Back in January, when we first began contemplating how we would program the Noho Design District — the just-completed four-day design extravaganza produced and curated by Sight Unseen and held in conjunction with New York’s ICFF — one thing was clear: Come hell or high water, we’d find a way to pull off an exhibition we’d been obsessing over for months, ever since the re-release last summer of the 1966 Bruno Munari classic Design As Art. Among the late Italian designer’s musings, photos, diagrams, and sketches, we were reminded of his childlike fascination with hanging mobiles — or as he calls them, useless machines. He writes: “My useless machines were made of cardboard painted in plain colors, and sometimes a glass bubble, while the whole thing was held together with the frailest of wooden rods and bits of thread. They had to be light, so as to turn with the slightest movement of the air, and the thread was just the thing to prevent them getting all twisted up … I thought that instead of painting triangles and other geometrical forms within the atmosphere of an oblong picture, it would perhaps be interesting to free these forms from the static nature of a picture and to hang them up in the air, attached to each other in such a way as to live with us in our own surroundings, sensitive to the atmosphere of real life, to the air we breathe … Whether or not Calder started from the same idea, the fact is that we were together in affirming that figurative art had passed from two or at the most three dimensions to acquire a fourth: that of time.”
Armed with Munari’s words — and having secured Noho fashion boutiques Oak and Rogan as venues in which to hang the results — we sent a brief to a dozen of our favorite talents in the worlds of design, fashion, and art, and waited for the projects to roll in. We never could have guessed the directions our designers would travel off in. Some, like conceptual artist Tobias Wong, chose to deconstruct the mobile completely. His chain of raw wooden beads hung in a single line from the ceiling, ending in a coiled pile on Oak’s concrete floor. “The movement of the piece comes from the random collection created on the floor rather than air or traditional kinetics on which conventional mobiles are reliant,” Wong explains. Others hewed closer to Munari’s original aesthetic; eco fashion designer Rogan Gregory reinvigorated the form with materials close to his heart: reclaimed Southern yellow pine, piano wire, and bronze. Each of the final entries, however, was an accurate reflection of its maker’s obsessions and inspirations.
When Emily Hermans started her own clothing line in 2004, she did something kind of genius: She found a local knitwear factory in Eindhoven that would let her produce her own textile designs on its knitting machines, and then slowly convinced its owner to take her on as a partner. He would get equity in her line — MLY — and she could crank out prints to her heart’s content without paying a premium. There was only one catch.
Since graduating from London’s Royal College of Art in 2006 with a master’s degree in womenswear, Eudon Choi has had his graduate collection picked up by the fanatically worshipped Dover Street Market, been a senior designer for Savannah and Sienna Miller's label Twenty8Twelve, and been called a “fabulous individual” by our favorite throwback men’s fashion mag Fantastic Man. All of which makes his decision to move to London in 2003 — after having already completed a master’s in menswear at Yonsei University in his hometown of Seoul — seem like a pretty good move. “London, and womenswear in particular, just felt like a place where I could be more experimental,” says Choi.
This story was originally published on November 3, 2009. A year and a half later, Dror Benshetrit unveiled at the New Museum a simple, scalable structural joint system called QuaDror, which just may turn out to be his magnum opus. It takes obvious inspiration from the kinds of toys he shared with Sight Unseen here. // Some furniture expands if you’re having extra dinner guests, or folds if you’re schlepping it to a picnic. But most of it just sits there, content to be rather than do. This drives New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit crazy. “Static freaks me out,” he’s said, and so the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has spent the entirety of his young career making things that either capture a state of transformation (his progressively shattered series of vases for Rosenthal) or actually transform themselves (the Pick Chair and Folding Sofa that flatten using simple mechanics). When I first saw Dror’s latest project, a trivet for Alessi whose concentric metal arcs are magnetized so they can be reconfigured endlessly — and even, the designer enthusiasticaly suggests, worn as a necklace — I thought: If he can’t even let a trivet sit still then his fascination with movement must be more than a design philosophy, it’s probably coded in his DNA. I was right. Dror has been obsessed with kinetic toys since he was a child.