Disobedient Objects at the V&A in London

Design has many faces and can be discussed in many terms: it encompasses both craft and industrial production, one-off artefacts and mass produced objects; it can be technical, poetic, naïve or iconic, it can be futuristic or part of a broader historical narrative, it can be boring, repetitive or ground-breaking and original, it can serve the economy or work in function of broader cultural and social goals. This summer, the V&A museum in London has decided to explore the idea of design as a means of social change in a smart and vibrant exhibition titled “Disobedient Objects”.

“Disobedient Objects” departs from the idea that art and design can act as powerful tools for social change. From Chilean folk art textiles that document political violence to a graffiti-writing robot, defaced currency to giant inflatable cobblestones thrown at demonstrations in Barcelona, to a political video game about the making of mobile phones, Disobedient Objects demonstrates how political activism drives a wealth of design ingenuity. The exhibition showcases forms of making that defy standard definitions of art and design: the objects on display are mostly produced by non-professional makers, collectively and with limited resources as effective responses to complex situations, showing that often the most powerful designs come from those that would never consider themselves designers.

“Disobedient Objects” runs until February 1st 2015 at the V&A Museum in London.

Rujana Rebernjak – Images courtesy of the V&A Museum, London 
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Style Suggestions: Travel Luggage

The most important place to start when preparing for a vacation is your luggage. Suitcases, overnight bags and travel kits are an investment that you will never regret and can last you a lifetime.

Duffle Bag: Wheelmen & Co, Wallet: Valentino, Eyewear Case: Valextra, Toiletry Case: WANT Les Essentiels De La Vie, Suitcase: Tumi

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 

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Rudi Gernreich Against Fashion

Swimsuits are seldom considered rightful members of the ‘clothes’ category. While clothes are supposed to cover the body, swimsuits are actually ‘what is left’ after we take our clothes off in stepping out of the shades of winter into warm summer sun. Swimsuits hold a double power: they both need to pass unnoticed, maintaining a certain level of decorum, as well as serving as attract attention, serving as an for the body. In the 60s, one designer stood out for his work on the idea of swimsuit seen as a communicative tool: Rudi Gernreich.

Gernreich is mainly remembered as the inventor of the monokini, a one-piece swimsuit leaving breasts exposed. The monokini caused public stir when it first appeared on the pages of Women’s Wear Daily in 1962, worn by the iconic Peggy Moffitt. Gernreich understood the power of the uncovered body, or better, the power of a body covered on strategic parts. For Gernreich, his designs served as tools for communicating his views on culture, gender and fashion itself. Conceived as a response to the repressive society of the time, the monokini was just the first dowel of a career filled with ‘scandals’: it was followed by a more extreme proposal, the pubikini, a swimsuit revealing pubic hair. In Gernreich’s futuristic view of fashion and the human being itself, sex was openly shown, while sensuality was totally absent.

Gernreich considered fashion as an open critique towards a conservative and ever more divided society, with its rigid class distinction that he could not stand. In 1970 edition of Time magazine, Gernreich gave his opinion about the future of fashion by showing a collection in which gender was completely negated: a sort of a utopian (or dystopian) future in which men and women, dressed and styled in the exact same way, could concentrate on themes deemed more important than superficiality of appearance and looks. His project was to be able to dress all people in the same way, to allow people to cross social boundaries and live in an equal society. At the same time, though, Gernreich knew this approach predicted the death of fashion; for him it was already finished. Even though Gernreich’s vision was too extreme to be accepted, it still remains interesting because of the importance of his creations on the development of social discourse of fashion.

Marta Franceschini 
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Copenhagen Fashion Week SS/2015 | Part Two

The fashion industry takes a lot of heat: mainly it’s accusations of being too trivial to actually matter in the real world. When attending fashion weeks you realize just how vast this “trivial” matter is. As you would expect, it all started in Paris. The founder of Haute Couture, Charles Frederick Worth invited socialites to view a selection of his pre-made original designs shown on women walking around simple runway. It was a novelty at the time, but it proved to be a great success and soon other designers followed. Thus, the Parisian Fashion Week was born. During the second World War, the occupation of France forced the world to look to other countries for a fashionable kick. Eleanor Lambert took advantage of it and shifted the press’ attention to New York and their local designers, calling it the Press Week. Giovanni Battista Giorgini was inspired by Lambert’s move and brought the press to Palazzo Pitti in Florence so that Italian designers could showcase their craftsmanship to the world. As Italian fashion grew in popularity the city of Florence couldn’t keep up and so the event was moved to Milan. In 1975 Milan presented its first Settimana Della Moda. A few years later London fashion week followed, completing the big four.

