Shirin Neshat, A Nomadic Artist Between Two Worlds

Shirin Neshat (b. 1957, Iran. She lives and works between her Iran and New York) is a visual artist who works with photography, calligraphy, poetry and filmmaking, recognised for her sharp and seductive way of depicting the Islamic culture and the Iranian world, examining their thorny narratives and issues. Neshat’s poetics unifies the pains of being an exiled Iranian woman, missing her family, and the experience of an artist grown and living in the Western world, humanly and conceptually tied to both situations. She is a kind of ambassador – or an interpreter – of different customs, who traces with an empathetic approach the relationships between diverse, often divergent, societies. Focusing on the role of women in the Islamic world, Neshat makes use of female subjects to tell us about their, and her own, socio-political battles; to point out women’s innate strength and to accept their weaknesses; to fight the stereotypes and reveal the importance of the essence of being. Her work goes beyond the established boundaries, stressing universal themes and values.

Thinking about Islamic women one cannot avoid noticing a sense of oppression but, at the same time, we also recognise their sensuality and even their eroticism hidden behind the veil. From the “Women of Allah” (1993-97) – black and white pictures of veiled women and close ups of parts of their bodies covered with lines of contemporary Iranian poetesses –, to the video installation “Turbulent and Rapture”, after which Neshat won the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Art Biennale in 1999, getting to “Women without Man” (2009), Silver Lion at 66th at the Venice Film Biennale, the artists brings always into question the contrast between the religious devotion and political diligence of these women, their oppression, but also their reactions and natural instincts. What comes out are portraits, not just polemic discourses, of women, who capture attention for their capacity of making all these different elements coexist in a unique, coherent representation.
Shirin Neshat’s works are now on view at the Mathaf – Arab Museum of Modern Art with an exhibition entitled Afterwards, curated by Abdellah Karroum, which will run through February 15th 2015.

Monica Lombardi 

Cooper Hewitt, the User-Centred Museum

After a full inside-out renovation, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York (formerly Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum) has finally reopened its doors to the public on December 12th. It took three years and $81 million to accomplish the ambitious task to change the face of the only institution in the United States that is devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. This huge endeavour, which involved some legendary NYC architecture and design firms such as, among others, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Local Projects and Pentagram, is without doubt one of the most comprehensive efforts to reconfigure the museum experience in its most extensive meaning.

Cooper Hewitt’s historic Carnegie Mansion location is now able to offer 60 per cent more exhibition space, including a floor entirely dedicated to showcase its permanent collection of more than 210.000 objects. Furthermore, an impressive technological upgrade has been developed to stimulate an unprecedented engagement. According to director Caroline Baumann, the ecstatic but superficial contemplation of a long series of beautiful objects is an outdated approach which needs to be surpassed by a new type of display. Why was an object conceived with a particular shape? Why has it become so popular? In the new Cooper Hewitt, technology is going to make the visitors “learn about design by designing themselves”: a special hi-tech device similar to a pen, given at the entrance with the admission ticket, offers the chance to discover the information about the pieces of the collection on show and, furthermore, to create new designs on interactive tables, encouraging a problem-solving attitude to understanding design and its history.

However, one of the ten inaugural exhibitions seems to confirm the spirit of this new approach. Curated by Ellen Lupton, “Beautiful Users” explains the shift – particularly strong in the American design tradition, we should annotate – toward the user centric design methods in the past few years. Every persona, according to this vision, is a legitimate and demanding recipient of a bespoke project, even if we speak about mass production. Understanding the key points of this method is a fundamental to understand not only a few ergonomic principles, but also to understand how a broader variety of design domains – from communication, to interaction and to environmental – are conceived today.

Giulia Zappa 

A Quest for Innovation: Christopher Raeburn

The British designer Christopher Raeburn’s self-titled brand has grown and established itself rapidly in the past five years, yet still continues to stay true to its key values, developing his approach and the formats of his production. A key feature of the brand is its view on sustainability, an idea which has grown from the beginning when Raeburn’s “Remades” were first introduced. The “Remades” series is a line of outdoor pieces, made of reclaimed fabrics and materials, used to create something new, innovative and modern.

