Social matter, social design

A spread from Social matter, social design, edited by Jan Boelen and Michael Kaethler and published by Valiz. Courtesy Valiz.

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.”

Opening New Doors of Possibility

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!

Prototyping the Otherworldly

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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.

On Surrealism and Gender

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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 Unmaking of Autoprogettazione

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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.

Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach

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Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach. Designed by Studio Folder. Courtesy Studio Folder.

During this year’s Salone del Mobile, we finally presented to the public the book we’ve been developing for Atelier Luma, titled Design as a Tool for Transition: the Atelier Luma Approach. I co-edited the volume with Jan Boelen, and was thrilled to work alongside Studio Folder on this project, as they developed the editorial design and a fantastic set of maps and other visual treats that help tell the story of this ambitious and impactful project.
The book, a bi-lingual edition in French and English, combines insights from international experts with the visual storytelling of the first years of several projects, bringing together the wide network of this initiative and opening up new avenues of practice for the field of design. It is available here.

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Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach. Designed by Studio Folder. Courtesy Studio Folder.

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Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach. Designed by Studio Folder. Courtesy Studio Folder.

 

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Browsing Design as a Tool for Transition: the Atelier Luma Approach. Photo Atelier Luma.

The Politics of Design

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Cover of Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, the accompanying publication to the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition. 

I contributed to the catalogue of the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition, Victor Papanek: The Politics of Designwith not one but two pieces. One, an interview with Critical Making and Disobedient Electronics author Garnet Hertz, and another, an essay co-written with Jan Boelen on how the spirit of Papanek lives on in the work of several contemporary designers. The publication is impressive and gathers the voices of many luminaries and experts on Papanek and his significance. I’m happy to be among such incredible authors! You can find out more about the book in the e-shop here.

Design as Learning

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Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader, designed by Offshore Studio and published by Valiz. Image by Offshore Studio.

On the occasion of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, I edited the accompanying publication, Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader. The volume was beautifully designed by Zurich-based Offshore Studio (as was the striking visual identity of the whole biennial, explored here in detail) and is published jointly by IKSV and Valiz. The Reader seeks to expand on the many narratives of the biennial and offers a series of critical reflections on the past and present of design education, with contributions by Danah Abdulla, Jan Boelen, Nadine Botha, Corinne Gisel, João Ferreira, Naho Kubota, Nina Paim and myself. Additionally, the book features interviews with Zeynep Celik Alexander, Claudia Mareis, Peter Land and Nelly Ben Hayoun, contextualizing issues on the past and present states of design education. And finally, a series of conversations with participants in the biennial looks at ways to approach design education today. Interviewees include Åbäke, FABB (Burcu Biçer Saner, Efe Gözen), Navine G. Kahn-Dossos, Ebru Kurbak, Mae-ling Lokko, Studio Folder, SulSolSal (Hannes Bernard and Guido Giglio), and Pinar Yoldaş. Below the back cover blurb:

Why do design? What is design for? These are forward-looking questions for a creative discipline that seems more slippery to define than ever. In a world of dwindling natural resources, exhausted social and political systems, and an overload of information there are many urgent reasons to reimagine the design discipline, and there is a growing need to look at design education. Learning and unlearning should become part of an on-going educational practice. We need new proposals for how to organise society, how to structure our governments, how to live with, not against, the planet, how to sift fact from fiction, how to relate to each other, and frankly, how to simply survive.
The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, and this publication Design as Learning ask: can design and design education provide these critical ideas and strategies?

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2018

_DSC9042An impression of the atelier of Cécile Feilchenfeldt in Paris. Photo Marc Asekhame.

In May we presented the results of the latest volume developed for the Swiss Grand Award for Design series. The 2018 laureates of this award, given annually by the Swiss Confederation and the Federal Office of Culture, are Cécile Feilchenfeldt, Rosmarie Tissi and Felco. Once more I had the pleasure to interview all these wonderful practitioners and help make the book that celebrates their professional achievements. This year, the photos were by Marc Asekhame, and the graphic design by Krispin Hée.

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2017

A detail of David Bielander's office in Munich. Photo © Gina Folly
A detail of David Bielander’s office in Munich. Photo © Gina Folly

I had the pleasure to once again work with the Federal Office of Culture, in the person of Patrizia Crivelli, designer Jonathan Hares and photographer Gina Folly in the publication celebrating the 2017 edition of the Swiss Grand Award for Design, a career prize bestowed upon distinguished Swiss designers of all fields. This year, the winners were David Bielander, Thomas Ott and Jean Widmer, whom I was humbled and honored to meet and interview for the publication.

On Relations in Architecture

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Cover detail of Cartha – On Relations in Architecture.

The essay I wrote with Juan Palencia on the inception and growth of TEOK for the inaugural issue of Cartha magazine has been included in their first book, titled On Relations in Architecture and published by Park Books. It was wonderful to see the essay come to life in the printed page! Congratulations to the Cartha team and all their other contributors.

Unmanned: Drone Venice Book Launch

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The
Unmanned: Drone book launch in Venice.

