Milano Design Award 2017: Winning Installations

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Each year, after visiting Milan Design Week, everybody wants to discuss their own list of favorites. A few years ago Elita had the idea of turning the gatherings of designers and friends that used to happen at Valentina Ventrelli’s home into a real award. Milano Design Award is, to date, the only of its kind devoted to celebrating the best installations of the Fuorisalone, otherwise known as the events that happen in the city not the fairgrounds. One of the goals of this award is to document the evolution of taste and the emerging trends at Milan Design Week. However, it also aims to recognize the work of the international community of design.

After seven years, the Award is now also supported by the design districts of Milan. They help in the preliminary selection from the more than 1500 events that happen in our city’s most intense week of the year. The seventh edition award ceremony took place at La Triennale di Milano on 6 April 2017 and was opened by two lifetime achievement awards, meant for people and companies that built the history of Fuorisalone. The winners were Cappellini for the category of historical company in the field and Tom Dixon for his work as a designer, both of which were awarded by Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan.

The international jury was chaired by Luca Cipelletti (architect and winner of the 2016 edition) and composed of Illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli, designer Giorgio Di Salvo, Marco Velardi (founder and director of Apartamento magazine) and Cool Hunting’s co-founder and executive editor Evan Orensten.

LG’s “S.F._Senses of the Future,” hosted by Superstudio Più in via Tortona, took this year’s top honors. The installation, designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, made use of OLED technology to create an overwhelming yet poetic environment. Yoshioka imagined a series of sculptural chairs made with transparent glass and monitors that displayed abstract images of colors and shapes derived from natural landscapes. The backdrop was an impressive wall of 30,000 tiny OLED screens, which powerfully mimics the vibrance and intensity of sunlight.

Foundation, an exhibition that showcased the work of Formafantasma at Spazio Krizia, by two Amsterdam-based Italian-born designers gained two awards: Best Technology and Press Choice. Foundation presented the light experiments made by Formafantasma. Their work is centered on an artistic approach toward technology and the essential installation was mainly orchestrated through the light and color effects created by the objects on display.

One other category, Best Concept, was destined for winner Maarten Baas and his installation for Lensvelt. “May I have your attention, please?” was part of one of the most interesting areas of Design Week, Ventura Centrale. Baas filled one of the old warehouses of the Central Railway Station with chairs and megaphones. Counterintuitively, the sound emitted was not noise and cries, but just whispers coming from several different sources. The result was a clever, analog parody of the desperate desire for attention that we all live with, in the digital age.

This year’s Best Storytelling Award went to Panasonic’s “Electronics Meets Crafts,” designed by GO ON and Panasonic Design with Shuichi Furumi. As the title clearly states, Panasonic’s desire has been to reveal the beauty of the most traditional Japanese crafts in combination with their most sophisticated technologies. The installation was made of three different stages, hosted in the historic Accademia di Brera, the most prestigious Italian art academy. The first space was a theater in which inspirational videos were projected onto a screen made of precious kimono fabrics. The second phase presented artisanal Japanese daily objects like tea pots, bamboo lamps, wooden buckets—all of which were filled with hi-tech products. Curiously, you could hear the sounds of the forest coming from the tea pots, the buckets were able to keep sake at the right temperature, and the lamps had no visible light source. The third and last step showcased collaborative work conducted by Panasonic with the design students of the Accademia.

One of the most photographed installation of the week was “New Spring,” designed by Studio Swine for COS. Their minimalistic tree created bubbles filled with perfumed smoke and visitors lined up for hours to pop them and to take photos and selfies. Such a level of involvement, the emotion and the smiles it created were among the reasons for which the jury decided to give them Milano Design Award for Best Engagement.

The Unicorn is a new entry in the competition and its goal is to award installations that are difficult to define, those which stand at the crossroads of disciplines and inspirations. The winner of the Unicorn was “Superfollies” by Nobody&co in collaboration with Studio Toogood and Arabeschi di Latte. The installation was set in a beautiful private garden, usually closed to the public, once the area in which the horses of the Royal Palace were kept. This history is what motivated the company to ask Toogood to create small shelters for objects—an installation that used dollhouses and dog houses and more to conceal design items. Further, the cute little wooden unicorn that served as the physical prize is a sculpture by artist Duilio Forte, who also imagined the other colorful horses that have become a coveted symbol of Milan Design Week.

“New Spring” image by Josh Rubin, ceremony image courtesy of Milano Design Award, all others by Paolo Ferrarini

Interview: Curator Joseph Grima of Space Caviar

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Player Piano: A Subjective Atlas of a Landscape of Labour” was one of the most cerebral, engaging exhibitions we saw at this year’s 10th Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne. It was the final exhibition in the exploration of the Cité du Design, the event’s primary location. Here, the 1000-square-meter room appeared to be almost empty. A round, metallic stage sat in the middle of the former-industrial space and was surrounded by dozens of monitors that showed scenes of laborers working all over the world. Live piano music was in the air but there was no pianist. In fact, the score was composed and played in real time by a robot. This presence, as well as the title, is inspired by “Player Piano,” a 1952 dystopian novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, where automation takes over humans. Visitors to this exhibition felt a clear sense of invasion of technology and a desire to be free from it.

