Milan Design Week 2017: Part Two


5 April 2017

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

The day begins at Multiplex at the old Teatro Manzoni, a historic cinema and two-storey arcade whose shopfronts have been taken over by Tom Dixon. Loosely centred around the theme Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Multiplex features a retrospective of Dixon’s work (the S Chair and the Jack Light are among the products exhibited) alongside a separate stand for new launches. Notable among these is Cut, a multi-faceted light which is a futuristic mirror sculpture when off, and a kaleidoscopic light source when on.

Multiplex also gives over ample space to smaller brands working out of local craft traditions, which proffer a rather different relationship with the exhibition's temporal theme than Dixon's space-age lamp. One of these is Mabeo: a furniture brand from Botswana that has been working to wed local carving traditions and materials with international design since 1996. Previous Mabeo collaborators include Patricia Urquiola and Claesson Koivisto Rune. This year, the young designer Inès Bressand has produced a cabinet and a table that explore the design potential of galvanised metal, a common industrial byproduct in Botswana.

Israel's Iota are similarly anchored in traditional techniques and materials. Founder Shula Moses and creative director Tal Zur work directly with women from the country's Bedouin community, who produce produce crocheted rugs and textile coverings using locally sourced wool. The installation at Multiplex also includes two swings suspended by vine-like wiring that sprouts curious crocheted flora and fauna: mushrooms, flowers, and colourful seedlings. Once trained by Iota, the local Beduin women disseminate the crocheting techniques in the wider community.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: Multiplex, Teatro Manzoni, Via Manzoni 42

Formafantasma's show at Spazio Krizia includes works that play with light, colour and shadow. IMAGE Johanna Seelemann

Foundation by Formafantasma

Formsfantasma deserve kudos for their approach to the Salone. Showing in Spazio Krizia, the practice has staged Foundation – a collection of their works for Galleria O. Roma and the Peep Hole art centre that variously play with light, colour and shadow. Initially, one is struck by the beauty of the objects on display. There are golden hoops of metal that pass light through lenses to create puddles on the floor; tremulous fishing pole-esque structures that steer light down onto gleaming panels; dichroic glass panels that spread light out into fractured colour spectrums; and polycarbonate lenses that distort light and shadow into rippling patterns. Everything feels of a piece – a series of studies revealing ways in which light might be channeled and manipulated, which have been executed with brio and a keen sense of aesthetics.

But then you begin to notice the improvisational quality to aspects of the works. One piece is attached to the wall by a piece of elastic; another work achieves its light effect by a carefully positioned iPhone. The pieces on display are works in progress and studies for ideas that may or may not become commercial products in future. The designs are beautiful as gallery objects, but as compelling is the studio’s desire to present elements of its present thinking.

Foundation: Spazio Krizia, Via Manin 21

At the Teatro Arsenale, Färg and Blanche has created a series of samurai armour-inspired pieces using stitched wood. IMAGE Courtesy of by Färg & Blanche

Armour Mon Amour by Färg & Blanche

Färg & Blanche’s Wood Tailoring project has proven a profitable avenue for the practice: the studio has developed its method for stitching wood into a signature technique, as well as launching a commercial product using it for BD Barcelona. The studio’s new Armour Mon Amour collection pushes the practice further, with Färg & Blanche presenting a collection that features thermoplastic felt and metal panels that are stitched together to create furniture reminiscent of insect carapaces, replete with towering backrests that stretch over and cosset the user.

The technique is interesting, but also worth reflecting on is the inspiration for the pieces: samurai armour, artefacts that the studio became interested in during a residency in Japan. Typically, any mention of Japan in design is a byword for a species of studied minimalism and restrained good taste. It is rather refreshing to see the country’s design tradition invoked as a justification and reference for a collection employing a full-blown maximalist eccentricity. Armour Mon Amour comes as a reminder that no country, no matter how pure its design tradition may be, is so restrictive as to not to allow for contradictions and complexities.

Amour Mon Amour: Teatro Arsenale, Via Cesare Correnti 11

Atelier Biagetti's GOD includes fake gold bars, stacked around at various points in the exhibition space. IMAGE Delfino Sisto Legnani; courtesy of Atelier Biagetti

GOD by Atelier Biagetti

Milan Design Week attracts design in all forms. GOD, an exhibition of works by the locally-based studio Atelier Biagetti and curated by Maria Cristina Didero, leans towards the less conventional. It is the third in a series of exhibitions that aim explore “contemporary society’s greatest obsessions” (past iterations having explored bodybuilding and sex), and delves into the world’s preoccupation with money. The result has some novelty.

Fake gold bars are stacked around the exhibition, the base of each adorned with the image of an overly smiley model in front of a white sandy beach, an image that could have been ripped from a 1980s budget travel brochure. Positioned in the corner is a scratch card panel in which visitors are encouraged to scratch off to reveal if they have won a prize. Elsewhere, a gold swing hangs in front of a ruffled synthetic curtain, itself embellished with a tacky vacation image. One wall of the gallery is lined by a repeated line of brash discount supermarket posters with the text "BUY NOW", and a towering perspex unit fills the centre of the space. The exhibition is worth a visit on account of its vivacity and inscrutability: I walked out with a tote bag, the prize for my winning scratch card, and a little bafflement.

GOD: Piazza Arcole 4