I was thrilled to talk about Institution Building for this podcast hosted by Matylda Krzykowski in the context of the exhibition of the same name currently at CIVA, in Brussels. We talked at length about Archipelago: Architectures for the Multiverse, and how institutions should think about listening, perhaps, before starting to build anything. You can listen above!
I’ve written about Vitra’s turn to sustainability for Metropolis magazine, and the resulting piece looks at the new Oudolf Garden, just opened at the Vitra Campus, and at a more comprehensive set of steps the company is taking to effectively become more sustainable – in their practice and within the organization. Below an excerpt; the full piece is up at Metropolis!
“The attention given to the planning and execution of the Oudolf garden, however, signals a significant change of course. While its planning dates to the pre-pandemic times, the garden was planted in May 2020, when most of the world came to a standstill. In total, 32,000 perennial plants of 114 species were planted in small pots. When the garden was unveiled to the public one year later, they had matured to give way to a dazzling early summer landscape, a complex mix of perennial varieties of varying colors and fragrances. The various colors and textures changed over the course of the following months, and in typical Oudolf fashion, the garden continues to evolve and transform with the seasons. Its maintenance will now become a constant; and the gardening team will be complemented by a few beehives at the edge of the garden, looked after by two company employees that double as trained apiculturists. We might be looking at a future when Vitra honey becomes a reality.”
I’m thrilled to announce Archipelago: Architectures for the Multiverse, a 3-day hybrid format festival that seeks to interrogate and think through the present moment in contemporary architectural discourse. Taking take place 6-8 May 2021 in Geneva, it is jointly organized by the architecture schools HEAD and HEPIA, and it will be broadcast over the course of three days in a hybrid format combining live and online interventions.
Bringing together three disciplinary strands—architecture, interior architecture and landscape architecture—the festival seeks to offer a snapshot of the present moment, its intersections and overlaps. The three days of exchanges and reflection take place in a specially designed infrastructure at the heart of the Cube, a multifunctional space at HEAD that will double as a broadcast studio for the event. Manifesting in a variety of formats, from intimate conversations to performative interventions, and complemented by masterclasses, films and offsite projects, Archipelago creates multiple entry points for a discussion around contemporary architecture’s lines of inquiry.
Earlier this year I joined the team of the Driving the Human initiative as the program coordinator. Driving the Human is a catalyst for experimentation, shaping sustainable and collective futures that combine science, technology, and the arts in a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach. Running from 2020-2023, the project is jointly led by four partner institutions – acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering, Forecast, the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design and ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe – and relies on the expert knowledge and skills of their combined networks.
Throughout 2023, the community of participants, experts, and the larger audience that Driving the Human brings together will explore diverse phenomena such as the social impact of global warming, energy cycles and technology-driven disruptions, the impact of collective decision making, and contemporary processes of exchanging values and objects.
The results of these explorations will be shared and communicated over the project’s three-year duration, and will deploy strategies for action in the form of physical experiences, with a strong individual and collective impact. Ultimately, they will create tools that enable new ways of envisioning and inhabiting the world.
The digital programming around the 2020 edition of the Swiss Design Awards was structured around the question: “Failure is Not an Option?”. The program aims to question the idea of failure as a malfunction, embraces the reassessment that the absence of normality permits, and entertains the idea that failure might be a better option. In this context, I was happy to moderate three conversations with design luminaries Aric Chen, Catherine Ince, and Matylda Krzykowski, where we sought to frame the present moment and its challenges.
The first conversation, with Aric Chen, curatorial director of Design Miami, reflected on the digital turn, the progressive focus on local and regional realities, and a plural, decentered future for the design discipline. With Catherine Ince, chief curator of the V&A East in London, we talked about the role of museums after the pandemic, the importance of creating conversations, and how institutions can become revolutionary spaces of care. And with Matylda Krzykowski, curator and designer, we discussed different forms of isolation from the desert to the city, the need to embrace new categories for design and its practitioners, and how young designers can claim their space. Thank you to the Federal Office of Culture and the team lead by Anna Niederhäuser for the invitation!