Joseph Grima from Space Caviar curated the exhibition. We met him to discuss this piece and the mutations of physical work, which was the theme of the entire design biennial.

Don’t you feel that every visitor to the space immediately asks, “Where are we?”

Well, we are sitting at the moment underneath the island of Abraxa. This project was commissioned by Olivier Peyricot, the director of Saint-Etienne Biennale, as a conclusion to this reflection that he organized through the Biennale on the nature of work. Work is something that defines culture and it has a very strong link with design, but it is also in rapid transformation. This is a very hot topic right now, [and there’s] a lot of both pessimism and optimism, fear and also excitement.

Did he give you specific guidance for the commission?

Being the last exhibition on the circuit, Olivier asked us to react and to look toward the future. The idea that we wanted to suggest with this exhibition is the dream of liberation from work and from the dread of technology. These are ideas that we’ve been thinking about for a very long time, that we’ve been struggling with for three million years. We were very interested in reframing these questions as timeless questions, and liberating them a little bit from this very constrained perspective of the present. We’ve been embarking on a journey and attempting to remove ourselves from this oppressive presence, and to look at these questions in historical terms.

Can you explain how you gave shape to such an abstract concept?

We decided to set up a kind of fictional narrative. We decided to propose to the visitors a journey to the island of Abraxa. Abraxa is an interesting place because it was mentioned first by Thomas More as the original territory in which Utopia was constructed. So we set up this island in a place that is not specified and also a time that is not specified. We began to populate it with a series of stories, micro narratives and scenarios, which you can seen walking around the space.”

The stories of work and labor are all over the place but not as an oppressive presence. How did you achieve this?

We went to 20 countries to get all of this footage. Some of them we had to travel for a week to get. At the same time, we didn’t want to do it on how many places we went to. So at the entrance we simply list the locations, because the point is not where they were or how much work we did, but more like a simple concept of correlation. They’re all real, but we were not interested in the reality. We were interested in presenting fictional characters or fictional scenarios, so we removed all specificity of time and place, and simply presented them as a whole. Our intention was that it would be a little bit like editing a film through the movement of your body, that you would be taken through a series of transitions of connections and relations. And through all of this, it suggests the possibility of a completely different reading of history.

Where does this come from?

This is essentially what Abraxa tends to suggest, the possibility of a less pessimistic reading of the future than “Player Piano” by Vonnegut. This installation is in a way an homage to a great writer, but also an attempt to reframe his narrative, his fiction, presenting it instead as a not-inevitable future. It’s a very dark novel, very pessimistic. Speaking of technology and speaking of automation, it’s very easy to be drawn into a kind of deterministic dystopian narrative.”

So you avoid oppression and darkness?

We wanted it to be a little bit lighthearted, and the visit concludes with a kind of touristic apex, which is the binoculars in which you look through and you can see the inhabitants of Abraxa beginning to collaborate to create a civilization. Over the period of one month, civilization becomes increasingly complex. And it will begin to make interventions, it’ll begin to transform the landscape.”

What about the future of work? What do you personally think about the digital transformations of our working life?

I agree that it is necessary to retake the control and to not simply become passive subjects of a sort of new liberal market driven universal reality in which there’s no alternative. And instead, begin to dictate those terms of the future that we create and to retake control of the political terms in which technology is deployed. And I think that this is also an invitation to designers, architects and practitioners to again immerse themselves to take control, to become engaged again, not simply in thinking around or researching, but creating and inventing the future.”

Screen image courtesy of Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne, all other images by Paolo Ferrarini

 

Highlights From Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne

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Located in the south east of France, the coal mining city of Saint-Etienne launched the Biennale Internationale Design 20 years ago. The 10th iteration recently opened (and will run through early April). Within, one will find an exploration of the concept of change. This theme, officially “Shifting Work Paradigms” was chosen by Olivier Peyricot, Scientific Director of the Biennale and Director of the Research Department at the Cité du Design. Since design is about problem-solving for the future, the exploration of work, technology, politics and society through that lens makes perfect sense. Of course, sometimes doubts are more relevant than the certainties—and the works at Saint-Etienne reflect that. While some look playfully at utopic futures and some are grim, all of them make a valid point about the ever-evolving nature of work, commerce and their effects on us as societies.

