optimism are the two cornerstones of the last Salone del Mobile. This rosy vision encounters, nevertheless, a few cynical but grounded critics: the products on stage at the fair and the Fuorisalone’s events are more and more marketing and communication oriented, and thus design risks to lose its major role as technological evangelist and social innovator.

However, it was still possible to find here and there among Milanese design districts, a reserve full of insights and unbiased calling, browsing in what could be easily perceived as a parallel world: that of universities’ showcases. Voted by definition to research and open-mindedness, the best international design institutes have offered fresh points of view in rethinking functions, materials and needs according to a true social perspective.

“Delirious Home”, an exhibition promoted by ÉCAL in the Brera Design District, has chosen to take on the issue of smart home and develop it through weapons of irony and grotesque. The results of this investigation are very funny indeed: a spoon follows slavishly the change of position of its small cup, twin armchairs replicate what’s happening to the other one, clock hands respond to the arms movements of those who stand in front to watch the hour. The projects succeed to make us think: at this stage of technology development, the functionalities that interactive furniture should fulfil are still unclear, and thus, being able to identify a wide range of opportunities, even through a sarcastic approach, is very important.

At Ventura Lambrate, the competition among many school showcases is pretty tough. Design Academy Eindhoven has been the leader in the field since a decade: its method, based on a “design in context” approach, is declined this year along the perspective of “Self Unself”, the unselfish vision of design that arises from students’ self-initiated projects. Smart intuitions are not rare, as in the case of “The Importance of the Obvious” by Matthias Borowski investigating materials as false friends, terracotta aired walls and their nice finishings (“Cool Shelter” by Franciska Meijers), or a web platform that transforms information overloading into an artwork (“News from Eternity” by Ward Goes). Nevertheless, when compared to the previous editions this one fails to engage the visitor: the works are less cohesive, and their inspiration is often too close to a pretext than a significant intuition.

A different approach is that of the Royal Academy of Art – The Hague and its speculative proposal, hanging in between an in-depth analysis and performance. Design, clearly seen as an innovative force, focuses on materials and their new applications: we are not in a R&D of a chemical corporation and thus the profile is necessarily low-tech, but the projects on show – like “Coexist” by Nynke Koster – identify a new aesthetics for the informal living, and the performative way students keep on consuming material surfaces – as in the Morphlab Growth by Morphlab – surpasses a mere communication activity. In the end, it is thanks to fantasy that design is able to open new scenarios: the idea of investigating what would happen if men shrunk to 50 cm is unlikely, but we shouldn’t underplay its imaginative power.

Giulia Zappa 
16/04/2014

Style Suggestions: Metallics

Whether they come in the form of cool silvers or rich golds – we can’t get enough of these metallic colored must-haves. From flirty, feminine frocks and shimmering pencil skirts to iridescent pastel coats and brocade jackets, every fashion option has had a metallic make-over for Spring/Summer 2014.

Swarovski by Christopher Kane, Vintage Chanel, Stella McCartney, Saint Laurent, Roy Roger’s, Frends, Ray-Ban

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 

15/04/2014

Fashion loves design: Nathalie Du Pasquier for AA

The relationship between fashion and design is often a difficult and tormented one. It is probably the usual love-hate romance that you’d advise your best friend to stay out of: a type of relationship where one is desperately in love and the other keeps changing their mind. And yet, there is something painfully irresistible and lovely about it, transforming even the worst experiences into well cherished memories.

It should not come as a surprise then, than one of the most unconditionally adored, yet often cringeworthy, contemporary brands, American Apparel, has recently teamed up with a protagonist of post-modern design scene, Nathalie Du Pasquier. Nathalie Du Pasquier was one of the original members of Memphis group back in the Eighties, where she designed numerous ‘decorated surfaces’ – textiles, carpets, plastic laminates, together with some furniture and objects. Even though she is often associated only with the Memphis experience, Du Pasquier gave a sharp cut to her ‘designer’ past in 1987, dedicating herself entirely to painting.

Nevertheless, when American Apparel approached her, she eagerly returned to the type of work she hadn’t engaged with in more than twenty years. The collection presents a series of colourful, iconic patterns designed for a series of American Apparel’s new womenswear and menswear silhouettes, as well as accessories. Reminiscent of the classic Memphis-style graphics, these patterns give a fresh and ironic twist to the brand’s basic, often single-colour staples, that we have somehow learned to love through time.