This year’s Copenhagen Fashion Week made clear what a big platform the fashion world actually is. As a discipline, fashion can be a way of communicating the simplest yet most intricate matters and fashion week poses as the elevated media for this subtle form of communication. Fashion weeks don’t simply serve as a way of showing the trends for upcoming seasons. Rather, it is a way of discussing topics, promoting talent and innnovation, as well as marketing one’s country via a highly acclaimed channel. At Copenhagen Fashion Week it was made clear how important sustainability is to the industry and the world, while Eva Kruse pointed out how fashion week brings jobs and opportunities to the table. Designers of Copenhagen were also given the opportunity to master their creative flow into a spectacular show, which Henrik Vibskov certainly showed to be a master of, with his fantastic watershow. The simple fact of putting oneself on the map might be enough of a reasons why fashion weeks were established in the first place and are still emerging all over the world, from Toronto to Copenhagen, all the way to Shanghai. In fact, fashion weeks have proved to be an excellent way to enhance the reputation of local designers and promote local creative industries in an ever more globalized world.

Victoria Edman 
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Richard Prince: It’s a Free Concert

Richard Prince (b. 1949, Panama Canal Zone. Currently lives and works in NY) doesn’t really need any presentation since his name is well known in the art environment. Starting from the late 70s, the American artist came to the attention of wider audiences by exhibiting in prestigious international art venues, reaching astronomical prices on auctions and imposing himself as one of the highest-paid players of the art market.

During his brilliant career, through painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and installation, Prince has traced aspects of American popular culture and subcultures as a sharp and ironic chronicler, reflecting on the issues of identity and taking inspiration from mainstream channels. From the process of re-photographing existing images, which counts the popular Cowboys series – exploiting the figure of Malboro man as an archetype of American masculinity – or the rockers, surfers and bikers with their Girlfriends, to the so-called Jokes paintings, wordplays and gags on monochromes full of humour and sarcasm, passing through the Car Hoods and Nurses series, Prince occasionally returns to some subjects and titles reusing or rearranging them in new narrations.

The beautiful Kunsthaus Bregenz celebrates Richard Prince’s genius with It’s a Free Concert, the first large-scale solo show in an Austrian institution, curated by Yilmaz Dziewior and Rudolf Sagmeister. The exhibition which features works revolving around rock and pop music (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the doo-wop bands from the 50s), sex and American street culture, encompassing the main topics and media dissected by the contemporary artist. If you’re planning a trip to Austria for your vacations add this must-see show to your schedule, you won’t regret it! The exhibition will run until October 5th.

Monica Lombardi 
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Copenhagen Fashion Week SS/2015 | Part One

While most are still enjoying the summer of 2014 the fashion industry is looking ahead to the next spring/summer season.

The Concepts: If we were to describe Copenhagen Fashion Week with only two words, it would most definitely be sporty chic. The influence of athletic attire is not something new, but at the Danish fashion scene it became elevated through materials and their different combinations. It was most clear at Ganni who took classic sporty pieces from the tennis court and reinterpreted them into fashionable staples. Lovechild 1979, on the other hand, also introduced luxurious active wear with a feminine touch. Silky dresses and skirts reminiscent of the 1930s were combined with caps and tennis shoes creating an interesting juxtaposition. There was also a great deal of tailored elegance to be spotted at many of the runway shows. At Mark Kenly Domino Tan classic feminine silhouettes running down the runway brought to mind both the works of Oscar de la Renta, as well as those by Raf Simons for Dior, while managing to keep his own originality. Voluminous dresses and tailored sportier pieces were shown, creating an interesting story that you never wanted to end.

