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Milan Design Week 2018: Part Three

Milan

19 April 2018

Away from the commercialism of the fiera, and the parade of showroom installations and brand presentations, the Salone’s most intellectually satisfying and rigorous offerings are frequently owed to the work of universities and academies. This year seems little different.

Add, then, to the mix an exercise in formal and visual lightness by an Italian metal manufacturer, and an immersive exhibition by a large electronics company, and it makes for a stimulating contrast to the more commercial agenda of the fair.

Basic Income Café, Martina Huynh. IMAGE Nicole Marinati courtesy of Design Academy Eindhoven

Design Academy Eindhoven

Design Academy Eindhoven, now under the directorship of Joseph Grima, followed up its successful 2017 presentation #TVClerici with (Not for sale.), an exploration of value within design curated by Grima and Tamar Shafrir.

(Not for sale.) is a series of installations set along the somewhat innocuous Via Pietro Crespi, with student projects installed in the road’s food market, launderette, hardware store, internet café and so forth. Irene Stracuzzi’s The Misinformation Times, for instance, is a wry newspaper that purports to offer real news about fake news (“We’ve ID’d the mystery woman in those Melania Trump-imposter rumors. (It’s Melania Trump.)”), and is being freely distributed from Via Pietro Crespi’s magazine kiosk It is a charming and thoughtful idea, and one that reminds visitors of design’s entanglement with society. When the Salone can frequently feel like an alien intervention on Milan – a strange spaceship descending to squat upon the city for a week before ascending back into the cosmos– (Not for sale.) is a stirring reminder to reflect on what the relationship between society and design might actually be, with a series of the students’ projects bearing the point out superbly. 

Martina Huynh’s Basic Income Café is an exploration of economic models and ideas surrounding universal income told through the flow of coffee in a communal coffee maker (which is, splendidly, housed within an oversized, translucent model of a Bialetti). Meanwhile, Marie Caye and Arvid Jense presented SAM, a machine that produces and sells kombucha as part of its effort to “survive in the human world” and become “a legal part of society”. SAM is billed as setting its own prices as according to supply and demand, paying taxes and even hiring employees. The whole thing is brilliantly ludicrous and fascinating, with Caye and Jense opening up a rich vein of humour to explore the legal status of machines within society and to explore ideas of autonomy and legal representation.

Via Pietro Crespi, 14

A display cabinet at ECAL's Digital Market. IMAGE Calypso Mahieu, courtesy of ECAL.

ECAL

Meanwhile, on Via dell’Orso, ECAL also looked at modes of production – albeit in radically different form – with Digital Market, an exhibition examining the potential of 3D printing and production on demand. With a series of 3D printers operating around the clock, students from ECAL’s Master Product Design course, aided and abetted by tutors and alumni, had designed a series of everyday objects that could be printed and sold on site with minimal hand finishing. Bottle openers, earrings, combs, clips and tape dispensers (and a special mention should go to designer Christian Spiess’s superbly Lego-baiting twisting building blocks) are all produced on site and available for sale at various prices as according to size, with the digital files also available from http://www.ecal-digital-market.ch at a flat rate of €9.

The objects are rarely less than endearing, with a selection also experimenting with intricate textures which might be achieved through 3D printing technology (notably course leader Camille Blin’s small tray, and Jörg Boner’s model of the moon), making for an exhibition that feels accessible and immediately graspable to a general audience. But there is undoubtedly depth to be found in Digital Market: it’s gentle provocations around the ways in which we produce and consume design are well worth exploring further.

Spazio Orso 16, Via dell’Orso, 16

In Davide Piscitelli’s documentary 'Gogo’s Dream', a Google Home device dreams of singing a duet with Stevie Wonder. IMAGE courtesy of Central Saint Martins.

Royal Academy of Art the Hague and Central Saint Martins

Also worth exploring is Viale Abruzzi 42, a rich space in which a number of academies and universities have come together to exhibit work. My Practice, My Politics, an exhibition curated by Saskia van Stein and Agata Jaworska for the Royal Academy of Art the Hague, displayed a laudatory commitment to identifying the political undercurrent in any design or art practice, captured well by projects such as graphic designer Tereza Rullerova’s bizarrely gripping Playbour:The New Workaholism: a music-video-cum-exercise-routine-cum-performance-piece examining the worrying tendency to gamify work as a means of further blurring the divide between labour and pleasure.

Also of note was the presentation by students from Central Saint Martins’s consistently excellent Material Futures course – a programme that does a sterling job of connecting material processes to politics and culture. The work on display is progressive, vital and, in many cases, delightfully amusing, as in Davide Piscitelli’s Louis Theroux-esque documentary Gogo’s Dream: a Quixotic odyssey to explore the status of AI and personhood in society by helping a Google Home device fulfil its programmes dream of “[wanting] to sing a duet with Stevie Wonder.”

Viale Abruzzi, 42

Sony's exhibition Hidden Senses is better experienced in person, than viewed on a screen. IMAGE courtesy of Sony.

Sony

Sony's Hidden Senses is an exhibition that has been much talked about among Milan visitors, but about which there has been relatively little buzz on Instagram (as noted, this is the platform which has turned into Milan Design Week's unofficial guide). Hidden Senses does not come across well on the app, and that is no bad thing. It consists of a series of spaces showcasing playful applications of Sony's technologies to everyday and domestic objects, which visitors are invited to interact with. This is all very "Internet of Things": an empty jug feels full when picked up, and if one tries to "pour" its contents it will react accordingly both in its haptic and aural feedback; point at an object and it's as if you've got a spotlight on your finger tip; slap a magnetic frame on a sensor-fitted wall and it will turn into a painting. The first rooms of the show are the most successful: here, the technology is presented in an abstracted way – wonder is the only response elicited. The final segment shows the same ideas applied, hypothetically, to home-like settings, and feels a little less compelling and intuitive. What is refreshing throughout, however, is that the exhibit has not been designed to be consumed via a screen, but through embodied experience. Curious that one has to turn to an electronics company for this sort of experience.

Via Savona, 56a

Sam Hecht and Kim Colin's Piatto tables for Fucina. IMAGE Miro Zagnoli, courtesy of Fucina.

Fucina

Tucked away on a side street in Brera is Gallery Loom, which houses a special exhibition by Fucina, the design-oriented branch of Italian metal manufacturer Lidi. Titled Digest, the exhibit sees four designers or studios – Sam Hecht and Kim Colin, Maddalena Casadei, Pauline Deltour, and Jun Yasumoto – respond to a brief set by Fucina. The stated aim of the collaboration, writes Fucina, is to have welding, seams and joints disappear "in search for a formal and visual lightness [...] [and] in an attempt to eliminate the heavy, industrial effect that metal objects tend to have". The designers tasked with this have risen to the challenge: Hecht and Colin's Piatto tables employ simple cantilevered planes propped up by slim tubular legs, some of which are reflected by the chromed steel sheets that also help support the tables. Deltour's 365 cabinets take their unlikely inspiration from the curvature of car doors; this is registered in the subtly flared cabinet doors and exposed hinges. Casadei's Tavolotto tables look as if moulded from single pieces, but they have in fact been welded together and polished so thoroughly as to appear seamless; and Yasumoto's shelving system Piani has the appearance of a light shimmering grid. It's a joy to stumble across such finely turned work in a quiet corner of the otherwise bustling Brera district.

Via Marsala, 7