Rujana Rebernjak 
14/04/2014

Saying Goodbye to Salone del Mobile 2014

A sofa with an integrated blanket resembling Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, a series of tables reminscing leaves and stems, moiré effect-inspired jewellery, a ‘modern’ interpretation of a classic Tyrolean chair, a chubby foam armchair, a set of furniture customizable through a simple app: these are just a tiny part of an endless and almost entirely senseless list of products presented during last week’s Salone del Mobile. And yet, official figures show more than 360,000 people have visited the fair alone, a number which probably doubles for all the Fuorisalone dwellers, making us wonder what does the Salone actually mean for design practice. Other than spending a fun week trying to source a few clever projects and seeing a few amusing exhibitions, what does it bring to design research? Is the prime event of the design sphere still something we should look forward to?

Some designers, like Martino Gamper, have decided to test a new approach. While his furniture was shown at Nilufar gallery and his repair-shop was set up in front of La Rinascente, Gamper has also presented a new project, aimed directly at potential buyers and producers. The aim of “From-To”, developed as part of “Valore Artigiano” project, was to focus on the interaction between designers and artisans of the Veneto region. By choosing to leave the media out of the event, “From-To” wanted to create an environment for possible future collaborations between designers, artisans and their clients: be it a one-time buyer, an industrial reality or a gallery.

While “From-To” explored the relationship with market logics, other interesting projects were developed on the other part of the spectrum. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), is a project by Joseph Grima, founder of Space Caviar, which works as a mobile newspaper unit developing content through an algorithmic journalism machine using software that combines voice recognition technology, extracted from a series of conferences held at Palazzo Clerici, and social media content posted using the #OnTheFlyMilan hashtag.

Seeing projects like “From-To” and “FOMO” in Milan is a rarity, an almost extinct breed of design research, which raises questions about market systems, means of distribution, interaction, production and consumption. And yet, possibly we have got it all wrong, and design is supposed to be just pure fun.

Rujana Rebernjak 
11/04/2014

Style Suggestions: Weekend Getaway

With summer approaching, an abundance of weekend getaways are on the horizon and packing wisely for them is a must. Whether you’re preparing for a girls’ weekend away or visiting family and friends, there are a few key pieces that should always hold a place in your suitcase.

Nicholas Kirkwood, See by Chloé, Raoul, Roy Rogers, Burberry, Stella McCartney, Aesop

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 

10/04/2014

The Glamour of Italian Fashion at the V&A

The history of Italian fashion might sum up the history of the fashion world: its crafts-based approach, impeccable choice of materials, sleek tailoring, soft lines, flawless taste and irresistible flair have left a profound mark on the way we perceive clothes and the fashion industry itself. From the classic glamour and opulence of post-war years, up until the present, Italian fashion designers have dictated the rules of international style, while the quality of their production became a trademark in its own right: “Made in Italy”. A new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London celebrates the ‘Italian way’ of interpreting fashion, in an exhibition that traces nearly 70 years of its history.

Titled “The Glamour of Italian Fashion. 1945-2014”, the exhibition focusses both on womenswear and menswear collections, revealing those individuals, organizations, approaches and trends that have left a permanent mark on the world fashion map. Starting right after the war, where a return to luxury and apparent opulence symbolized “a hunger for glamour after years of wartime deprivation”, examining the relationship between Hollywood and stars of the international cinema and Italian tailoring during the Sixties, revealing the successes of “Made in Italy” throughout the Seventies, and ending with the rising figures of fashion designers as international stars, this exhibition gives a comprehensive overview not only of trends and styles, but also of the depth of research, the use of materials, production techniques and the influence of socio-political context on Italian fashion design.

Around 100 ensembles and accessories by leading Italian fashion houses including Simonetta, Pucci, Sorelle Fontana, Valentino, Gucci, Missoni, Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Fendi, Prada and Versace, through to the next generation of fashion talent, are on display at the V&A, re-affirming the incredible role of Italian design in the history of fashion.

“The Glamour of Italian Fashion. 1945-2014” will run until the 27th of July 2014 at Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Francesca Crippa – Images courtesy of the V&A Museum 
09/04/2014

Italian Renaissance Theaters: Teatro Farnese

Teatro Farnese (Farnese Theatre) is one of the most breath-taking sites in all of Parma and Italy. Built in 1618 by order of Ranuccio I, duke of Parma and Piacenza, and designed by the ferrarese architect, Giovan Battista Aleotti, the theatre was built to celebrate the passing of Cosimo II de’ Medici through Parma on his way to Milan to visit the tomb of San Carlo Borromeo.

However, Cosimo II de’ Medici cancelled the trip to Milano due to health problems, and the theatre would be inaugurated only 10 years later in the occasion of Margherita de’ Medici’s marriage with Duke Odoardo. For the occasion, the theatre hosted the “Mercurio and Marte” (Mercury and Mars) regal tournament written by Claudio Achillini with music by Claudio Monteverdi. The peak of the spectacle was an extraordinary “naumachia” (naval battle) for which the entire parterre was flooded with pumps located underneath the stage. The theatre also featured a special balcony for the Dukes, a precursor of what would become the royal booth in greatest theatres around the world.