The Prints: There weren’t any real color codes for the season. Rather, all colors were allowed with a preference towards basics, such as navy and beige: we are in Scandinavia after all. The interesting take came from different prints, a navy dogtooth as well as floral prints at Baum und Pferdgarten and brush strokes at Freya Dalsjø. Interesting prints that preferably should be worn both on top and bottom to create a harmonious look that catches the eye.

The Materials: Echoing the trend of transparency both Stine Ladefoged and Maikel Tawadros used mesh netting as an overlay giving the transparency an edgier touch and also saluting the cut out trend without being too obvious. It was used on both skirts tops and dresses as the prefect partner in crime to otherwise simplistic silhouettes.

The Accessories: The flat shoes are continuing their reign, as at almost all the fashion shows you could spot a white sneaker or tennis shoe perfecting the outfit. Creating contrast and supplying comfort, the white sneaker has the light easiness of spring while still supplying the sporty comfort that appeared to be the essence of Copenhagen SS15. As a counterpoint, the interesting geometrical jewelry at Veronica B. Vallenes added to the simplistic minimalism giving the look a desirable fashionista twist. Circles of silver and gold glittered in the spotlights, featured both on necklaces and as hairpins, creating a futuristic feel for these minimalistic attires.

The Techniques: Pleats have the unique quality of being both edgy and romantic. This was showcased at Designers Remix whose subtly colored finale pieces were flowy and romantic. The pleats were featured all over Copenhagen in all kind of materials and were a definite favorite among designers. Another over-used technique was the fringe. Fringes could be seen everywhere from shoes to bags and, of course, included in garments seen at By Malene Birger. The movement of the fringe creates a playful dynamic that turns even a simple design classic into a piece of the moment.

Victoria Edman 
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Rebels Rebel: AIDS, Art and Activism in New York

In the introduction to his book, Tommaso Speretta writes that “artists often prove remarkably sensitive to the wider social and political themes of their day”, while art itself “can play a crucial role in social and political change”. And yet, while many believe that creative practices can provide a crucial spin for social change, 21st century has offered little or no examples that cross the boundaries of creative speculation or naïve idealism, reaching the harshness of real life. This genuinely visionary, yet out-of-touch approach, may be emblematic of a wider social condition, where much of the energy that guided social movements of the past century appears to have dissipated.

“Rebels Rebel: AIDS, Art and Activism in New York, 1979-1989” serves as a reminder of how collective energy channelled through the means of art, can play a crucial role in driving social change. Starting from late 1970s, Tommaso Speretta traces the origins and development of activist art, namely through the work of collectives like Group Material, Gran Fury, Silence=Deat project, COLAB or PAD/D, through a search for a possible definition of public art and its role in wider context of our society. “Rebels Rebel” is a powerful book as it showcases how, in a dire and dark decade when AIDS and social inequality conditioned much of New York public sphere, artists found an individual and independent voice that helped shape the future of US society.

From using visually bold posters, stickers and banners in their angry protests against AIDS across New York City to exploitation of sophisticated media techniques and shock value of artworks, from direct involvement of citizens as artists to conceptual examination of the meaning of democracy, these collectives have shown great maturity and awareness in using the language of art and design as tool for social change. The work of these activist artists has since been unparalleled in its capability of “subverting an institutionalized system, self-identifying as as a tool for social change”, thereby “affirming itself as a preeminent expression of public art” and a leading example for future artists and citizens alike.

Tommaso Speretta’s “Rebels Rebel: AIDS, Art and Activism in New York, 1979-1989” is published by MER. Paper Kunsthalle, available from August 31st 2014.

Rujana Rebernjak 
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Candida Höfer: Villa Borghese

Candida Höfer is often defined an archeologist of the present: her work captures our collective memory, serves as a reminder of our past and a guide for our future. Her images are ethereal, yet emotionally charged, capturing buildings devoid of people, yet making us understand “that the places were made specially for them”. Customarily devoid of human presence, yet resonating with the academic spirit of the institution’s founder, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Villa Borghese series, currently on show at Ben Brown Fine Arts in London, encapsulates Höfer’s sensitivity to place.

