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Carwan Gallery Launch: Philippe Malouin

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. First up is Montreal-born, London-based Philippe Malouin, whose projects merge a highly conceptual framework with a practical, process-based approach and visually pleasing geometries. His Gridlock series, for example, shrunk the construction of architectural cross-bracing down to a domestic scale, employing it to make lamps and mobiles, while his new Yachiyo rug uses an ancient Japanese chain-mail technique to create an indestructible floor covering that takes 3,000 hours and an army of interns to produce. Here, Malouin explains how — and why — he did it.
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“I have always been fascinated by the lively Icelandic cultural scene as well as its geographical uniqueness,” Vendramin writes in her project description, echoing our sentiments. “It is in the Icelandic landscape, in fact, that many artists like Katrin Sigurdardottir, Ragnar Kjartansson, or Olafur Eliasson find the inspiration to create.”

DesignMarch 2011 in Reykjavik

What Iceland may lack in sunshine — getting, on average, less than half the amount of rays New Yorkers enjoy annually — it easily compensates for in natural beauty. When it's light outside, the landscape is an almost otherworldly sight, with blackened crags of lava softened by bright heaps of moss and glaciers melting into never-ending expanses of steel-blue sea. When it's dark, there's a symphony of northern lights to behold. With all of that visual stimulation surrounding them it's no wonder Icelanders are aesthetically gifted, with a fashion sense that rivals Stockholm's in its cacophany of colors and textures and a community of designers that needn't look further than their own backyards for inspiration. When Sight Unseen was invited to Reykjavik this past weekend to attend the opening of Iceland's third annual DesignMarch festival, that was precisely what struck us most: Whether the work we saw directly referenced the country's landscape and culture or just told a story about its current state of affairs — as with one designer we met who had to shutter her architecture practice after the bank crash and start anew — the show felt like a singularly local celebration.
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Todd Bracher, Brooklyn Navy Yard

Like a lot of American designers fresh out of school, Todd Bracher found himself, in the late ’90s, a newly minted graduate of the industrial design program at Pratt designing things like barbecue tools, remote-control caddies, and spice racks. “I remember scratching my head, thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is what design is?’” he recalls one morning from his studio in Brooklyn. Convinced there was something he was missing, Bracher applied for a Fulbright and ended up at age 24 heading to Copenhagen to pursue a master’s in interior and furniture design. What followed was a nine-year boot camp in the rigors of designing for the European market, studded with turns in Milan at Zanotta (where he was the legendary Italian company’s youngest ever designer), London at Tom Dixon (who poached Bracher to help build his London office) and Paris, where he taught part-time and eventually opened up a studio. But personal reasons brought him back to the States in 2007, and the director at Pratt — one of the only people Bracher knew at that point on this side of the ocean — hooked him up with the space he currently occupies in the no man’s land that is the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “My fear, in some ways, is having a place that doesn’t feel like me — which is hard because I don’t necessarily feel like myself in America,” says Bracher.
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Patrizia Moroso, Design Producer, and Anna Galtarossa, Artist

It gyrates, it whirs, and it's every bit the mechanically-powered spectacle of a department-store Christmas Village: Italian furniture brand Moroso's New York showroom has been transformed into a jolly urban landscape of brightly colored kinetic skyscrapers, an immersive installation created by the young Italian artist Anna Galtarossa. Woven amongst the shop's Tord Boontje lounge chairs and Front sofas, Galtarossa's fabric buildings were commissioned by company founder Patrizia Moroso as part of a newly launched grant project called the Moroso Award for Contemporary Art. Curated in partnership with the Civic Gallery of Contemporary Art in Monfalcone — along with a guest panel of design-industry talents like Tobias Rehberger, David Adjaye, and Patricia Urquiola — the award will fund not only Galtarossa's New York project but planned installations by additional 2011 recipients Martino Gamper and Christian Frosi. But even more, it serves Moroso's own effort to expand her support to art, a creative discipline that has lost crucial government funding in recent years, by highlighting its potential to impact the practice of design. We recently spoke with both Moroso and Galtarossa about the ways art and design can influence one another, and how Galtarossa's Skyscraper Nursery embodies those ideas.
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"The table, with its cushioned surface on which everything rests softly, is an image of future. It is supposed to create a feeling of lightness, meditation, curiosity, and have an expression of self-confidence. Squeezed in between past and future is now, symbolized in the lamp fixture that rests on the thin glass bulbs, either on the floor or against the wall. What is now is frail and vulnerable. The past must be accepted, although there is a measure of potential change in the future."