Teatro Farnese was built entirely out of painted wood and plaster, in order to resemble more expensive marble. During the Second World War, the theatre was subject to bombing and almost completely destroyed; a restoration underway during the 50s brought the theatre to its original splendour. The restructured sections were nevertheless left bare in order to highlight the extent of the damage. Some consider Teatro Farnese to be the first theatre with a proscenium arch, that is, a theatre in which the audience views the action through a single frame. The age of Baroque took off from Teatro Farnese with its spectacular stage effects, while its auditorium recalled that of an ancient theatre.

Due to its complicated nature and extremely high costs of show production, the theatre was only used nine times from its inauguration, mostly for ducal marriages or important state visits. The last show dates back to 1732, after which it was left to ruin until the bombardment of 1944. In the meantime, many well-known artists came to visit the theatre, expressing their complete astonishment both by its beauty and state of decay, among them Montesquieu, de Brosses and Dickens, who even mentioned it in his “Pictures from Italy”.

Dickens wrote: “There is the Farnese Palace, too; and in it one of the dreariest spectacles of decay that ever was seen—a grand, old, gloomy theatre, mouldering away. It is a large wooden structure, of the horse-shoe shape; the lower seats arranged upon the Roman plan, but above them, great heavy chambers; rather than boxes, where the Nobles sat, remote in their proud state. Such desolation as has fallen on this theatre, enhanced in the spectator’s fancy by its gay intention and design, none but worms can be familiar with. A hundred and ten years have passed, since any play was acted here. […] The desolation and decay impress themselves on all the senses. The air has a mouldering smell, and an earthy taste; any stray outer sounds that straggle in with some lost sunbeam, are muffled and heavy; and the worm, the maggot, and the rot have changed the surface of the wood beneath the touch, as time will seam and roughen a smooth hand. If ever Ghosts act plays, they act them on this ghostly stage.”

Giulio Ghirardi 
08/04/2014

Salone del Mobile 2014

Milan furniture fair was founded back in 1961, a historical period when, due to the economic growth and extensive reconstruction after the Second World War, the local public showed a growing need for quality products necessary to furnish their newly built homes. The fair was conceived, in fact, as a meeting point between the manufacturers, many of them artisans working with wood, and their consumers. Even though the fair has grown exponentially through the years, becoming the most significant event in the design world, its initial aim appears to be lost.

This year’s Salone del Mobile opens its doors today and many of its visitors probably won’t even set foot at the central fair. In fact, the city centre itself hosts hundreds of events, shows, exhibitions and talks: an entire universe of contemporary design that is often difficult to grasp. From the prominent, historically traditional, venues such as Triennale di Milano, to more experimental settings such as Ventura Lambrate, the city is overflown with design projects – so much more than you could actually see in a week.

Thus, if you are looking for glimpses of what design is all about at the moment, here is a short selection of highlights of this year’s Salone. Starting from the Triennale is actually not a bad beginning. Even though the famous ‘design museum’ has through the years transformed itself into a fair more than a temple of design, you can nevertheless check the 7th edition of Triennale Design Museum, together with exhibitions about sustainable design, cooking tools, Mark Newson’s eyewear, and domestic landscapes. While Tom Dixon has abandoned its scenic setting at the Science Museum and set-up his English club-inspired stand at the fair, there are still a few gems around town where you can wonder. Moving to the heart of the city, you should stop by Martino Gamper’s “In a State of Repair” workshop at La Rinascente, developed as a twin project of his exhibition at Serpentine Gallery in London. Walking towards the central station, you can stop by Via San Gregorio, where you will find Droog, Kvadrat and Wallpaper magazine.

Fabrica design studio’s Hot and Cold exhibition at Garage Milano, Formafantasma’s “De Natura Fossilium” at Palazzo Clerici, Foscarini and Inventario’s textile exhibition at Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Kartell’s new tableware collection or Molteni&C’s re-edition of Gio Ponti’s chairs, are just a few things you might see before moving on to Ventura Lambrate, zona Tortona or even Brera design district. And if your head actually stops spinning and you manage to discern ‘novelty’ from ‘quality’, you will find out that Salone del Mobile might even not be that exhausting.

Rujana Rebernjak 
07/04/2014

Piero Manzoni 1933 – 1963

This is a good period of the year for art lovers visiting Milan, since the city resurfaced out of its winter stupor with a high-level exhibition schedule. Besides its mainstream shows devoted to grand masters Kandinsky and Klimt, Palazzo Reale is also the home of a retrospective devoted to the genius of Piero Manzoni (1933-1963), one of the most significant and innovative Italian artists of the 20th century avant-garde.

