Pieces: Fragments of Design at Soane Museum

Observed from the future, all objects of design are just fragments, small elements of other lives, times and stories. But objects are never mute, they tell stories about the past, and perhaps even show glimpses of how we might live in the future. As collections of – more or less coherent – fragments from the past, museums can often serve as a starting point for imaginary explorations of just how design might be perceived if it is left unfinished, incomplete, hiding a story only half told. Finding precisely a collection of similar, fragmentary objects at Soane Museum, London-based designers Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai have called five designers to interpret or complete the collection’s stories.

Titled “Pieces”, the exhibition departs from the incoherent collection gathered by architect Sir John Soane throughout his life – books, paintings, vases, sculptures -, collected at his private residence turned museum in 1837, to build contemporary narratives about the fragmentary nature of design. “What is interesting for us is that most, actually pretty much all, of the pieces in the museum, are just pieces. Broken bits, sections and fragments,” says Mukai. “Some of them come with a label or explanation, like a title on a painting’s frame or a plaque on a sculpture, but most of them are just there, hanging on the wall with no explanation. We like that because it makes you speculate and try to imagine what these things are. You have to fill the gap yourself.”

Mukai and Deddens have invited Gemma Holt, Sam Jacob Studio, Paul Elliman, Peter Marigold, together with their own Study O Portable, to fill in those gaps. While some projects are almost literal interpretation of the subject – like Study O Portable’s “Building Blocks” which consists of individual pieces which function only when combined, other explore the meaning of “Pieces” in more lateral ways. Paul Elliman, for example, displayed “Low Currency”, a collection of small discs that represent coins, inviting the viewer to decide how we give values to things. As such, Elliman’s project is particularly interesting in the context of the exhibition, as it asks – how will objects that designers make be seen a 100 years from today? Perhaps it is precisely the question that every designer should start with.

Rujana Rebernjak 
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Crafted: Objects in Flux

Dramatic shifts have taken place recently across the landscape of contemporary craft. Crafted: Objects in Flux, the upcoming exhibition opening on 25 August 2015 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, focuses on contemporary craft-based artists whose work embraces the increasingly blurred boundaries between art, craft and design. From a suite of vases that create human silhouettes in their negative spaces to a bracelet that anchors its wearer, each artwork in the exhibition incorporates materials, forms or ideas traditionally connected to the notion of “craft,” including furniture, jewelry, ceramics, wood, metals, fiber and glass. Historically, the term has been defined simply: the skillful making of objects by hand. But in the generations since World War II, artists have challenged what it means to “craft” an object, creating artworks that push—or ignore—the assumed boundaries of the discipline. One of the first major exhibitions in an encyclopedic museum to explore the broad possibilities of contemporary artistic engagement with craft, the exhibition features more than 50 works created by 41 emerging and established international artists since 2003, working individually or collaboratively.

“I hope that this exhibition will encourage visitors to expand their perception of what craft can look like and say,” said Emily Zilber, the exhibition’s curator. “I am thrilled to be able to present the works of so many talented artists who have made exciting new artworks through an embrace of shifting boundaries integrated with skillful making.” Crafted: Objects in Flux is organized into three themes, “The Re-Tooled Object,” “The Performative Object” and “The Immersive Object”, and includes works by Anton Alvarez (Chilean and Swedish, born in 1980), Chung-Im Kim (Korean, born in 1955, works in Canada), Andy Paiko (American, born in 1977) and Rowland Ricketts (American, born in 1971). The exhibition will remain on show until 10 January 2016.

The Blogazine 
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Collage: A Graphic Tale at Villa Noailles

For more than a century, Villa Noailles in the south of France has served as the centre of artistic fervor, first as the residence of Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, art patrons who dedicated their life to the promotion of modern art, and now, for the last 20 years, as the site of two internationally renowned festivals focused on contemporary design, photography and fashion. For this year’s “Design Parade” a special focus was given to Marie-Laure de Noailles with the exhibition “Collage” that brings together her personal scrapbooks along with collages by Étienne de Beaumont, Georges Hugnet, Antoni Clavé, and Max Ernst.