The Matter of Things, by Beckmans College of Design Students

Attend an event like the Stockholm Furniture Fair, which is packed with designs by fresh-faced students and recent graduates, and you're bound to see furniture so conceptual it borders on fine art (if not naiveté or cliché). That's because students at some of the best design schools around the world are taught not just how to make things, but also how to think creatively and develop narratives — Stockholm's Beckmans College of Design among them. Thirteen members of its current graduating class exhibited together at the city's furniture fair this week, and rather than developing a suite of beautifully variegated chairs like a neighboring booth from the Lund Institute of Technology, they did some serious and deliberate navel-gazing in an attempt to develop furniture capable of manipulating its own emotional connection with users. Called "The Matter of Things," the project asked each of its participants to choose an abstract problem to solve — like bonding, treasuring memories, or making physical contact — and embody it in a not-quite-as-abstract form. Not all of the results are particularly life-changing, but they do demonstrate the kind of thought processes that eventually lead to greatness.
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What inspired your Carpetry Sideboard? "I had been obsessed with Persian rugs and the relationship the West has with them — here they’re often used in stately homes and palaces. I decided to create my own homage to this, and I made a carpet that appears to be quite Persian from a distance, but on closer inspection you see it has very British details woven in, such as the Tudor rose and the Crown Jewels. I also wanted to use traditional British manufacturing techniques, so when weaving the carpet, we used a Wilton loom, which is very rare these days. From there, the idea was to transform the carpet into a piece of furniture rather than a floor covering, so I developed it into a sideboard; when it's closed it’s almost like a floating carpet, and when it’s open, the pattern literally comes alive. It’s one of my favorite pieces."

Lee Broom, Furniture and Interior Designer

Growing up in Birmingham, England, Lee Broom had dreams of becoming an actor. So it doesn't come as a shock to learn that his first proper job was in the office of Vivienne Westwood, the dramatic doyenne of women’s fashion. What’s surprising is how he got there — at age 17, no less: “I was in theater school at the time, and I was into design as a hobby,” explains Broom. “Somehow I decided to enter a fashion design competition judged by Vivienne Westwood, and I won. At the event, I asked Vivienne for her autograph; she wrote her phone number instead and asked if I wanted to spend a couple of days at her studio. I hopped on a train to London and literally spent two days, just Vivienne and myself in her office, while she talked me through her work. I showed her a portfolio of around 100 outfits I had designed, and she said I could stay on as an intern. I ended up being there for seven months.” Broom’s career since then — though wildly divergent from both of those original paths — has been full of moments like these, where by some alchemic mixture of doggedness, talent, and sheer pluck, he has managed to end up in the exact right place at the right time, sending his career spinning into another unplanned yet deeply satisfying trajectory.
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Raw Edges in the V&A’s “Couples Counseling” Video Series

When it comes to the issues explored in the Victoria & Albert museum’s video series “Couples Counseling," which probes the relationships behind five London design duos, Raw Edges’s Yael Maer sums things up handily: “Working and living together — it’s a very problematic issue,” she says with a loaded smile. Adds partner Shay Alkalay: “We have to find a way to separate personal life and professional life,” before making it clear over the course of the subsequent seven-minute interview that the couple have managed to do no such thing. But although all five of the partnerships profiled — including FredriksonStallard and Pinch Design — admit that mixing love and professional collaboration brings its fair share of challenges, in the end the viewer understands that what gives their work its strength is the depth of character that results when a person’s greatest admirer is also his or her toughest critic.
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Dokter and Misses, Furniture and Fashion Designers

There’s a lot that’s hard for Westerners to understand about Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin, the husband and wife who make up the South African furniture and fashion duo Dokter and Misses. First, there’s the fact that they hail from Johannesburg, a city whose art scene has held sway in the international market for years but whose few industrial designers are hardly household names. Then there are their references, which remain resolutely sub-equatorial: In our interview, we talked about game reserves, braais (the South African term for barbecue), a Nigerian dancehall/reggae musician named Dr. Alban, and an artist who uses the techniques of the Ndebele tribe, from the Mpumalanga region of the country. Perhaps most confounding is their name, which mixes English and Dutch honorifics and calls to mind everything from sci-fi movies to secretaries — and which the two refuse to explain. It’s lucky, then, that their work is so instantly likable and wonderfully easy to grasp.
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The aforementioned collection of religious art above the bed is still in its fledgling stages and may eventually take up the whole wall. The crucifix is Mead’s Jesus Door Knocker, which the pair also keeps on the front door. “I think because Kiel and I were both raised Catholic, we have a big obsession with religious paraphernalia,” explains Boatright. Adds Mead: “Anything that’s religious we’ll collect and put up, and it’s weird that two people would see eye to eye on something so weird.”