The show, guided by a clear and essential path and a well-arranged set-up, retraces the short but striking career of the Milanese artist, displaying a selection of works that represent the main topics of his distinctive research: from the informal pieces of the early years, partially influenced by Enrico Baj and Lucio Fontana, to the famous Merda d’Artista (1961), undoubtedly his best-known work. It is amazing to see how Manzoni, within a short lapse of time, was able to leave his mark, bringing to question and satirizing the status of art object as it was conceived until that period.

In 1957 the artist initiated the series Achromes, white canvases soaked with glue and coated with gesso and kaolin (white clay often used in the manufacture of porcelain), which created three-dimensional surfaces; then in 1958 founded, together with Enrico Castellani and Agostino Bonalumi, the magazine “Azimuth” and the Azimut gallery, where he first exhibited his Lines, continuous ink marks traced on stripes made of paper of different length, rolled and closed into a tube with a tag explaining the content and sold by the meter – this work reached its peak in Linea Lunga (Line 7200m) created in Herning. During the ‘60s Manzoni worked on the Corpi d’aria (Bodies of air) and produced Fiato d’Artista (Artist’s Breath), a series of red, white and blue balloons, inflated and attached to a wooden base inscribed “Piero Manzoni- Artist’s Breath”. The material necessary to create the work was wrapped in a wooden box and sold with a user’s guide, while balloons inflated by the artist himself had to be payed extra. As in later Merda d’artista, this work also looked into the value of each artist’s act, underlying it in an ironic and provocative way.

Beyond the Basi Magiche (Magic basis), a series of wooden plinths that could be stood on to acquire the status of a ‘Living Sculpture’, the exhibition shows the Uova (Eggs), hard-boiled eggs certified by Manzoni’s fingerprint. These groundbreaking sculptures could have been eaten, creating a spiritual and physical union with the artist or kept in a small case that recalls the worship of relics. In both cases, there is a strong reference to religious themes and an important anticipation of the relational art developed during the mid-1990’s, aimed at creating a contact between artists and their audience, in a dialogue where process and motivation become more meaningful than the final artwork.

Piero Manzoni 1933-1963 will run through 2nd June 2014.

Monica Lombardi 
04/04/2014

Italian Renaissance Theaters: Teatro all’Antica

Teatro all’antica (“Theatre in the style of the ancients”) is a theatre in Sabbioneta near Mantua. A jewel of rare beauty, it was the first free-standing building designated exclusively for theatre performances. In fact, it would anticipate subsequent abandonment of open-air plays in favour of indoor performances. It is the second-oldest surviving indoor theatre in the world (after the Palladian Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza), and is, along with Teatro Farnese in Parma, one of three remaining Renaissance theatres.

In May 1588, Duke Vespasiano Gonzaga commissioned Vincenzo Scamozzi to build a theatre in his idealized town of Sabbioneta. Even though Scamozzi’s design relies on that of his master, Palladio, it was nevertheless compromised by completely different needs in terms of space and form. While Palladio’s theatre in Vicenza is wide and shallow (almost squared), Scamozzi’s is narrow and deep (rectangular), with seating area arranged around an almost horseshoe-shaped plan. Though smaller in scale, with only five rows of seats, the theatre in Sabbioneta retains some of the original Palladian solemnity, adding, at the same time, a unique and innovative element to the structure: a back entrance reserved for the artists, with direct access to dressing rooms.

Currently, one of the remaining elements of the original theatre is the elegant and harmonious lodge consisting of a Corinthian colonnade surmounted by crown statues representing deities of the Olympus. The statues of Gods and the elegant mouldings were built by the Venetian sculptor Bernardino Quadri (school of Veronese), while the raised stage was characterized by sets designed by Scamozzi himself, destroyed in the second half of the 18th century. It represented an urban perspective, a street lined with noble and bourgeois buildings. The sense of depth was accentuated by tilting both the stage and the vaulted ceiling, made of woven river reeds, plastered and painted blue.

The buildings of the scene, as in Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, were made of wood, stucco and painted canvas with faux marble and faux stone, while frescos on the side completed the scene giving the illusion of great distance. While we cannot define the structure built by Scamozzi a proscenium arch in the modern sense of the term, it nevertheless presented a very elaborate stage design. Larger than the one in Vicenza, much of the stage space in Sabbioneta is used to create the illusion of an outdoor perspective, leaving little room for actors. In fact, it proved to be too hampering, and was substituted with movable flats in later productions.

Unlike the theatre in Vicenza, surrounded by buildings on all sides, the one in Sabbioneta is almost free-standing and Scamozzi was free to design three imposing facades, severe enough in style to be defined Palladian – a plain ground floor with rusticated quoins, doorways and windows, and a piano nobile with coupled pillars and niches – a unique and precious gem of Italian Renaissance architecture.

Giulio Ghirardi