Twenty-four scrapbooks, filled over almost fifty years by Marie-Laure de Noailles with images, photographs, letters, drawings, postcards, reveal the existence of an intellectual, artistic, elite and sociable multiplicity. Carefully dated, the pages illustrate the activities of each day, week, month. The initial albums, started in 1928, consist above all of photographs and a few articles, carefully positioned and glued; the layout is simple and spacious. Very quickly, the scrapbooks took on a specific form. Patrons of surrealists and friends of Max Ernst, whose works they collected especially the collection of collages from his work The Hundred Headless Woman, the Noailles seemed particularly interested by this form of art. Probably influenced by this same spirit, Marie-Laure de Noailles started to arrange her albums differently. Thus, in a skilfully organised disorder, are arranged several staves by Auric and Rorem, a note from Jacques Lacan, a drawing by Balthus, a photograph by Man Ray, a concert programme, and articles cut-out from local newspapers on a meeting of boules players or the impending arrival of extraterrestrials.

The couple did not hesitate in hanging alongside each other and against any rules of the time, works which in principle had nothing in common — a Goya alongside a Dalí. Indeed, within the scrapbooks, these overloaded pages, where images, texts, paintings, articles, drawings, and advertisements overlap, follow this same iconoclastic process. Similarly, it is an elaboration which allows us to catch a glimpse of this taste for the eclectic, the vitality of their perspective, and the formal intelligence of these extraordinary patrons. Hence, it is a journal and a unique testimony. Perhaps, also an art work — a “work in progress” over a period of fifty years.

The Blogazine 
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Everything is Architecture: Bau Magazine at the ICA

In 1968, Hans Hollein, the influential architect and winner of 1985 Pritzker Prize for architecture, declared that “everything is architecture.” His words were published on the pages of Bau Magazine, a short-lived architectural publication published by the Central Association of Austrian Architects, which has since remained a hallmark of radical approaches to architecture and its criticism. Thus, when Hollein compared architecture to lipstick, a portrait of Che Guevara or an astronaut suit, he was expressing a wider concern for reframing architectural practice and discourse outside of the narrow limits imposed by Modernist formalism.

Hollein was a member of group of influential architects and artists, among whom Walter Pichler, Günther Feuerstein, Sokratis Dimitriou, and Oswald Oberhuber, who took over Bau Magazine between 1960 and 1970. During this time, Bau became a platform for new, experimental ideas in architecture that embraced political, artistic and social concerns, engaging with them both through philosophical texts as well as its vibrant, iconic imagery. The critical, fundamental influence of Bau Magazine is now explored in an exhibition staged at the ICA in London.

Running through 27 September 2015, the exhibition, compact in size yet dense in content, juxtaposes issues of Bau Magazine with contemporary publications emerging at the time in the UK, Italy or Japan. Compared to other experimental publications of the time, Bau demarcated itself through its size which was closer to that of a glossy fashion magazine as well as its creative use of advertising – elements that were carefully used to show that architecture, indeed, is everything.

The Blogazine – Image courtesy of the ICA 
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“Shin Myeong”, Design at its Essence

To investigate the very essence of design is the ambitious objective that the Gwangju Design Biennale, taking place in Korea from October 8th to November 15th, has decided to pursue for its sixth edition. All but predictable, the answer is the kind of semantic trap that, due to its inconsistency, often leads to another round of open questions: what is design? How big is its area of applicability? Does design have a common background when cultural traditions are so different, which is the case of West and East identities?

Thus, it might be reassuring to discover that Kyung Ran Choi, general director of Gwangju Design 2015, refused to take responsibility for such an unequivocal answer and preferred to inflect this elusive meaning in nine different exhibitions that will explore the vitality of Korean design and its multiple relationships with global attitudes and voices from the design world.

In the meanwhile, the Triennale of Milano offers us a sneak peek with “Design ‘Shin Myeong – Korea’s Phantasma”, a showcase of fifty artists and designers, 25 Korean and 25 Italian, who have been called to reinterpret the decoration of the Celadon vases, a great classic of Korean traditional craftsmanship. These green, iconic artefacts, originally created in China but soon becoming very popular in Korea and Japan in the XII century, have been conceived for this occasion by Kajn Lee, a Korean design talent with a strong passion for ceramic. The work of the other fifty designers, then, has been limited to a thin yet subtle intervention: impress into the surface a decorative theme that should not alter the overall perception of the vase, confining self-expression into the boundary of a given form and colour. An effort, once again, which seems to question the nature of design – is this design or art? How are western designers influenced by the fact that the exhibition is a tribute to the Korean monumental park of Soswaewon, which dates back to the XVII century? – and leaves to visitors the chance to go beyond surface, enquiring the value of tradition and how it is constantly updated.