Several projects feature Detroit as a protagonist. While that might seem unexpected, the American city actually has quite a lot in common with Saint-Etienne—specifically an industrial past and a lively, evolving creative scene. “Out of Site” recounts the work of design studio Akoaki, whose founders (Anya Sirota and Jean-Louis Farges) create public installations and performances meant to generate experimental environments. Music plays a key role and, according to Sirota, “in Detroit, music is everywhere and it’s one of its most interesting forms of design.” The installation they present in Saint-Etienne is made of 450 pieces and can be easily dismantled and stored on a truck. This nomadic installation has already been used more than once in attempts to revive and excite suburbs—of course, accompanied by live music.

Another common theme at the event is that of work—more specifically work in the context of technology. Thanks to relentless notifications for e-mails, messages and calls, even without a traditional office, work follows us all the time. The exhibition “Working Dead” presents this idea as a spectacular installation. Five environments are aligned in a 1000-square-meter industrial space. Fake floors and ceilings recall a fairly dull office space, but no objects are on display—there are only sounds, voices, and images that create immersive and evocative situations of work. According to curator Didier Fiúza Faustino the five installations “look like temples or mausoleums, maybe graveyards” for quite a maudlin message.

Following logically along the work theme is that of economy and currency. When thinking of an ideal future, equality and freedom are oftentimes key words—both of which are primarily reserved for the wealthy. At Saint-Etienne this year, visitors have the chance to live in a commune where you can stay for free in exchange for work. Artist and designer Jerzsy Seymour has created the colorful “Lucky Larry Cosmic Commune” inside an abandoned industrial building. Anyone can go and have a space, but it’s necessary to work for the good of the community by producing merchandise, cleaning, cooking or organizing lectures, conferences and concerts. Seymour states that this is “a non-utopian utopia based on exchange economy.”

Also tackling the saturation of technology in our lives—both personal and professional—artist Tess Dumon created “Take Shelter.” This piece embodies a tiny room where everything is covered with images found on a phone—in essence, everything consumed via a smartphone each day is now physical. The result is both colorful and scary, invasive yet intriguing, something visitors can’t turn away from—just like our smartphones.

On now at Citè du Design as well as Mine Museum and Park, MAM Contemporary Art Museum, Art and Industry Museum and the stores in Rue de la Republique, Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne will run through 9 April 2017.

Images by Paolo Ferrarini

Osservatorio Prada: observing from both sides of the camera

Osservatorio is the most recent addition to Fondazione Prada. Opened on December 21, 2016 it is located in the very heart of Milan and is meant to showcase “photography and visual languages” today.

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Curated by Francesco Zanot, the opening exhibition is “Give me yesterday”.

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Fourteen Italian and international artists are the protagonists. Their names? Melanie Bonajo, Kenta Cobayashi, Tomé Duarte, Irene Fenara, Lebohang Kganye, Vendula Knopova, Leigh Ledare, Wen Ling, Ryan McGinley, Izumi Miyazaki, Joanna Piotrowska, Greg Reynolds, Antonio Rovaldi, Maurice van Es.

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The art on display is eye-catching, as well as the sourroundings. Being on top of the historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, from the huge windows we can observe the glass top of the ancient arcade. This unusual point of view makes Osservatorio a real observatory over the city.

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I visited the space at dusk and had a lot of fun with my Fuji X100T. But I was not alone, since lots of photographers and phonographers were all going back and forth from looking at pictures to actually taking pictures.

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And this composition of Italian panoramas by Antonio Rovaldi is probably the most instagrammed work of the entire exhibition.

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Osservatorio is an ideal place for those who really love photography, from both sides of the camera.

Dear Data Postcard Project

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Dear Data,” an “analog data drawing project” founded and conducted by Giorgia Lupiand Stefanie Posavec, is essentially a personal data visualization correspondence exchange between the aforementioned artists, illustrated by hand on postcards. Lupi in Brooklyn and Posavec in London sent each other a postcard each week for a year. The 104 postcards are now a book in two editions—one for the US and one for the EU. Further, the entire set of postcards was recently acquired by NYC’s MoMA for its permanent collection.

It all started in 2013 with an encounter at the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis. Lupi says, “I was familiar with Stefanie’s work very well before meeting her in person. It has always fascinated me how elegant, detailed, sublime and poetic her visualizations are. Her crafted and laborious way of working with data touches profound chords, I admired her process and body of work long before encountering her in real life.” Posavec explains, “We ended up talking to each other because we realized that we had a lot in common, but mainly because we both approached data visualization from a very handmade place. We didn’t code like many of our fellow data visualization colleagues but instead would use sketching and drawing as a way of coming up with new visual languages for representing data, and, for us, we saw this handmade process as vital to our creative/design process.” Of course the similarities weren’t simply professional, they hit it off personally too—both are only children and expats—and over a beer, they decided to collaborate.

