Investigations in Toasting II

10 January 2017

Last autumn, to commemorate Disegno's fifth birthday, nine designers were invited to update the ritual of toasting for contemporary society. The result, published in Disegno #12, was a series of new typologies of communal celebration that blend function, ritual, symbolism and social critique.

There are few occasions more suited to toasting than the passing of a new year. It is also the occasion on which toasting has the most immaterial subject: on a birthday, you toast an individual; whereas holiday celebrations often have culturally-mandated hierarchies and a specific subject to toast. But as the New Year begins, and people around the world toast as their clocks strike 12, the glasses raised celebrate not a family member or a long-dead saint but the passage of time itself.

To mark the beginning of 2017, Disegno is delighted to publish short reflections from the designers that participated in the project. Below, Boaz Cohen of BCXSY, Sebastian Bergne and Adam Nathaniel Furman discuss their designs.

Boaz Cohen (of BCXSY)

For Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto of the Amsterdam design practice BCXSY, the toast is not merely an adjunct to drinking but the completion of the drink itself. The studio's proposal sees two martini glasses containing a red cabbage-based cocktail and a lemon juice-filled ice cup. When the glasses clink, the juice spills and the cocktail turns blue due to its increased acidity.

We toast a lot, almost daily, and we really like it as a custom in daily life. Toasting is quite intimate and something happens within that action on a symbolic level. We wanted to reflect that as a visual transformation. There’s something magical about seeing a colour changing. We considered how to emphasise the act of toasting. That is the nice thing about our design: by toasting you conceive something together. You have the feeling that you made something but also that you needed each other in order to make it.

We like the martini glass and so it was a very conscious choice. It’s very iconic with its triangular beautiful shape and we really like how this shape interacts with the liquid. Other glasses are flexible, but with the martini glass, it is weird for it to hold anything else.

BCXSY's design is illustrated in the gallery above.

Sebastian Bergne created Unison, an app that allows for long-distance toasting. ILLUSTRATION Liam Cobb

Sebastian Bergne

Responding to the rise of social media, the London-based industrial designer Sebastian Bergne devised Unison, an app for networked digital toasting.

The phenomenon of social media is incredible and its power is undeniable. People engage with social media and enjoy speaking online so toasting digitally feels like a logical extension of that. You might start by connecting with friends, which is the way social media always starts, but that can lead you on to hook up with people who you don’t know. That kind of spontaneous connection is what we need at the moment given what’s been going on in the world.

Unison is a natural extension of sitting around a table and making a toast, which makes it enormously powerful. It’s not that toasting would die out otherwise, but by having an application in the digital realm, you give the act of toasting a relevance and bring it in line with contemporary culture. Maybe it will take on a different form entirely, one that isn’t about the drink. Maybe there’s a small physical action related to the act of drinking. It’s about marking a specific moment and getting everyone to do something simultaneously, no matter the timezone.

Toasting is still better face to face, this is why Unison is an extension rather than a digital replacement. You can have physical groups join up with different physical groups through the app. You could use it with friends that you can’t see because of geographical constraints or you could come into contact with new, interesting people. It’s about celebrating good, positive things that happen. You create an event, but somehow make it specific. It’s the swiss army knife versus the kitchen knife: having something specific to do a job often makes it better. It's an approach to products that I like.

Adam Nathaniel Furman's proposal saw the creation of glasses designed to slot together during the toast. ILLUSTRATION Liam Cobb.

Adam Nathaniel Furman

The London-based architect and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman created a series of glasses that slot together organically to mimic the form of spooning human bodies.*

The toast is an artificial way of marking closeness that operates a little like politeness in society. You fake it until you make it, but that simulation can nevertheless stand in for a profound moment. Stories of the origins of the toast are discussed endlessly because the ceremony is so atavistic and strange, but we can’t let it go because it is one of the main things that we have to mark being together. The act of the toast is also incredibly simple.

The idea of fake togetherness and social media, where people engage but aren’t physically together, struck me as being similar. Things which mark togetherness often happily stand in for a profound moment. I simulated that through the design. I’m a fan of design silently embodying or representing complex human interactions. These vessels are fun, but they’re simultaneously taking on the idea of the whole condition of toasting being a simulation of togetherness.

Social interaction takes many forms. We used to write letters, now we communicate through social media. It definitely gives you something, it adds to life and makes it richer, but social media is not comparable to spending a lot of time with people. Social media is just part of the contemporary world. We love it, it’s beautiful, it’s fascinating, it’s dark, it’s exciting. It’s a little how [architects] Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi deal with contemporary environments. They don’t judge it, it’s simply what it is and there’s no point fighting against it. You can show its absurd and damaging sides but you can also show its beautiful side.