Giulia Zappa 
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Extra Ordinary – Producing the Everyday

What is the value of designed objects today? If we look at major design exhibitions, fair, biennials, competitions, it looks like the object is becoming increasingly less significant. Much like artists from the second half of the 20th century, designers are forgoing the object, focusing on the process instead. The exponential growth of and public interest in this process-based design is evident in the latest exhibition staged at the Aram Gallery, London-based retailer/exhibition venue, which opens to the public today.

“Extra Ordinary” is the first show developed by its recently appointed curator, Riya Patel, and explores the role of objects within wider narratives of their creation, innovation, production and use. While, for decades, objects were seen as impenetrable shells admired for their impeccable form, whose creation remained a mysterious process, designers like Martino Gamper or Max Lamb are making research and production that generate each object more significant than the object itself. Even though Patel has not explicitly acknowledged process-based practices as the primary focus of her show, works like Structural Skin by Jorge Penadés, which devises a new production process for worthless waste from leather factories, or Luisa Kahlfedt’s experimentation with cardboard which creates a new visual language precisely by revealing the process that created it, turn the viewer’s attention to how everyday objects are made, rather than how they should be used.

But if these objects are not attentive towards communicating their use, but place greater emphasis on production processes and expanding design’s conceptual language, how can we absorb them into the ordinary, as the title seems to suggest? Patel explains that the way exhibition was staged – only leaving a couple of hints rather than revealing the whole story behind object – is crucial to grasping their ‘extraordinary’ qualities: “A lot of them are quite strange objects and it is nice to tackle a little bit how somebody made that object. I wanted to leave a little bit of room for imagination and exploration. We tend to think of ‘ordinary’ meaning low-value, everyday and common. If you like, ‘extraordinary’ is the opposite of that. It is the thing that is interesting to look at, provocative, unusual, unexpected. These are criteria that I think make something worth showing in the exhibition.” Perhaps, the future of design does not lie in the objects we come to use, but only those we look and admire. But is this really the future we want to envision?

Rujana Rebernjak – Images courtesy of The Aram Gallery 
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Marcin Rusak: Inflorescence and Other Artefacts

One of the most difficult questions for any designer is “why do you work?” From Enzo Mari and design as social consciousness to design as a way of subverting cultural norms, every designer has sought to find their purpose and place in society through the design of three dimensional objects. These wider goals are also often reflected in the ‘process’ designers use, whether it is focused on materials, unorthodox production processes or speculation about the future. Marcin Rusak, a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, is difficult to ‘square’ within any of these categories. Positioned between crafts and technology, natural and artificial worlds, his work tries to challenge the established norms of understanding the material world.

Specialising in storytelling, process and material investigation, Marcin’s work often incorporates research, object and installation as well as visual creations to explore overlooked details of our lives when recreated and reimagined are shown again in a different light. Unrestrained by a specific medium, and consistently inspired by the beauty and subtlety of the natural world Marcin embodies the philosophies of Art Nouveau in a contemporary context. Through research, craft, the utilization of cutting edge technology and a strong personal aesthetic he embraces a total approach to art in order to reevaluate objects and their significance to us while celebrating the organic outcome of natural materials and processes.

This year, Marcin Rusak was selected this year for Perrier-Jouët Arts Salon Prize, which is celebrated in an exhibition at Contemporary Applied Arts in London until August 1, as a way of supporting emerging talent in the field of contemporary craft.

Rujana Rebernjak 
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Design Parade 10 at Villa Noailles

Set in a modernist villa, designed in the 1920s for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles – an art-patron couple who put their Modernist residence at the disposal of avant-garde artists – Design Parade couldn’t be a more fitting place for nurturing young talent. Now in its 10th year, Design Parade has witnessed the ‘coming of age’ of a number of contemporary practitioners. Following a simple and straightforward concept – an open call for participation, from which a jury selects 10 candidates who are then invited to exhibit their work at the VillaDesign Parade usually constitutes the first arena where designers who are fresh out of school test their ideas and see them positioned in the wider context. Juxtaposed to solo exhibitions of previous years’ winners as well as influential contemporary practitioners, the work of 10 selected designers takes on a different, more nuanced note – at the same time more serious and concrete as well as pleasantly naïve.

