Milan Offsite Report 2006 Canadian Interiors Magazine Text by Agata Jaworska Treading the streets of Milan amidst the design-enthusiast crowds and bustling car and motorbike traffic, several distinct schools of thought revealed themselves from one Interni-marked site to the next. Continuing the trend we saw last exploited year, there were those who pursued ornamentation as the proper response to the emptiness of minimalism. Seen in Droog’s ‘Garden of Delight’ exhibit, were decorative Royal vinyl transfers applied onto a frosted plexiglass garden house, decorative foliage patterns appearing on concrete tiles when they are wet, along with decorative foliage lace made into a parasol that keeps the water away while casting shadows of a tree. High conceptual content aside, this approach continues to be reactionary and soon the time will come to move on. Also reactionary was the work by NatWerk (wet work in Dutch) which in an age of dematerialization exaggerates mechanics. Poking fun of technology the Dutch trio presented a table that automatically stirs your coffee, a superfluously mechanical candle holder and a desk lamp with eight toggle switches to control light intensity. The trio’s wit extended into what is becoming their signature stunt—to present themselves truly offsite in one form of a converted vehicle or another. Last year they were parked in a milk truck between the fairgrounds and its nearest metro station, this year they raced from one hot spot to the next in a 1971 Mini, and when asked about next year they won’t give any details but say, “it’s going to be big”. Reacting against the minimalist modular sofa, Marcel Wanders presented a new retail concept—the Moooi Boutique—to be introduced in January 2007. Noting too much choice in sofa specifications and the difficulty of making design decisions, Wanders designed 20 relatively decorative sofa outfits in which a ‘naked’ Moooi sofa can be dressed. Comparing it to buying a purse, the explicit goal of making sofa purchases more frequent was surprising in today’s age of increasing consumer consciousness.
Aiming to present Belgian and Dutch designers that partake in the ethical design discourse, TuttoBeNe looks for products that are “as socially, economically and environmentally sustainable as they are sexy,” according to project manager, David Heldt. Unquestionably sexy was a new bike prototype by Basten Leyh. The plywood and aluminium bike can be flat-packed and assembled at home, significantly lowering costs. The idea is that when The Sandwich Bike is purchased at a normal price, the margin can fund a second bike for someone who cannot afford it in a place where mobility is a need, such as in some parts of Africa where kids walk tens of kilometres to school. Tragically, the TuttoBeNe exhibit was robbed just before the week’s end and Leyh’s bike was one of the stolen goods.
Balancing restraints of an existing production process with the need for new products, a young group of 5.5 designers collaborated with the workers at the Bernardaud’s porcelain factory in France to find innovation within what exists. Classic products of the Bernardaud line were subjected to “creative disturbances” involving explicit disobedience of production rules, such as affixing the teacup handle upside-down or offsetting the dinner plate decal, or even making it pie-shaped to suggest a slice of pizza. The Workers-Designers project is a response to the invading China markets capitalizing on the knowledge, creativity and identity of the producers (pieces are signed both by the individual worker and the 5.5 designers). The result is valuable new intellectual content speaking primarily to design intellectualists.
Looking for an unconventional starting point, 25 industrial design students from Lund University in Sweden studied peculiar yet common human behaviour, like being superstitious about walking beneath a ladder, embarrassed about a strand of hair or dandruff on your sweater or bothered by a visible shirt tag. Designerblock visitors had to walk beneath a ladder to enter the ‘it’s all in your head’ exhibit, where they could find sweaters decorated with hair strands and dandruff-like patterns, jeans with a sewnin piece of wood to knock on and t-shirts with tags that always stick out. Many of the products remain at a level of mere statement but impressive nevertheless was such a comprehensive collection by a self-initiated group of students.
One of the highlights of this year’s offsite events was the presentation of Lexus by Japanese designer, Tokujin Yoshioka. In a large white-carpeted space, over 700 km of individually suspended transparent fiber optic cables were densely amassed. Invisible at first glance was a white Lexus parked inside, revealing itself as one walked through the sea of cables. In a separate space, Keiko Kimoto’s mathematically-derived video art was projected onto an array of Yoshioka’s suspended cables, which acted as a three-dimensional canvas. A disappointing element was Yoshioka’s PANE chair (meaning bread in Italian). Inspired by process of baking bread, the chair is made by tightly holding a cylindrical mass of fibrous material in a kiln until it cures into the desired shape. Unfortunately, an interesting process does not always yield interesting results as we are left with a not-so-comfortable and unshapely chair.
Powerful statements about rituals surrounding death and funerals were made by Design Academy Eindhoven students in the ‘Post Mortem’ exhibit. The statements ranged from an uncanny battery-powered breathing cat, to a 2.5 kilo piece of chalk suggesting creative uses of cremation ashes, to a new ritual farewell meal consisting only of white foods. The work couldn’t be more appropriately situated than at La Facolta Telolgica dell’Italia Settentrionale, where from time to time a Nun or a Priest was seen passing by.
Perhaps the most elegant statement was made by Japanese design company, Nendo in the ‘bloomroom’ exhibit where a field of blooming shape-memory alloy lamps opened and closed as they dimmed on and off. A simple and refined gesture derived from inherent qualities of contemporary materials never seizes to be in style.