And now for some ridiculously old news: At Design Miami/Basel this past June, the three W Hotels Designers of the Future awardees included Tom Foulsham, Markus Kayser, and Philippe Malouin, each of whom were handed a commission with a very meta, very Sight Unseen-style brief — to devise a project that would somehow illuminate their creative process, like Foulsham’s merry-go-round propelled by balloons and hair-dryers, or Malouin and Kayser’s differing takes on daylight-mimicking lamps. Even if you weren’t in Basel yourself, you probably read all about it earlier this summer, whoop-de-doo. But what you might not have seen is the hefty catalog Design Miami’s organizers produce for every show, which was handed to us belatedly last week during a pow-wow with head curator Marianne Goebl, and which contained an article that was so up our alley we were surpised no one had shown it to us sooner: a photo essay wherein Kayser, Foulsham, and Malouin were asked to respond to questions like “A sketch” and “An object you find useful” by handing over the sketches and objects themselves. Malouin’s response to “Why London?”: A beat-up turntable. Foulsham’s: A nasty hunk of road pavement whose subtext we’re still not quite sure of. Check out the essay in its entirety in the slideshow at right, then bookmark the Design Miami blog to keep up with the fair’s newer news, like who’s going to be this year’s Designer of the Year, which is set to be announced this week.
It’s hard enough to be a young American designer. The lack of government funding means that prototypes must often be self-financed, and the difficulty in working with most European manufacturers means that young design studios frequently end up handling their own production as well. Now try doing it all in Seattle, a city that’s not exactly famous for its flourishing industrial design scene.
As design-store owner Dave Alhadeff sees it, there’s a distinction between the kinds of craftspeople he is and isn’t interested in: The latter make objects primarily to show off their manual skills, while the former are motivated by a larger concept, a wish to make tangible some abstract artistic meaning. Carving toothpicks into forest animals? Skills. Carving porcelain into vases so mind-bogglingly intricate they appear to be made by machine? Concept. A subtle difference, but one that helps it seem slightly less absurd to picture Alhadeff — who runs The Future Perfect, one of New York’s most well-respected purveyors of contemporary design — roaming the aisles of a Westchester craft fair, chatting up potters and glassblowers. Concept, he explains, is what builds a bridge between pure craft and design.
Before Matt Olson and Mike Brady of the Minneapolis studio ROLU began making boxy plywood furniture in 2010 — earning them serious contemporary design cred and a reputation for channeling Donald Judd — they spent seven years designing landscapes, minimalist geometric compositions in steel, wood, concrete, and grass. It was those projects, says Olson, that have helped define the group’s work since, from their love for earthy materials to their awareness of design’s larger experiential qualities. “A landscape is a dynamic thing,” Olson explains. “It has smells, it grows and dies and changes. That taught me to pay attention to what’s really happening with an object; the chair as a visual and functional thing is only the start.” In ROLU’s case, chairs can also interact with users, reference sculptures and performance art and drawings, or become performances themselves, often by way of little more than a few planes of OSB.