The selection of ten designers also implies a curatorial choice from the jury – this year composed of Pierre Charpin, the famous French designer who is also at the centre of a solo exhibition at the Villa, Fabien Cappello, a young designer based in London, last year’s winner Laura Couto Rosado, Barbara Coutinho, Jean-Marc Drut, Philippe Jousse, Catherine Tsékénis and Nathalie Du Pasquier. The way selected works form a narrative, a dialogue between each other contributes to how they will be understood and appreciated. This year’s selection, though, doesn’t lack eclecticism. From modular furniture to a folding sled, from organic materials to hybrid electronic devices, from recycled objects to conceptual lighting, from re-invention of ornaments to hi-tech use of bamboo, from the form of music to experiments with electrolysis.

Formally impeccable, these projects nevertheless fit neatly within the canon of design practice today. But is this the role of Design Parade? Its close connection with industry – the winner is awarded a year-long scholarship at CIRVA (International Glass and Arts Research Centre) – gives this competition a no-nonsense flair. All exhibited projects could, potentially, be put into production, and explore issues that are far away from notions of critical design that are at the centre of design research today. While this does not reduce the value of exhibited projects, it does position them in a different strand, posing a necessary question – can Design Parade really serve as the barometer for design practice today?

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Breaking the Mould: Thomas Heatherwick

From the UK pavilion at Shanghai Expo to the famous re-design of London’s double-decker buses, the work of Thomas Heatherwick breaches the boundaries of traditional design practice. A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, Heatherwick established his design studio in 1994, shaping a highly inventive approach to everyday design challenges – he combines novel engineering with new materials and innovative technology to create unusual, often sculptural, building forms. A new exhibition at recently re-opened Cooper Hewitt museum in New York celebrates the designer’s work with an overview of his career titled “Provocations”.

‘Provocations’ celebrates the inventive approach of the Heatherwick Studio and reveals the design process and concepts behind the firm’s incredible products and buildings, from the rotation-molded Spun chair—recently acquired into Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection—to large architectural projects like the Learning Hub in Singapore,” said Caroline Baumann, director of the museum. “Cooper Hewitt is committed to shaping how people think about design and this exhibition will have visitors marvelling at Heatherwick’s groundbreaking work.”

“Provocations” examines the astonishing range of Heatherwick Studio’s practice by focusing on the design concepts behind projects ranging in scale from small personal products to a number of current large public and private architectural works. “Provocations” is curated by Brooke Hodge and will focuses on the design process of 43 of Heatherwick Studio’s projects through the display of prototypes, presentation and sketch models, full-scale mockups, objects, photographs and film and video footage. Among Heatherwick Studio’s latest high-visibility designs that are on view as part of Cooper Hewitt’s presentation are the Learning Hub at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, the 2014 Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Laverstoke, England, the 2012 redesign of London’s double-decker buses, known as the New Routemaster, and the cauldron for the London 2012 Olympic Games torch.

The Blogazine – Images courtesy of the Cooper Hewitt 
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Apartment no. 50, a Renewed Cult

Apartment no. 50 at the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille has been recently invested of a renewed form of interest and veneration. The reason of this re-emerging passion has, of course, something to do with its great place in the history of architecture. Nevertheless, it is also connected with the capacity to reinvent its allure, updating its capacity to relate with the contemporary through new cultural politics.

Jean-Marc Drut, Apartment 50’s owner for the last couple of years ago, felt that this place was too important to be experienced only through images in books. Thus, he decided to periodically open his home to the public in order to allow people to experience the space, the proportions and the light that Le Corbusier conceived for his great architectural vision. Among other apartments of the Unité d’Habitation, Apartment no. 50 has not been upset during the years and thus preserves all the elements that made these flats unique: the entrance at the upper floor – originally being the Unité’s duplex – from the mezzanine, the stairs lead to a wider lower space.

Drut’s involvement, nevertheless, is not limited to being an enlightened host. Since 2009, he has invited several international designers – Jasper Morrison, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Konstantin Grcic, Pierre Charpin – to furnish the space through their sensitivity and with their products. This year, on the contrary, this chance has been offered to ECAL’s students, who participated in a workshop in September 2014 and then developed a series of products conceived exclusively for this place.

It may sound unexpected, but the result achieved by ECAL is even more stimulating than that of the previous years. All these objects, in fact, are both bespoke and anonymous: we didn’t have the time to see them through fairs, exhibitions or catalogues. Magazines didn’t celebrate their beauty through contests and reviews. Thus, they do not transform the Unité d’Habitation into a sophisticated showcase, but keep on enlivening Le Corbusier’s project respecting its genius loci: a “machine à habiter” dedicated to common people and everyday life.

Giulia Zappa
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