The most recent issue of German design magazine form asked me: “What is design?” My answer opens up the issue – and is transcribed below, in English. Many thanks to the editors Anton Rahlwes and Nina Sieverding!
Design is mediation. It is the glue that connects and engages with other disciplines, bringing together people, objects, systems and ideas. Although it was born out of the industrial revolution, and shaped by that paradigm, it is increasingly and surely – especially in Western Europe and North American regions – moving towards and finding itself in a postindustrial reality. This has only been accelerated by the current spread of the coronavirus. In this context, the design discipline finds itself in an acute identity crisis and needs to reshape itself, claiming territories and ambitions that are bigger than the knowledge silos that we still cling on to. Design needs to overcome disciplinary silos; it needs to become inclusive and diverse, decentralize its mythologies and welcome voices and points of view that aren’t white, male, Western. It also doesn’t need to generate anything physical anymore; it should be able to move and travel, as light as ideas.
I contributed an essay titled “The Self as Other: Vivien Tauchmann’s ‘minor gestures’ towards the entwinement of design processes and the body” to Social matter, social design, a volume edited by Jan Boelen and Michael Kaethler and just published by Valiz. My essay takes the work of designer Vivien Tauchmann as starting point, to explore notions of empathy and multisensorial experiences in contemporary design. Ultimately, I argue that Tauchamnn’s work is a model of a new kind of design, which opens paths for the discipline and other practitioners. A short quote below – the book can be ordered through Valiz’s website!
“As seen in these examples, Tauchmann’s work exemplifies practice that goes beyond social matter and towards a relational one—mediated through bodily movement and expression—not unlike life itself. These strategies confirm the designer’s strongly political stance, and her methods allow her to engage with designers in an unexpected and powerful way, as well as to reach audiences that do not traditionally engage with the design discipline or design discourse. At a time when the discipline reorients itself and begins to engage with a post-industrial future, beyond object-based entanglements and towards a relational practice, Tauchmann’s works are incredibly prescient, using design’s full potential to become a discipline not of production, but of mediation. In her forays towards the future of a discipline that is not yet defined, Tauchmann inhabits what scholar and educator Danah Abdulla describes as the “borderlands”, a place where a decolonial thinking of the design discipline can begin.”
One of the highlights of the lockdown period was talking to Deniz Ova, director of the Istanbul Design Biennial, Jan Boelen and Nadine Botha, alongside whom I curated the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, in 2018. We revisited some of the themes of the biennial and their resonance in the present moment, in a conversation that was recorded for the biennial’s podcast series “Design Biennial Revisited”. You can listen to the episode here, and follow the series for more conversations. Thank you to the IKSV/IDB team!
Since January I am one of the new members of the Federal Design Commission of the Swiss Confederation, a non-governmental advisory body that, among other things, forms the jury of the yearly Swiss Design Awards competition and grants a yearly career prize to designers in Switzerland. It is a great honor to join this incredible group of people and I look forward to my time serving as a member!
It finally arrived at my doorstep! The incredible Atlas of Furniture Design, published by the Vitra Design Museum, was decades in the making, and I was proud to contribute an extended essay with Avinash Rajagopal that anchors the contemporary design section of the book. I also contributed several biographies of Italian designers, joining a stellar group of contributors that worked in this encyclopedic effort. Congratulations to the editors and all the team for a fantastic result!
The Fiction Practice: Prototyping the Otherworldly book. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.
Following the Fiction Practice workshops earlier this Autumn, I wrote an essay with Jan Boelen for the Fiction Practice: Prototyping the Otherworldly publication. The book features contributions by an impressive roster of authors, and gathers impressions and accounts of the workshops and exhibition that we built together in September, exploring intersections between fiction and design. Fiction Practice: Prototyping the Otherworldly is published by Onomatopee and you can order it here.
The cover of Disegno #25 – A Year in Review. Image courtesy of Disegno.
I was happy to contribute an essay on graduate shows for the winter issue of Disegno, where I muse on the purpose of such an event; how the format has come to shape important Euro-centric design events; and how it can change and evolve beyond its tireless fascination with new, marketable talent. Disegno #25 gathers nineteen essays on themes that defined design in 2019, and I’m thrilled to be among a fantastic and inspiring group of authors as the year comes to an end. Thanks to the wonderful team at Disegno! You can order your copy here.
