There were thousands of exhibitions going on in Milan two weeks ago, when the annual furniture fair took over the city, stuffing its subway cars and panini shops full of hungover design tourists. But in terms of sheer number of designers represented per square foot, one emerged a clear winner: “Achille is Watching Us,” for which the young Maastricht-based designer and journalist Matylda Krzykowski and architect Marco Gabriele Lorusso managed to corral no less than 32 marquis names — Nacho Carbonell, Peter Marigold, and Bless among them — into an empty shopfront no larger than the average New Yorker’s bedroom. That’s because the pair, after being offered the space for free by the building’s wealthy and culturally savvy owner, decided not to show any design inside it all. Instead, they asked the talents Krzykowski had befriended through her blog, Mat&Me, to each contribute one small personal belonging and tell the story behind it. “Milan is so commercial — it’s about retailing and selling,” Krzykowski explains. “You get so caught up in looking at what’s new that you get lost in it. This year we decided to turn it around, to look at the things that are really important.”
It was Krzykowski’s experience visiting designers’ studios for Mat&Me that gave her insight into just how important everyday objects can be to designers, who not only cherish them and look to them for inspiration, but tend to jump at the chance to wax poetic about them. “Whenever I see one of these meaningful items in a designer’s studio and ask about it, they always tell me a nice precious story about why they got it, why they kept it, and why they have it on display.” When she and Lorusso realized that everyday objects were just as pivotal to the practice of legendary Milan-based designer Achille Castiglione, whose collection-filled studio is now a museum not far from the space they were invited to show in, the curators contacted Castiglione’s daughter Giovanna for permission to name their project in his honor.
That turned out to be the easy part; she said yes almost immediately. Much harder was getting the designers involved to actually pony up an object for the show. Though they were surrounded by personal possessions in their homes and studios, some of them felt they had begun to take them for granted and couldn’t quite see them clearly anymore, and others were simply overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing just one personal story to tell. “I visited Chris Kabel in his studio, and even though he knew I was coming two days before, he still said he didn’t have anything yet because he had to think about it so hard,” Krzykowski recalls. “The two girls from Bless said they’re not really attached to objects, even if they design shitloads of them” — and yet their selections, posted at right along with 13 others from the exhibition, were among the most intriguing of the bunch.
Then there was the collective nervousness everyone involved felt about the vulnerability of the items on display, which were tied down with fishing wire over the course of the show. Some of the designers called Krzykowski wondering if they would ever get their treasured possessions back. “I was so worried in the beginning that I told Marco I wanted to sleep in the exhibition,” she says, though luckily, her worries ultimately proved unfounded. “You can’t replace these things with money. It’s memories.”
Through today, Sight Unseen is showcasing the work of half a dozen designers and design firms exhibiting together at the Milan Furniture Fair under the umbrella of the soon-to-launch Carwan Gallery in Beirut. Here, Nicolas Bellevance-Lecompte, one quarter of the Montreal and Milan–based design studio Samare and the co-founder of the Carwan gallery itself, tells us about the group's new and strikingly geometric felted-wool rugs, made in collaboration with the Belgian textile designers Antonin Bachet and Linda Topic. The project is the latest addition to Samare's ongoing Pays d’en Haut Legacy series, which investigates and then reinterprets the vernacular forms and decorative motifs of Canada's upper country, home to its logging and fur trades. Since their studio launch in 2008, they've worked with local snowshoe craftsman, weavers, and furriers in an attempt to show the world — and their fellow Canadians — how these longtime traditions and crafts can still prove relevant to contemporary culture. After the Milan fair, the rugs will travel to New York, where they'll be presented by the design store Matter during ICFF.
Had you peeked into London gallerist Libby Sellers's diary for the week of the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this month, you would have seen all the requisite stops on the circuit: Rossana Orlandi one afternoon, Lambrate and Tortona the next, plus a stop at Satellite and a time out for breakfast at the Four Seasons with Alice Rawsthorn, her former boss. There was time made for shopping — Sellers is a self-admitted clothes horse, having transformed most of her London apartment into a walk-in closet — and for a visit to the 10 Corso Como gallery and bookstore. But despite what you'd expect from one of the world's most respected supporters of emerging design, who for the past two years has commissioned work from and produced pop-up exhibitions with talents like Max Lamb and Julia Lohmann, Sellers did not walk away from the fair with an arsenal of new relationships to pursue. Her scouting is done before she even gets there, in graduate degree shows and over the internet, so that in Milan — unlike the rest of us — she gets to relax and enjoy the show.
Through April 15, Sight Unseen will be showcasing the work of half a dozen designers and design firms exhibiting together at the Milan Furniture Fair under the umbrella of the soon-to-launch Carwan Gallery in Beirut. When we asked Brooklynite Paul Loebach which of the four products he'll bring to the show had the most intriguing backstory, he immediately nominated his Watson table, a sandwich of carbon fiber and wood with double-helix legs that took him two and a half years to develop. Like the rest of Loebach's oeuvre, the table reinterprets historical craftsmanship techniques using cutting-edge technologies, evoking yet another novel property from a material as old and as simple as wood. "I named the table after the guy who discovered DNA," Loebach says. "I felt like a scientist doing this project, so I named it after one."