Kiel Mead, Product Designer, and Sarah Boatright, Artist

On a shelf in the home office designer Kiel Mead shares with his girlfriend, the performance artist Sarah Boatright, sits a set of drawers stuffed with backstock of his Forget Me Not rings, little string bows cast in precious metals. Mead’s breakout design when he was still studying furniture at Pratt, the rings were the genesis of the 27-year-old’s fascination with casting objects into wearable reminders — of childhood, of holidays, of lost loves, of an old car he once drove. Boatright, 23, also deals with the preservation of memories in her work, dressing up in goofy wigs to make reenactment videos of family Thanksgivings or furtively recorded interactions between strangers, which go on to enjoy eternal life on YouTube. So if you’d expect the couple’s Brooklyn apartment to be decked out with the kind of overstyled chicness typical of two young creatives, one of whom practically runs the Williamsburg branch of The Future Perfect, you’d be mistaken: Like their creations, the possessions they keep on display are more about storytelling than status.
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Zieta may be a designer, but he’s first and foremost a researcher: He’s spent the past eight years working on his PhD while refining the industrial processes behind his FiDU technology, the fact that he ended up with a hit furniture line on his hands being merely a bonus. At least part of that focus can be credited to his geneology: “My grandpa was a metalsmith, in a very, very old way," he says. "He made horseshoes, and we make this very innovative and modern art.”

Oskar Zieta’s Metal-inflating Facility

When Oskar Zieta was given the honor of creating a site-specific installation in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s sprawling central garden during this year’s London Design Festival, he had a fairly significant advantage. With his own high-tech metalworking factory in Poland capable of producing large-scale inflated-steel structures, he had the means to fabricate whatever flight of fancy he and his team might possibly dream up, no matter how ambitious. And yet standing in his way was an obstacle far more prosaic in nature, one it would take ingenuity moreso than technological muscle to surmount: teeny tiny doorways. “The doors were really small, and all the ideas of getting to the garden by a helicopter or by a crane had to be rejected because of the risk of destroying the museum’s façade,” he told the fair’s bloggers at the time. But for someone like Zieta — who’s spent the past eight years monomaniacally experimenting with the proportions of the metal sheets he welds at the edges and then blasts full of air — it read like an intellectual call to arms.
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For Isetan, Wilson also created a line of knitted piggy banks whose mouths squeeze open to accommodate incoming cash.

Donna Wilson, textile designer

It's always seemed to me that being Donna Wilson is indeed as much fun as it looks. From her Aladdin’s cave of a studio in London’s Bethnal Green to her colorful, vintage fashion sense, Wilson actually does live and breathe her work. On the rainy November afternoon I visited her studio, which is filled floor-to-ceiling with bits and bobs of yarn, I asked what she might do if she had any spare time. She pondered: “I think I’d like to travel to Scandinavia and probably get a dog.” Which led into a discussion about the possibilities for a range of Scandinavian-style dog sweaters, as everything usually comes back to the knitting. Of course, though Wilson made her name creating woven poufs and rugs inspired by the Fair Isle sweaters of her youth in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, it’s not actually just about the knitting anymore but also about bone china, linens, melamine trays, totes, piggy banks, ceramic Staffordshire dogs, biscuits, packaging, furniture and more. At this point, there isn’t much that Wilson hasn’t turned her hand to.
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Glass insulators: “They’re made out of a single material, but they have all these interesting textures. They often have a thread and text cast into them. Plus they’re usually beautiful colors. We looked at a lot of these when we were designing our Bright Side Lights (above),” says Williams. “People have had a really emotional reaction to the lights — they say it reminds them of an old appliance or a blender, or it makes them think of other experiences they’ve had, which I think is the mark of a successful object.”

Rich Brilliant Willing, Furniture Designers

If there’s one thing that’s defined a Rich, Brilliant, Willing product since the studio’s three members graduated from RISD in 2007 and banded together to make furniture, it’s the idea of the mash-up. In most of their pieces, seemingly disparate materials and odd colors come together in a sort of joyful schizophrenia — a lamp with differently colored, awkwardly placed dowel legs, a wood-and-metal coat rack with copper, steel, and plastic pegs, and even a candle holder crowded with tapers, birthday candles, and fat, number-shaped votives. But a funny thing happened this spring: The trio released a series of cast-glass pendant lights with the Los Angeles–based design company Artecnica that were notable not only for their pretty, industrial aesthetic but for their adherence to a single, monochromatic material. “It’s unusual for any object to made of a single part these days,” says Theo Richardson, who with Charles Brill and Alex Williams makes up the trio, their surnames forming the basis for the studio's cheeky name. “Most of the time, things are glued together, screwed together. But for us, this was going from assemblage work to something that’s made of a single piece.”
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