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Substitutes at Berlin-Weekly

Peer through the window of the narrow, unassuming storefront space at 160 Linienstrasse in Berlin this week — which, like Maurizio Cattelan's once perpetually shuttered Wrong Gallery, allows for little more than such a glance — and you may feel perplexed at the seemingly disparate objects scattered about its plinths. Toasters, ash trays, broomsticks, plastic spiders: not your typical fare for a gallery like Berlin-Weekly, which normally invites one artist or designer per week to create an elaborate installation piece behind its locked doors for the enjoyment of passersby. During this year's Berlin Design Week, however, owner and curator Stefanie Seidl decided to shift the proposition a bit, partnering with designer Fabian Baumann to ask 40 creatives for two personal objects exploring the theme of "Substitutes"; say, a rolled-up magazine when no fly-swatter is handy, or a spider in lieu of coffee (read on to figure out what we mean by that one). The results will be visible in the Berlin-Weekly space from June 1 to 28, but you can see a portion of its contents in the excerpt below.
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A better view of the Aalto piece and an assortment of the baskets that served as raw material for the exhibition. Hanging in the right corner is one of Burks’s basket abstracted objects: a pendant lamp made from the recycled HDPE of milk jugs and water bottles that Burks found in the streets of Brooklyn and cleaned for reuse.

Stephen Burks’s Man Made exhibition at the Studio Museum

In search of inspiration, the Chicago-born designer Stephen Burks has often traveled to places like Peru, South Africa, Haiti, India, Australia, and Kenya. But the idea for his latest project began a bit closer to home: “Three or four years ago, I met this basket salesman at a street fair in New York,” remembers Burks. “His name was Serigne Diouck, and I told him I was interested in his technique.” The two became friends instantly, and Burks soon learned that the baskets were constructed from spiraled sweet grass, stitched together with colorful strands of recycled plastic and made in Diouck’s birthplace of Thies, a tiny village outside of Dakar. Their collaboration, though, was longer in coming. “Since 2006, I’ve been shooting this documentary of my work in the developing world,” says Burks. “Finally in 2009, the Sundance Channel came forward and wanted to produce a pilot. We did a four-day shoot in Senegal with Serigne where I did a bunch of experiments around these traditional baskets.” One of the products to come out of the shoot was the Starburst lamp, a cluster of Diouck’s baskets turned into readymades and strung together with bulbs until they resembled some sort of third-world Castiglioni lamp. On a studio visit last fall, Thelma Golden and Naomi Beckwith — the curators of New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem — spied the Starburst and commissioned Burks on the spot to create the museum’s first-ever industrial design exhibit around the theme of those hybrid experiments. The resulting show, called Stephen Burks: Man Made, opened this spring at the museum.
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Experimental pieces and commissions.

Adam Silverman, Studio Director at Heath Ceramics

To identify yourself as a potter in this day and age sounds strangely old-fashioned. A ceramicist, yes; a ceramic artist, sure. And yet there really is no other way to describe Adam Silverman, the Los Angeles–based studio director for Heath Ceramics, who jokes that he keeps a banker’s hours behind the wheel he runs from the back of Heath's Commune-designed retail facility.
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Study O Portable’s Level Scarves, whose overlapping herringbone patterns were inspired by an aerial view of city buildings but motivated by the pair’s desire to achieve a print with “a certain indeterminate aspect,” they explain. “It can produce almost infinite variations of patterns—as long as it’s printed twice in a different angle, it always results in something new.”

Study O Portable, Product and Jewelry Designers

You can learn a lot about Dutch designer Bernadette Deddens by just looking at her. First there are the shoes, which — depending on the day and the whims of London’s weather — she very well may have made herself. One pair of sandals constructed from $25 worth of pale leather and black cording could be mistaken for Margielas, yet are no less awe-inspiring for the fact that Deddens actually nicked the look from Tommy Hilfiger. After all, who makes their own shoes, anyway? Then there’s her jewelry, which is almost always her design, unless it’s a collaboration with her husband Tetsuo Mukai, with whom she formed Study O Portable two years ago. The jewelry is their way of giving people a form of creative expression that can be carried outside the house and into the wider world, as Deddens so poignantly demonstrates — hence their otherwise peculiar studio name.
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At ICFF 2011, via Pin-Up’s Felix Burrichter and Dwell’s Sam Grawe