Presenting at “Architectural Models: Theory and practice in scale”. Photo courtesy HEAD-Genève.
I was in Geneva to discuss architectural models at the conference Architectural Models: Theory and practice in scale, organized by the Interior Architecture Department of the school. The two-day event was organized as an experimental stage for discussion, and it was great to talk to master students about recent architectural exhibitions and events and how the model embodies so many contradictions within. Below the talk abstract – I’ll post the presentation video when it’s online.
The architectural model is unparalleled as a device for dreaming. Its regular use in architectural exhibitions and events attests to its allure, but also to the paradoxical impossibility of exhibiting the discipline these devices embody and attempt to represent. This talk will cover the ways in which architectural models have been used in recent architectural exhibitions and events, with varying degrees of efficacy.
Foreign Legion portrait by Diana Pfammatter.
It was fantastic to have the opportunity to discuss the Foreign Legion project, which I co-founded with Matylda Krzykowski, at the Vitra Speaker Series. We discussed the ambitions and goals of the project, and how the design industry can spearhead the transformation of the discipline into one that is more inclusive and diverse. Thanks to Vitra for the invite!
Add to the Cake, the exhibition I curated with Matylda Krzykowski (under our moniker Foreign Legion) came to an end last 3 November. To mark the occasion, we had a panel discussion at the Japanisches Palais in Dresden, in the very room where it all started almost one year ago with the A Woman’s Work symposium.
Within the framework of the Zukunftsforum program, we sat with Thomas Geisler, director of the Museum of Decorative Arts Dresden, Kerstin Flasche, lecturer at the HFKD, and Vivien Tauchmann, designer and researcher, to reflect on the results of one year of work around the theme of the invisibility of female practitioners in design, architecture and the arts. The result has been recorded and can be seen in its totality here – mostly in German.
Meret Oppenheim, Gloves (Parkett Edition, no. 116/150), 1985
Courtesy of Ursula Krinzinger, photo: Jasha Greenberg, copyright for the works of Meret Oppenheim: © VG Bild-Kunst,Bonn 2019
I contributed an essay on the entanglements between Surrealism and gender for the catalogue of the Vitra Design Museum’s recent exhibition on the movement, titled Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924-Today and curated by Mateo Kries and Tanja Cunz. My essay proposes a re-evaluation of Surrealist notions of love and violence, analysing their relevance in the twenty-first century and detailing the problematic relationship between the two terms from the inception of Surrealism to the present day. It also covers the movement’s problematic relationship with gender, and with women in particular. It starts off with this fantastic quote by Leonora Carrington:
“The idea that ‘Our Masters’ are right and must be loved, honored and obeyed is, I think, one of the most destructive lies that have ever been instilled into the female psyche. It has become most horribly obvious what These Masters have done to our planet and her organic life. If women remain passive I think there is very little hope for the survival of life in this earth.”
– Leonora Carrington, 1970
The refusal to let women in is something that can be widely observed in the Surrealist movement. While it has been pointed out several times that women were indeed part of Surrealism, their voices were rarely heard, and even then, only well into the 1940s and later when the movement has arguably already dissolved and mutated, having lost much of its initial impetus. Yet, if women’s voices were overwhelmingly excluded, or just not recorded as part of the discourse, their bodies on the other hand were everywhere, as the prime subject of the male gaze in literature, films, the visual arts, and photographs. For the Surrealists, the woman is the ungraspable and fascinating other, the object of ecstatic love, the cause of ultimate misery and madness. Yet, no dialogue with this ungraspable other is attempted; instead, she is only further fetishized, imagined, objectified, destroyed.
My essay ends with a plea for a re-evaluation of the movement, and a revisionist take that doesn’t seek to redeem the male Surrealists’ reinforcement of patriarchal power relations.
