Milan is currently awash with ‘Design’. For better or worse it is the word of the week as the annual Salone del Mobile has begun. A slightly odd thing, the furniture fair is a trade event that has grown far beyond its industry context and is now sprawled about the whole city. An event with a wonderfully rich history that these days is a little overloaded with an unfortunate marketing spin.
It can be all too easy to criticise an event of this scale, the nature of such a massive gathering is that it is almost impossible to bring clarity. However it is fair to say that there is a genuine issue with an industry that is producing more and more of the unnecessary in a desperate race for newness. Our approach has been to ignore the repetitive noise, explore with open eyes, and luckily we have come across some really wonderful shows with designers, curators and producers that are genuinely challenging themselves and asking real questions.
While we are here we have been catching up with old friends, enjoying negroni under blue skies and discovering old and new favourites, creatives with a sense of purpose. There is too much going on but a few favourites are as follows.
Exercises in Seating – Max Lamb
In a garage space in 5vie district, Max has gathered a living catalogue of his work since 2006. The title originates from his graduation show at the Royal College of Art, where the exercises began. They speak of seating but more than that they are works that make visible Max’s boundless curiosity with material and process. 42 chairs, stools and benches are arranged in a circle, one from every exploration. A favourite of ours since the day it was made is the Lady Cross Sandstone – an unwieldy rock with the most gentle of chiselled interventions.
Nina Yashar is an exceptional furniture dealer (and more), a wonder who has been supporting the new and old for many years from her show room in Milan. Nilufar Gallery has hosted the launch of some super contemporary works of recent years including a favourite of ours, Martino Gamper’s “If only Gio Knew” series back in 2007. This year she has gone big and opened the doors to the Nilufar Depot, her warehouse. It is a 3-floor treasure trove with over 3000 pieces of contemporary and historic design by everybody from Bethan Laura Wood to Sottsass and much more. Walking the display is an education.
The Arrangement of Furniture in a Room – SCP
The occasion of SCP’s 30th anniversary is truly a cause for celebration. Sheridan Coakely Products has been leading the way in the manufacturing and selling of contemporary design in Britain for longer than most. A company lead by a wonderful man with a beard that hides a friendly smile, a man that drives his operation forward with a resolute and refreshing approach to design and retail. SCP was one of the first to produce and sell the work of Konstantin Grcic, Jasper Morrison, Michael Marriot, Peter Marigold and more.
To celebrate 30 years there are some exciting re-issues and new additions, all gathered and arranged with Michael Marriot’s magical touch. Each item is displayed on top of a piece of specially sourced non-SCP furniture. The individual arrangements are like small design conversations around form, material and texture. The result is a collection of design that is all at once modern, timeless and full of individuality.
Liminal – Irish Design at the Threshold
A beautiful title for the premiere show of Irish Design 2015. Liminal arrived in Milan as the first iteration of an evolving show that will look to demonstrate the depth of Irish design and creativity. Some interesting collaborations encompassing over 20 designers, companies and studios have been brought together to show what is possible. Designgoat, an emerging Irish design duo, are working with young Irish wonder cook Katie Sanderson on a collection of tableware inspired by Sanderson’s fresh take on Irish ingredients. Notion, another young Irish studio, have worked with our favourite weavers, Mourne Textiles, to create a chair and table. Of particular interest are the cast concrete panels that Grafton Architects have been working on with Graphic Relief. For now they are just a series of samples, each representing the bark of a native Irish tree. They are just the starting point in their journey that forms part of much larger plans that will be unveiled later in the year at London Design Festival - we will be looking forward see how things evolve there.
Eat Shit – Design Academy Eindhoven
Design Academy Eindhoven has probably done more for design than any other institution over the last decade. A pioneering school that is continually reassessing its place in the world. Recently, aware of the dominance of technology and food in contemporary discourse, it set up the Food Non Food department. Far more than just “food design” they will be exploring deep into contemporary culture and historic context of food exploration, and into "the politics of how, where and why we eat". We have yet to visit their show 'Eat Shit' in Milan, but are excited to be heading there soon.