If you've been paying attention, you know by now that the Sight Unseen team spent nearly all of New York Design Week this year holed up in an abandoned lumber building, manning our very first pop-up shop and attending to all the talents we had on board for the second Noho Design District. Did we experience the rest of the weekend's offerings to their fullest? Not by a longshot. But we couldn't quite move on without offering readers some kind of behind-the-scenes take on the festivities, so we enlisted the help of two friends whose viewpoints we trust entirely and asked them be our eyes and ears: Sam Grawe, the endearingly burly editor-in-chief of Dwell, and Felix Burrichter, founder of Pin-Up magazine and local man-about-town. Grawe offered us a mini-photo album of insider moments he particularly cherished — including the back room at the Javits, pictured above, where "judging the Editors Awards requires collateral and fluids" — while Burrichter made us a list of his top 10 (er, 11) highlights from this year's show, perhaps the next best thing to cloning ourselves. See things their way right here.
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Moulding Tradition, Trimarchi and Farresin’s Design Academy Eindhoven thesis, consists of five ceramic vessels based on historical archetypes: two bowls, a vase, a wine cask, and a flask.

Moulding Tradition by Formafantasma

It sounds like the start of a lame joke: Did you hear the one about the Moor and the Sicilian? But for Moulding Tradition, Formafantasma’s Design Academy Eindhoven thesis project, the Italian-born, Eindhoven-based duo did in fact look to a centuries-old conflict between Sicily and the North Africans who once conquered the tiny island and who now arrive there in droves, seeking refuge.
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Uhuru helped Sight Unseen transform the ground floor of 45 Great Jones into a four-day pop-up shop featuring the work of more than 35 designers. The weekend's biggest sellers included Tanya Aguiniga’s dip-dyed rope jewelry and Chen Chen and Kai Williams’ creepy but awesome Cold Cut Coasters, made from studio detritus like resin and rope.

Noho Design District 2011

When the Sight Unseen and Uhuru teams rolled up the grate and entered the Great Jones Lumber building on Monday, May 9, it was like déjà vu all over again — one full year after we'd closed the door on the inaugural Noho Design District, the space's vast rooms were as dark, empty, and beautifully raw as when we first laid eyes on them, but with half-disassembled wooden signs, wayward Macallan cups, and other stray remains of the 2010 festivities still intact. The weight of all the work that lay ahead immediately hit us: four long days of manual labor in order to breathe life back into the building, to transform it from its dormant state into the hub of the 2011 Noho event, where the work of more than 100 designers would be on display for four days.
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In the beginning, Menuez kept a silkscreening studio in a 2nd-floor space crammed behind Kiosk, the New York design shop owned by his friends Alisa Grifo and Marco Romeny. Now, on the 6th floor of an old pillow factory on the Lower East Side, he has room to spread out. Shown here are paint supplies, garment racks filled with samples from current and past seasons, and tests for new prints.

Ross Menuez of Salvor Projects

There’s no real way to put this delicately: It can be somewhat difficult getting Ross Menuez to focus. Talk to the designer of the fashion label Salvor Projects for an hour, and your conversation might touch upon everything from the migratory patterns of birds to the intricacies of intarsia; ask him about his process, and he’s apt to fret instead about what to do with the signage for his first retail shop, which opened last week on a sleepy stretch of New York’s Lower East Side. His career has been equally hopscotched: He’d built houses for the Sandinista in Nicaragua, designed under Tom Dixon at Habitat, and run a metal shop in Brooklyn before finally, a few years back, committing himself fully to the world of fashion, complete with seasonal presentations and showroom representation. But as with any talent whose creativity flows faster than the mind can apprehend, it’s the unscripted aspect of Menuez’s work that makes it so compelling — you never know quite what to expect.
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Carlton Bookcase

Matteo Thun on Memphis’s 30-Year History

Sighted on Wallpaper.com, an interview with architect Mattheo Thun marking the 30th anniversary of the Memphis group: the loose collective of Italian designers founded by the late Ettore Sottsass in 1981 and dedicated to shaking the shackles of Modernism. Thun talks to Wallpaper's Emma O'Kelly about what it was really like to be on the front lines of the movement, whose risk-taking objects must have seemed tacky as hell to all but the most die-hard Italian design fans at the time — no more worthy of a museum collection than, say, the opening credits of Saved By the Bell — but whose influence on the history of contemporary design has since become indisputable.
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FORT STANDARD: Briefly explain your process. “On a mini-lathe we brought in, I began turning the feet of the stool from solid aluminum blanks I'd cut to size in our shop. I had to remove about 40 percent of the material from each blank in order to properly shape each foot. Each foot had to have two very precise dimensions: the outside diameter of the legs it would be inserted into, and the inside diameter, which had to have a slight taper so it could be pressed — or 'friction fit' — into the leg in order to stay without any additional hardware.” Above: Buntain on the lathe, which the studio typically uses to make jewelry.