“Ten days after we split and came back to our cities, I got an email from Stefanie, and everything started,” Lupi tells us. “From there on and for the following two months a copious number of emails flooded, where we over time refined the concept of our collaboration: daily or weekly datasets to work on, daily or weekly data-drawings, parallel types of data, finding a human and personal twist on the data. Ultimately we decided to work with our personal data, gathering information about ourselves to share with the other person, in an attempt to use data and drawings—the material we both work with—to get to know each other, over the course of the year.” The project—sending postcards to each other weekly—grew quite organically. Lupi says the idea of being ‘data pen pals’ “seemed incredibly compelling, and we decided to take in the risk that some of our postcards might get lost or damaged during their travel.”

While they were essentially gathering data, they also had to track it. “Initially, we had the crazy idea that we would collect our data manually; hand-writing all of our logs and details on a little Moleskine,” Lupi says. “But after the first week we agreed that it was just insane: to make our data collection sustainable over time and as less intrusive possible to our lives, we could use digital apps to jot down our data. Stefanie and I collected our data in different ways. I have been using different types of apps such as Evernote or the Reporter app, which is a very powerful tool for data recording if you know what types of ‘questions’ to set up. We also needed to get creative and find ways to quickly note things down on pieces of paper or even drawing a little reminder on our hands in all of these situations where it would be impolite to pull out our phones.”

It’s unsurprising that a project combining technology, design and personal stories would evolve into a book, but Lupi says it’s more than that. “The book obviously started with the project and it is based on our stories in form of data postcards for the year, but our collection of postcards is actually the starting point for an evolving conversation and another kind of back and forth between the two of us around our approach to data: around the importance of working with personal data with awareness and attention and expanding and elaborating on how we can use data as a material to connect with ourselves at a deeper level and to address even the trickiest matters in our minds.”

Since “Dear Data” was executed by Lupi and Posavec alone, collecting data in their own ways to create something together yet autonomous, the book evolved into something quite different. “The book was designed through lots of compromise and discussion as designers—which also helped us learn more about each other,” Lupi says. “It was also a great benefit in the end—as a designer, it can be very easy to think your way is always the right way, so through this continual discourse and debate we have been able to extend ourselves and see different solutions than what we might have normally taken.”

Their project is now part of the permanent collection at NYC’s MoMA. Lupi says, “Paola Antonelli (MoMA’s design curator) has been collecting data visualization for MoMA for a while now: Martin Wattenberg, Fernanda Viegas, Ben Fry, and Nicholas Felton are just a few prominent data visualization names who have also been acquired… We are so honored to have our work in the same collection as so many design and art masters, and we believe it also reinforces the value in experimenting and working on the edges of different disciplines (design / art / data visualization) in order to move all these disciplines forward.” Posavec explains the process took some time, as the team at MoMA decided whether or not to acquire the piece, “Stefanie and I spent months keeping all our fingers crossed, hoping the MoMA acquisition committee would agree with Paola that our work was worth being acquired. Needless to say, we couldn’t be happier and prouder and a multitude of other adjectives that our project has found the most incredibly permanent home.”

Images courtesy of Cassell & Co

New York, 1990

These past Christmas holidays I’ve spent some time scanning old film slides from my archives. The first set dates back to July, 1990 and it’s about my first time there, on a family trip.

I have decided not to retouch too much, so to keep the original mood, as well as the “reddish” touch of time, that makes everything more real.

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Yes. Times Square. Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Mita: technology was already the protagonist. I was there just a few weeks ago and the most impressive billboard was Snapchat Spectacles.

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And Canon, of course.

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Some things are still around.

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But some others have completely disappearded. Like thecamel. And those guys were actually painting the billboard. By hand. With brushes. Actually this is coming back. A few weeks ago I have spotted some guys in Brooklyn making advertising graffiti for Facebook.

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Of course finding the Twin Towers on my slides was hearthbreaking, in particular a few weeks after visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. How magnificent and powerful they were!

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Some touristic attractions, of course. I was 17 at the time and going to New York was a dream come true. Fortunately it was just the first of many others.

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Central Park was still considered to be kind of dangerous at the time. The mayor was David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani and gentrifucation came in 1994. Walking around the Park, even thou in full daylight, felt transgressive and adventourous.

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As real tourists, we didn’t miss the Top of the World Trade Center Observatories on the 107th and 110th floors of the South Tower.

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This is the television antenna on top of World Trade Center South Tower. A portion of this fallen giant is on display at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. That was the tallest thing in New York City and now it’s underground.

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This is a different view, from the oservation deck of the Empire State Building. A few things have changed since then.

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This image is incredibly vintage. We flew TWA and of course on our way back we left from the amazing TWA Flight Center, the terminal designed by Eero Saarinen at JFK Airport. I realize now that the deisgn of the windows created a frame around the plane, making it ready to be photographed. Way before the Instagram age.

Inspiring Innovators: Paolo Ferrarini