It is perhaps by looking to the margins of the movement and peering into the interstices for traces of instability, that a re-evaluation of Surrealism can happen—beyond the misogyny, the violence, and objectification of women, and outside the gender binary. The power relations advocated by the Surrealists “are not natural but social constructs”, as Kuenzli asserts. “The male Surrealists’ blatant reinforcement of patriarchal power relations should not be theorized away in order to redeem Surrealism”, he continues. “They should be resisted, they should be rejected.” It is in this rejection, combined with an exploratory, revisionist attitude beyond the binary, where a dismantling of the Surrealist canon can begin.
The opening of Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab at the Porto Design Biennale. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.
During this year’s inaugural Porto Design Biennale, curator Mariana Pestana invited Jan Boelen and myself to lead a workshop as part of Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab. The three-day workshop ended in an exhibition at the Casa Museu Quinta de Santiago, in the vicinity of Porto. The workshop took as a starting point the Design As Learning: A School of Schools Reader publication, produced on the occasion of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.
Through a series of group readings, discussions and site visits, we looked at design education from a wide variety of angles, from its power structures to the spaces where it takes place, and considered how various alternative pedagogical models have been implemented throughout time. These readings, visits and reflections were then re-thought, re-hashed and re-edited to form new reflections and alternative pathways for design, education and design education.
As the workshop came to an end, participants selected specific issues found in Design as Learning to comment on, enriched by the insights of our time together. This materialized in a “re-edit”, which was expertly translated into a poster format by Zurich-based design office Offshore Studio. At the end of the workshop, our space of encounter was transformed into a space of display, and each poster hung above our roundtable, in dialogue with one another. This was a snapshot of what had happened, a summary of the scope of our discussions, a series of conversation pieces. But because we did not want the discussion to end with the workshop, or to be accessible only to those who had taken part, we invited Dutch designer Teis de Greve to contribute to our installation with an iteration of his A Ditto, Online Device project, specifically customized to respond to the essays of Design as Learning.
Introducing the project by Teis de Greve –A Ditto, Online Device. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.
View of the Design as Learning: Re-edit room at Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.
View of the Design as Learning: Re-edit room at Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.
An aspect of Hurra Hurra Festival. Photo by Benno Brucksch and Martin Patze.
It was a pleasure to spend a day in Halle to take part in the Hurra Hurra Festival, a student-organized, multilayered festival on design education that took place at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design. I discussed the work developed for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, and took part in a discussion about the environments of the school versus the real world. It was impressive to see the multiple tracks of engagement in the festival, from lectures to workshops, and performances to a night sauna– Thanks for having me!
Talking about the work of Foreign Legion at the Porto Design Biennale. Photo by Porto Design Biennale.
Last 27 September, Foreign Legion (a curatorial initiative I founded with Matylda Krzykowski) was invited to give a talk in the context of the inaugural Porto Design Biennale in Portugal. We presented the last year of work, starting with the A Woman’s Work symposium in January, and the two iterations of the exhibition Add to the Cake: Transforming the rules of female practitioners, which is on view at Kunstegewerbemuseum Dresden Schloss Pillnitz until 3 November.
The talk was an opportunity to showcase the issues we’ve been researching and working on, and anticipate some of the directions in which we’ll be focusing in the next months. The Porto Design Biennale audience was attentive and engaged, and we had an opportunity to continue the conversation throughout the evening and into the night. Thanks for having us!
The Atlas of Furniture Design, published by the Vitra Design Museum. Photo by Kobi Benzeri Studio.
This November marks the release of the Vitra Design Museum’s Atlas of Furniture Design, a comprehensive overview of the last two centuries of furniture design. I was happy to contribute to this volume with an extensive essay co-authored with Avinash Rajagopal, focusing on the last forty decades of the design discipline and its developments during that period. Looking forward to holding this important tome in my hands later this year!
Enzo Mari sitting in the Sedia 1. Photo by Juoko Lehtola/Artek.
“The Unmaking of Autoprogettazione”, a paper Avinash Rajagopal and I wrote together for the Design History Society 2017 conference, gained a new life as part of the excellent The Culture of Nature in the History of Design, edited by Kjetil Fallan. The book demonstrates that the deep entanglements of design and nature have a deeper and broader history than contemporary discourse on sustainable design and ecological design might imply, this book presents case studies ranging from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century and from Singapore to Mexico. Furthermore, it ventures into domains as diverse as design theory, research, pedagogy, politics, activism, organizations, exhibitions, and fiction and trade literature to explore how design is constantly making and unmaking the environment and, conversely, how the environment is both making and unmaking design.