The brand’s women and menswear lines are often based on the same sporty and military, functional and innovative aesthetics, which for the Spring 2015 season has been devolved into something slightly more refined. The womenswear collection introduced a new silhouette, color scheme and patterns, with a distinctive approach to material mixes and pattern constructions, as in the see-through shapes, combined with more structured materials. The menswear collection for Spring 2015 was also right in line with Christopher Raeburn’s characteristic design, and the theme for the collection as well as the show, was airplanes and the military. Those traditionally rough sources of inspiration were combined with more sporty, casual and modern influences that made the collection updated and innovative. The mix of materials which was seen in the womenswear collection was also represented in the menswear and the color scheme was, despite occasional splashes of orange, mostly the same. The idea about sharing the same elements and inspiration in the womenswear and menswear lines, combined with Christopher Raeburn’s view on sustainability represents his innovative and modern design, and makes the collections not just look modern but also structurally innovative.

Hanna Cronsjö 

Daily Tips: Christmas Pudding by Cooking Sections

Can cooking be about something more than just food? If you aim at using your Christmas dinner to make a political and social statement, rather than just showing off your cooking skills, Cooking Sections, is a research-practice founded by Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe, has prepared the perfect festive recipe. Cooking Sections has reinterpreted the original recipe of the Empire Christmas Pudding from 1928, adapting it to modern times’ spicy resources. The original recipe created by the Empire Marketing Board was made-up of ingredients from different British colonies, aimed at promoting the consumption of British goods. In this 2014 version, ingredients for the pudding have been sourced as in the original recipe: many ingredients are no longer available due to changing territorial conditions or economic policies that dissolve the notion of ‘origin’. Thus, substituting ingredients with those currently available is a way to track the changes in global food networks, turning the new recipe for the classic British Christmas pudding into an edible map. If you decide to turn your kitchen into a 9-hour steam bath, your holiday table may just turn into the perfect location for discussing the current geopolitical order.

The Blogazine 

The Talented: Maryam Nassir Zadeh

Since 2008, Iranian born textile-designer and stylist Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s boutique and showroom at the Lower East Side in New York City, has been an ever more fascinating hub within the fashion world. Zadeh studied textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her first sandal collection, of a very simple and universal style, was produced in Mexico and infused with her love for all things ‘summer’. Inspired by traditional shoes worn in Mexico, the sandals designed by Zadeh were an update of the original model with different-colored leathers, bringing forth an individual yet minimalistic approach.

While her shop features a long list of fabulous designers, in 2014 Maryam Nassir Zadeh decided to pour hours of research into her own collection. Staying true to her individual style, the collections has an ease and artistic essence while being both of and ahead of its time. Her SS15 collection proposes a take on what the 1970s woman would have worn in the 1990s: modern minimalistic twists on retro classics such as safari inspired blazers in muted colors with just touches of bright orange, mint and blue tones, with open crop tops, fine knit turtlenecks and buttoned down sundresses as some of the collections’ key elements. Deliberately pursuing a retro feel and framing a cerebral vibe, the designer chooses to pair a tailored hounds-tooth skirt-suit with bikini tops, avoiding the conservative approach and adding the sense of anticipation of what Summer will bring. The unique, retro and complex minimalism has become somewhat of a trademark for Zadeh and is also a particularly sophisticated touch only a few possess, both on the lower-east side or around the world.

