MILAN 2016

Milan Day One: Herringbones and Shit


11 April 2016

Officially, Milan’s Salone del Mobile and Fuorisalone design events do not begin until 12 April. Unofficially, the latter are already in full swing.

Last night marked the opening of The Shit Evolution, an exhibition of product design from the Museo Della Merda or Museum of Shit in Piacenza, Italy. Working in collaboration with the architect Luca Cipelletti, the museum has produced a series of tiles, pots and vases in merdacotta, a proprietary material produced by mixing tuscan clay with cow dung from which all methane and urea have been extracted. The result is an odourless material that is surprisingly reminiscent of the terracotta for which it is named.

The exhibition (an elaboration of last year’s Shit Show), is housed in the mouldering palazzo basement of the SIAM arts and crafts organisation in central Milan. Alongside the products on display, all stamped with the museum’s charming dung beetle insignia, are a series of videos documenting the production of the merdacotta material at the museum’s farm base in Piacenza. Accompanying the films are artworks new and old, notable among which is Homage to Piero Manzoni: oversize merdacotta recreations of Piero Manzoni’s 1961 cans of Artist’s Shit.

The Shit Evolution pulls off a neat trick. It is simultaneously provocative and practical. Daniel Spoerri’s 1968/69 film Resurrection tells the story of cow to burger in reverse (a slumped cow coming to life on the slaughterhouse floor; knives cutting corpses shut), making for thoroughly uncomfortable viewing that invites reflection on the wastefulness of much consumption and production. Meanwhile, through its range of Merdacotta products, the museum proposes a more rational, considered model for making use of the vast wastage produced by the meat and dairy industries (a full examination of the design potential of shit can be read in Disegno No.9). It is a highly encouraging exhibition.

Out of the shit and into something rather sweeter. Close by to The Shit Evolution’s home on Via Santa Marta is Spazio Sanremo on Via Zecca Vecchia. Last year Spazio Sanremo housed Max Lamb’s Exercises in Seating exhibition, while this year it plays host to Raw-Edges’ Herringbones, a series of furniture dip-stained in vibrant pigments to produce coloured herringbone patterns that resemble magic realist mountainscapes.

The technique used in Herringbones is similar to the studio’s earlier project Endgrain, but the results markedly different. Whereas Endgrain luxuriated in highly patterned curving forms (demonstrating the way in which the stain had soaked through the wood), the Herringbones pieces are slat-like and simple in their construction, echoing the linearity of the patterns that decorate them. Complexity arrives in the layering of shades that Raw-Edges have achieved by building up layers of staining. Mixing jewel-like greens, blues, yellows and reds to create herringbones of striking intensity, Raw-Edges has a laudable talent for harmonious colour compositions.

Progressive treatment of taboo waste materials and the polychromatic beauty of woodstain: the Fuorisalone, even before it has begun proper, has proven itself a pleasingly eclectic affair.