Commissioned by the Galleria Borghese in 2012 for their “Committenze Contemporanee” project, Höfer’s Villa Borghese series captures the institution’s architectural splendour and history. The statues raised on blue plinths in each image form part of the Galleria’s rich narrative. First owned by the Galleria, sold to French collectors, and then loaned back to the museum by the Louvre, they are here poignantly depicted in their original environment. Produced using only natural light with a long exposure and untouched by digital alteration, Höfer’s photographs couple a rare intimacy with monumentality of scale.

“Candida Höfer: Villa Borghese” runs through September 19th at Ben Brown Fine Arts in London.

Candida Höfer: Villa Borghese Roma series, 2012 
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What Not to Miss When in French Riviera

Fondation Maeght is a destination in itself: it is an art gallery and an exhibition area on the hill above Saint-Paul-de-Vence, between Cannes and Nice. It is one of the world’s finest and most beautiful small museums, a temple of the XX century art. Above all it is known for its extensive collections of Giacometti and Miró sculptures. Various works by other artists can also be seen, with painting, drawings and sculptures represented in equal measure, as well as exhibits showing how the artists worked. It was founded in 1964 by an art dealer, a collector and a publisher Aimé Maeght and his wife Marguerite.

Fondation Maeght Art Museum prides itself not only in one of the most outstanding collections of the XX century art, but also in an unusual architectural design, created by the Catalonian architect Josep Lluís Sert. It was Miró who introduced Maeght to Sert, who had already designed his studio in Spain and worked with Le Corbusier before spending time in the USA. The Maeght building itself is interesting and attractive, with a whitewashed modern style and quarter-circle roofs to allow diffused light to enter the galleries, that integrate very harmoniously with the natural environment.

Aimé wanted a contemporary, functional and effective design that would invite the visitors to truly appreciate the collection. As nature lovers, the museum’s founders wanted the foundation to be integrated into a large Mediterranean garden, as well. Thus Sert had to adapt a building functional to its natural landscape, “installing a museum inside nature” as he put it. His overall design was made of a series of inter-connected, one to three story buildings that respected the slope of the land and which were set comfortably amongst the pine trees. The different roof shapes, levels of rooms and terraces, and the combination of materials (concrete and pink hand-thrown bricks) offer variety to the eye. Sert tamed and harnessed the Mediterranean light with quadrantal cylinder windows. Their parabolic curve traps and transmits the even and constant light directly on to the exhibition walls at the height of the paintings. Moreover, he discussed the precise lighting requirements with Braque, Chagall and Miró, in order to display their pictures to the greatest advantage. The unusual form of the roof in some exhibition halls gives a feeling of being inside a cathedral. They remind us of the Spanish Pavilion for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1937, also designed by Sert, where Calder, Miró and Picasso had exhibited their work, among which was the groundbreaking ‘Guernica’.

In addition, several walls open to the outdoors, overlooking the sculpture gardens, terraces, lush lawns, light blue and green-tiled pools and woods. And in the double-height exhibition space, two large window-screens, with built-in shutters, serve to break up and diffuse the sunlight. In contrast to the light traps and expressed vaults, the largest building is capped with two, large, u-shaped, twentieth century impluvia that visually lighten the whole exterior. These white, concrete basins collect valuable rainwater, which is distributed to the pools and fountains and is also used to humidify the interior air. A small chapel, sited next to the main building, takes pride in stained glass windows, designed by Braque. Its ruins were discovered during the construction works, and Maeght decided to restore it. Separate museum rooms are devoted to Miró and Chagall, sculpture garden presents Pol Bury’s steel fountain and a mosaic by Braque adorns a pond, while furniture of a small garden café is designed entirely by Giacometti. The sightseeing spots of the sculpture garden offer a visual advantage, allowing the visitors to admire the scenic beauty of the nature and art – all at the same time. 

Images and words by Giulio Ghirardi 
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Style Suggestions: Summer Wedding

Summer weddings can be tough to dress for so we suggest to keep it simple and comfortable. Don’t opt for the typical dress; a pair of shorts are fresh and chic, especially when topped off with the perfect accessories.

Blouse: J.W. Anderson, Shorts: Chloé, Shoes: Giambattista Valli, Clutch and necklace: Marni

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 

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