Victoria Edman 

Through the Lens of Awoiska van der Molen

Awoiska van der Molen, was born 1972 in Groningen, the Netherlands and is currently based between Amsterdam and Umbria, Italy. After studying photography at St. Joost Academy Breda (NL) and architecture the Dutch Academy of fine Arts Minerva in Groningen, van deer Molen became known for her monochrome landscapes, taken throughout the Europe. Her work arises out of a desire to penetrate deeply into the core of the isolated world in which she photographs. She stands out as someone who remains rooted in the riches of analogue photography and printing, playing out these roots in an extreme manner by creating monumental pieces that combine intentionality in choice of subject and photographic craftsmanship.

Images courtesy of Awoiska van der Molen 

Daily Tips: Jewelry by Architects

“It is most interesting to me to have a poet design a table, a painter design a credenza, and an architect design a spoon,” declared Cleto Munari, a design patron and visionary, in a rare interview published a couple of years ago. Back in the early 1980s Munari, a relatively unknown figure even in design circles, embraced a cross-disciplinary approach to design typical of the contemporary and commissioned a unique jewelry collection to an incredible team of architects. Ettore Sottsass, Michele De Lucchi, Peter Eisenman, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki and Alessandro Mendini are only a few prominent thinkers whose vibrant, conceptual and witty designs feature in this incredible 150-piece collection. If you care to find more about this astonishing project, you will have to rely on an out-of-print 1988 book simply titled “Jewelry by Architects”, edited by Barbara Radice and published by Rizzoli. Let the online hunt begin!

The Blogazine – Images courtesy of Sight Unseen 

Ugo La Pietra’s Anti-Design Cosmology

In an attempt to embrace a more inclusive, unconventional and non-aligned view of design practice, Triennale Design Museum sets up a comprehensive monographic exhibition of Ugo La Pietra’s work. “Ugo La Pietra. Disequilibrating design”, curated by Angela Rui, is the first in series of exhibition which hope for bringing commonly disregarded design narrative back to the centre of Italian design discourse. The exhibition of La Pietra’s work, thus, takes on an eclectic approach in examining his body of work, highlighting La Pietra’s critical approach to the real world. Trained as an architect, yet ultimately more an artists, filmmaker, editor, musician and cartoonist, Ugo La Pietra has sounded out, analysed, criticised, loved and redesigned reality with rare insight, revealing the contradictions inherent in culture and society. His entire activity, which is so varied and complex as to be difficult to pin down in theoretical terms of criticism and discipline, should be seen as a long militancy in anti-design.

La Pietra makes everyday life and conduct his field of action and debate, using himself, his body, his friends, his house, his town and his country – always with a touch of irony and sarcasm – to tell of the relationship between individual and environment. Here “environment” is never considered in strictly urban or environmental terms, but rather as the phenomenology of reality, expanding the significance not only of the design context but also of all the emotional, anthropological and existential baggage it brings into our lives. With more than 1.000 objects, the exhibition display follows a journey that starts out from the conceptual origins of his ideas to tell a story – through research and experimentation, objects and settings – which extends from the individual towards observation and re-appropriation, and to the design of space and reality, creating a cosmology of design which emerges from a global vision of Ugo La Pietra’s work.

“Ugo La Pietra. Disequilibrating design” runs until February 15th 2015 at Triennale Design Museum in Milan.

Rujana Rebernjak 

Style Suggestions: Christmas Gifts

Christmas is around the corner and whether you are shopping for your friend, brother or husband these are great gift suggestions this holiday season.

Sweater: Richard James, Scarf: Begg&Co, Shoes: A.P.C., Fragrance: Byredo, Camera: Hasselblad

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 


Guest Interview n°59: Umberto Chiodi

How and when did you decide to become an artist? What did you aim for when you start this career and which were the most significant moments (or people) that shaped your path?
After the compulsory education I chose an art high school and afterwards I attended the Fine Art Academy in Bologna. I just followed a passion, which unfortunately entailed leaving other interests aside, such as my passion for music. I had a couple of stimulating teachers, despite a general penury of Masters. I remember with great affection the artist Gabriele Partisani, professor of “Anatomia del segno” (a course on the analysis of trace marks) at the academy, who passed away recently. In Milan, the city where I’ve been living since 2007, I met some fundamental people, among which the gallerist Enzo Cannaviello.

