Milan 2016

Milan Day Five: The Triennale, A Search Behind Appearances and Ventura Lambrate


15 April 2016

The Salone del Mobile can easily fall into brashness. Production and presentation are the name of the game, and the Salone’s Rho fairgrounds its natural playing field. How pleasant then when the Salone throws up its quieter moments of introspection and self-analysis.

Chief amongst these is A Search Behind Appearances, Hella Jongerius and Louise Schouwenberg’s follow up to last year’s Beyond the New manifesto. Displayed in the windows of Milan’s La Rinascente department store and under the shadow of the Duomo (“at the crossroads of history, culture, and commerce,” quips Schouwenberg), A Search Behind Appearances is the closest thing this year’s Salone has to a conscience. It is one of the undoubted highlights of the week.

The installation is manifest as a series of ingenious contraptions that are faintly Rube Goldberg-esque in their execution. Mixing shadow-play, textiles, rushing water, cutouts and collage, the A Search Around Appearances machines conspire through their operation to present visual and textual messages that encourage greater thought around the implications of design, production and consumption. Cardboard models of famous chairs swing round to form letters through their shifting silhouettes; plastic fingers marked with images of designed objects slap down haphazardly onto a projector; questions ripple across expanding bubbles: ¿Can innovation be an end in itself? ¿What is functionality in the here and now? ¿Is design’s success defined by the market?

A Search Behind Appearances does not radically change the messages presented in Beyond the New, but what it does do is put some of those messages into action. If the initial manifesto was a call to arms for designers to refrain from producing for the sake of producing and to dedicate themselves to creating work that engages with a social, commercial or industrial context, A Search Behind Appearances is an exemplar of quite how much scope and freedom this still leaves designers to play with. Worthy, intelligent design does not need to be dry or leaden or didactic or restrictive: it can be whizz-bang machines clicking, whirring, flickering and bubbling.

Similarly thoughtful was Takeo Paper Show, an exhibition of paper at the Triennale museum. Organised by the Japanese paper manufacturer Takeo and curated by graphic designer Kenya Hara, the exhibition’s rows of oblong tables presents a series of paper designs executed by architects, designers and artists that highlight the tactility and delicacy of the material. The exhibition is divided into two parts, the first displaying contemporary interpretations of the theme (commissioned especially for the exhibition), while the second part of the exhibition highlights objects that already exist: moulded pulp packaging, sugar cube paper wrappers and lace paper doilies. 

One exhibit by designer Haruka Misawa explores paper as vehicles for flight, exhibiting paper objects of varying forms that seem to recall fans, ice lollies, corkscrews.  Another, comprising a single upright paper triangle representing the corner of a sheet of paper, explores the tension experienced given the ease with which a piece of paper can be damaged: “Denting a corner produces a slight but lingering sense of regret,” explains the project's designer Motohiro Tomii . 

Ventura Lambrate is an area of the Salone that built its reputation as an exhibition ground for younger designers. Shown there this year is Structure, an exhibition taking in the work of 26 Norwegian designers. An ongoing initiative organised by designers’ union Klubben together with contemporary craft resource Norwegian Crafts, Structure functions as a platform to showcase contemporary design and craft from Norway regardless of sector, discipline or material specialism. It’s an eclectic selection and one that seems to chime with the trans-, anti- or cross-disciplinary (perhaps "a-disciplinary" would be the most apt phrase?) approach that has become dominant within contemporary design.

While the show's exhibits span furniture, lighting and textiles, the ceramics are the most alluring objects on display. Steinlav by Anette Krogstad is hand-thrown stoneware that is repeatedly glazed to create a surface resembling lichens, while the Pour collection by Günzler.Polmar comprises a cast-porcelain water pitcher and rough stoneware basin. Elsewhere, Vigeland by Norwegian furniture designer Andreas Engesvik is a bronze vase with hollowed-out sides that resembles something from a Greek temple, its intricate, grooved surface texture created using wax from cheese. The vase stands in stark contrast to Engesvik’s furniture designs and even more so to his Clean Smile brightly coloured toothbrushes, recently designed for Norwegian manufacturer Jordan.