The American Design Club at MAD

The brief itself was simple: Design and build something to sit on. It was the execution part that was hard. From April 16–21, four sets of young American furniture designers each took a turn in the open studios at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, each with a single purpose: to build and assemble a chair from start to finish, between the time the museum opened at 9AM to the minute the last straggler was ushered out the door at 6. The designers could use any materials they chose, and they were allowed to make preliminary design studies or prototypes before arriving at the museum, but the bulk of the construction work had to be executed on the museum’s 6th floor — in full view of school tours, visiting tourists, families, and itinerant design geeks who wanted a peek at the action. But the exercise wasn’t some reality show–like competition to pit designers against each other or to see whose design would reign supreme. The event was part of The Home Front, a museum project curated by Surface editor Dan Rubinstein, who spearheaded the whole thing in order explore in-depth the business of being a designer in America today.
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What inspired your Batucada series? “Music and cans. In Brazil, people in the favelas play instruments made of tin and aluminum pots, and ‘batucada’ is the percussion sound made by beating them. The process interested me in general because Brazil recycles 98% of its aluminum — it’s a record. The cans are collected by hand by people who collect trash in the street. It’s a crazy system but it works very well. The factory that spins the aluminum for me uses recycled metal.”

Brunno Jahara, Product Designer

If you think about it in the context of design, Brazil is a lot like America: A vast, relatively young country with a tiny cadre of contemporary designers struggling both to step out of the long shadow of their mid-century forebears, and to create objects in a near-industrial vacuum. But you won’t hear Brazilian designer Brunno Jahara complaining — having lived in dozens of European countries, worked under Jaime Hayon at Fabrica, and run a freelance business from Amsterdam before moving back to São Paulo a few years ago, he credits his native country as being the catalyst for his newfound success. “In Brazil I have all the freedom I didn’t have in Europe, because there’s a whole historical background over there that holds you to making things in a certain way,” says the 32-year-old.
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For "Achille is Watching Us," Krzykowski and Lorusso collected personal objects from 32 different European and American designers, displaying them in the ground-floor storefront of a small historical building in Milan where the marble used to make the Duomo was once polished. Each item was accompanied by a story written by the designer about how they had acquired it and why they had hung onto it. Fifteen of those stories are posted in the following slides.

Achille is Watching Us

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 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.”
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Baggu’s team now works out of large, sunlit studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but when the brand began it was more of a family affair. “To order bags from China, you have to order a lot,” says Sugihara. “It’s not like you can get 100 bags. It was suddenly like, ‘Okay, we have to order 40,000 bags.’ We put them in my parents’ garage and my 15-year-old brother did fulfillment. We got really lucky and had almost a full-page editorial in Teen Vogue before we launched, so we enabled our website to take pre-orders. The factory rushed those to my teeny tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and I stayed up for three days packing and shipping orders to get them out.”

Baggu

“Always listen to your mother” isn’t exactly the kind of central tenet they teach you at Harvard Business School. But for Emily Sugihara, the California-raised, Brooklyn-based designer behind the reusable bag line Baggu, it’s a piece of advice that’s been invaluable to the brand’s runaway success since its founding in 2007. Back then Sugihara was a Parsons grad working as an assistant designer at J. Crew, just coming to realize that a corporate job wasn’t her calling. “As a kid, I was very entrepreneurial, and I always knew I wanted to have my own company,” she says. At home over Christmas break one year, Sugihara and her mother began talking about making a line of reusable shopping bags. Her mom was “sort of a treehugger” and an artist in her own right — an expert seamstress who learned to sew making her own clothes as a kid in rural Michigan — and Sugihara was a die-hard New Yorker-in-training, sporting fingers turned purple each week as she lugged home bags full of groceries. Together they came up with a bag that’s almost exactly like the original ripstop nylon Baggu that sells today: long handles that fit comfortably over the shoulder, gussets along the bottom that allow things like milk and eggs to stack, and a single, double-reinforced seam that’s the result, Sugihara says, of her mother’s “sewing genius.”
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