Your work developed year after year, allowing you to experiment with different techniques and media, but the illustration has always had a key role in your artistic production, would you like to tell me something more about this intimate relationship?
Maybe we should first define what the word “illustration” means. In ancient times it was a religious practice, then it became a suggestive adornment for the publishing industry, till it found application in the field of commercial advertising. Moreover much painting, above all the one from the past, could be regarded as illustrative, comparable to a window to the world that has its own internal laws of representation, narration of a text or a fact. The illustration, which my imagination refers to, is the one that was used in Europe for scientific, didactic and satirical purposes, from the end of the 18th century to the early 19th century. These images retrace, in a unique way, the spirit of the period when they were created. Looking at them today is as if they become bearers of short circuits, documents of the human beings’ modern neurosis. They can be scientific as well as grotesque, educative as well as misleading, influential as well as naïve. They are examples of illusions that only history and time can unmask. These images can be defined as popular and in these cases the fence of a page could become a very desirable place.

Which are the links between your work from the beginning of your career and the most recent ones?
The connections are, for example, the references to the collective imaginary and the unconscious, along with the attempt to fix the chaos. Other links are the manual labour, the crossbreeding of different traditional languages, materials and heterogeneous marks, the recycling of what is out of practice, things that had lost their original function.
There are continuous references to the childhood as a lost world or a possibility of change. In my latest series “Crossage”, as well as in the assemblages and in the collages, created in 2009, I gave the illusion of perspective up with the idea that the work could be read as a whole, as a play with different, conflicting levels and elements, which live in our physical environment in the form of objects.

Which are your main inspiration sources – in art, literature, theatre, cinema etc. both from the past as in the present? And what is your mood when you realize that you have had a good ‘eureka moment’?
Everything that surrounds me could be an incitement: the discovery of an object, a poetic dimension, but also daily news or a critic essay. The artistic intuitions are often the effect of a syntony, the proof of the idea of “Correspondences” proposed by Baudelaire.

For some time, there has been an on-going debate (with opposing points of view) about the modernity of painting as an artistic media; do you think that painting is really a dead language?
The main problem in art today, in my opinion, is the relationship of slavery and bulimia that we have with the Unconscious and the Messages. That said, there are still good illustrations and good “exercises in painting”, which depict the awkwardness of the contemporaneity or draw the attention to the time of Nature.

What turns an artist into a truly contemporary author (besides the civil registry) and what turns his/her work into something significant for a wider audience?
A contemporary artist must have the ability to create tension with his/her time, to call it into question and again to give signs that survive the trends. We should say that the more an artist is able to follow his/her goals, the more his/her work become significant for the audience, but it is hard to fulfil. Then dramatically it is the economic aspect that gives the final word in establishing the value of things.

What do you think about the blend among different professions that ever more often deconstruct established roles (artists/curators, auction houses that become galleries etc.)?
In the “flow” we are living in, everything is blended. Close to the issue of specialisation of knowledge, the problem seems to be in the annulment of variety and the flattening of everything into a big net. But the unstoppable catastrophe we are going for is due to the confusion between culture and marketing, between the idea of progress and the quantitative development. Could we trust in the fact that the artist will work for a curatorial project with the same responsibility with which he creates an artwork? I hope so.

Nietzsche defines nihilism as “the most disturbing of all guests”, do you agree or did it happen to you to have more unsettling “guests”?
I would judge other “guests” equally thorny, especially because of my nihilistic view or because of my idealism.

Are there any ideas or unfulfilled projects that you want to take on in the future?
Well, to say thank you to Prof. Schneitzhoeffer (junior).

The latest works of Umberto Chiodi are currently exhibited in a solo show entitled “Crossage” on view at Studio D’Arte Cannaviello in Milan until 10th January 2015.

Interview by Monica Lombardi