In the last decade, amidst social and economical complexity that echoes the context of its original making, Autoprogettazione has resurfaced as a touchstone project that adds to the contemporary discourse. From Artek’s 2010 re-edition of Sedia 1 to Cucula, a Berlin-based non-profit, producing Autoprogettazione for and with refugees in 2015, the many ways in which the project has been quoted, echoed, repurposed or copied have shifted, altered and reinforced its original meaning. Our paper traces the making and unmaking of meanings in Autoprogettazione, analyzing the context that lead to the project’s inception and exploring its comeback in the last decade, whether as a platform for art and design exhibitions, a vehicle for do-goodism in times of humanitarian crisis, or as a propaganda tool for companies and their marketing agencies. Scrutinizing these instances, and exposing the shifts and appropriations the project has been subjected to, reveal how the original aim to critique the design industry has been appropriated and made part of the design industry itself, in varied and at times perfidious ways.
On the steps of Wasserpalais at Schloss Pillnitz, Museum of Decorative Arts Dresden. Photo by Klemens Renner.
Last 5 July, the Museum of Decorative Arts Dresden held the official opening of Add to the Cake: Transforming the roles of female practitioners, a project I curated with Matylda Krzykowski under the moniker Foreign Legion. The project started with the A Woman’s Work symposium back in January, and then evolved into a two-part exhibition, with a Preview opening back in 26 April.
With Add to the Cake, we wanted to take the conversation started at the symposium further: We commissioned various practitioners such as Ann Kern, Ji-hee Lee, Gabriel Maher and Garret Nelson to think about What happens when you Add to the Cake? — to think about the future. For the exhibition that opened 5 July 2019, spaces were transformed to give way to a series of installations on visions for the future of female practice. Simultaneously, various Visual Fictions by contributors such as Anne Dessing & Michel van Irsel, Gallery Stephanie Kelly, Kamau Patton and OOIEE, act as an expression of desire for something lacking here and now. The exhibition becomes the transformation it heralds, enacting futures that are inclusive, generous, all-encompassing and joyous.
Add to the Cake advocates that we can – and need to – add to the existing “cake”: infinite layers for an expanded canon. Adding to museum collections and to historical accounts, adding to collective memory and to possible futures. Most importantly, we must realise that “adding” enriches the existing context with multiple, varied voices and perspectives.
After the jump, an outline of all the work and new commissions that were developed as part of Add to the Cake, as well as some installation views.
A walking lecture during Digital Bauhaus 2019. Photo Thomas Müller.
I was happy to be one of the speakers of this year’s Digital Bauhaus Summit in Weimar, Germany. The conference gathers creatives, researchers and anyone interested in new cultural formations, exploring “the political dimensions of design: from collaboration to social design, from Luxury Communism to modernism, from ‘High & Low’ to this year’s topic ‘Learning Design’.”
Speaking about the learning experiences of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, I shared some insights on the process and outcomes of the biennial, and was thrilled to continue the conversation on education, design, and design education. Thank you for having me!
Balkrishna Doshi, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, 1977, 1992 © Iwan Baan 2018
The excellent Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People exhibition currently on display at the Vitra Design Museum offers a welcome and different take on what usually constitutes an architecture exhibition in our day and age. It is, in more than one sense, a breath of fresh air, and I was happy to review it for the June 2019 issue of Icon magazine – an excerpt can be found below. Thank you to Priya Khanchandani for the invitation!
Doshi’s architecture shows an urgency to address concerns that are more relevant than ever today, most notably his understanding of social spaces, of the necessity to create moments for encounters and conviviality. His most powerfully idealistic work – created in the early 1970s, a time of social and political transformation – manifests its utopian values in spaces that are inspiring and transformative. Faced with the impossible task of transporting visitors from Vitra’s museum on the German-Swiss border to these freewheeling triumphs of spirit, the exhibition nevertheless makes us dream.