It was under the blue hues of the Dutch Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale that we presented the first e-book of the Unmanned: Architecture and Security series. Titled Dronethis first issue combines several essays on the topic with reports on two events that took place at Studio X and Het Nieuwe Instituut. I was thrilled to be able to assist the very talented team of editors – Ethel Baraona Pohl, Marina Otero Verzier and Malkit Shoshan – in the making of this volume with dpr.barcelona, and was happy to participate in the launch discussion, where the editorial team was complemented by respondents Anna Puigjaner and Tamar Shafrir.

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2016

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Spreads from the Swiss Grand Award for Design 2016 publication. 

I was delighted to edit the publication celebrating the 2016 edition of the Swiss Grand Award for Design, a career prize bestowed upon distinguished Swiss designers of all fields. This was the tenth year of the award, which is given by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, and the winners were Claudia Caviezel, Hans Eichenberger, and Ralph Schraivogel. I had the pleasure to interview them and get to know better their work and practice, and it was also fantastic to work with the Federal Office of Culture, in the person of Patrizia Crivelli, and designer Jonathan Hares.

TEOK, the Display edition

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A detail of Depot Basel’s DISPLAY publication.

Following the tenth edition of TEOK, I wrote an essay for the DISPLAY publication launched by Depot Basel following its exploration of the theme in a series of spacial interventions, lectures and events at their Basel location. My contribution focused on the mechanics and structure of the TEOK held at Depot Basel, and reflected on the things learned following that evening. A big thank you to Matylda Krzykowski for the invitation to contribute to the publication.

A Good Virus

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An excerpt of Yona Friedman’s “A Map to the Future”, as seen in Designing Everyday Life, MAO and Park Books, Zurich 2014

As part of BIO 50 accompanying publication Designing Everyday Life, Tamar Shafrir and I wrote an essay on the evolution of design events in the last 50 years, and how contemporary design events can inform and shape the future of the design discipline. The full essay can be read below.

A Good Virus
Vera Sacchetti, Tamar Shafrir

When in November 2011 Italian architecture and design magazine Domus charted what it coined as the “Biennialozoic Era”, a foldout spread displayed a world map with a comprehensive overview of architecture, art and design events throughout the world. In a methodical manner, the mock atlas illustrated 150 events of the kind, from the Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, founded in 1964, to the 2012 inaugural edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial. Of these, 65% have been founded in the last fifteen years, the most recent being the newly announced Biennial of Architecture in Chicago, which will hold its first edition in 2015. Continue reading A Good Virus

Designing Everyday Life

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Designing Everyday Life, MAO and Park Books, Zurich 2014

As part of BIO 50, the 23rd Design Biennial in Ljubljana, I edited Designing Everyday Life, a publication that accompanied the six-month collaborative process that was at the core of the event, while simultaneously reflecting on the state of contemporary design and contemporary design events. With contributions by Jan Boelen, Alice Rawsthorn, Justin McGuirk and David Crowley, among others, the book combines essays, interviews and follows the 11 teams that were brought together by BIO 50, from the kick-off to the materialization of their projects. It was truly a pleasure to work on such an ambitious project. Below a few excerpts of praise for the book.

“Rather than a series of product shots – typical of some other biennials – the catalogue has a scrapbook aesthetic that is replete with sketches, email exchanges, Facebook posts and photographs from field trips. It is an honest and meticulous documentation of the processes integral to the development of each project over the six month period.” Anya Lawrence, Disegno

“While the exhibition offers much to stimulate visitors, Boelen’s particular stroke of genius is Designing Everyday Life, the biennial’s companion text. Edited by design writer, Vera Sacchetti, the 534-page text reveals the glorious mess behind the exhibition’s cleanliness. Drawings, prototypes and even posts from Facebook pages illuminate how these processes of research, experimentation and collaboration worked. It’s a fascinating read.” Crystal Bennes, Icon

“By renouncing “iconic” design and focussing on real urgencies in the world, for which viable alternatives were sought and (sometimes) found, BIO 50 sparks the energy that is currently missing in most of the international design fairs. Moreover, the ambitions have landed in a thought-provoking catalogue, which will last as an optimist testimony of new ways of thinking, new ways of working, and new ways of presenting. The BIO 50 biennial proves that design fairs can reclaim the invigorating role they once played, by facing the real urgencies of the world and showing the surprising and on-going potential design has to offer.” Louise Shouwenberg, Dezeen

 

The Italian Avant-Garde, 1968-1976


The Italian Avant-Garde, page detail. Photo by Fabrizia Vecchione for Domus.

When Catharine Rossi first asked me to moderate a conversation between Joseph Grima and Alessandro Mendini for an upcoming publication she was co-editing on the Italian avant-garde of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I have to say I panicked. But a few nights of research led to an absolutely fabulous conversation, in which I merely watched as history happened before my eyes. This meeting of giants has been transcribed as the first chapter of Sternberg Press’ new volume EP Vol.1: The Italian Avant-Garde, 1968-1976, edited by Alex Coles and Catharine Rossi, and designed by Experimental Jetset. The book features a series of essays, interviews and explorations of several aspects of this complex, multilayered impulse that was immensely influential. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of it. Read Alice Rawsthorn’s review of the book here.

The Adhocracy Reader


The Adhocracy Reader, page detail. Photo by Ethel Baraona Pohl

During the summer of 2012 I was lucky enough to be involved in the preparation of Adhocracy, an exhibition curated by Joseph Grima with Elian Stefa, Ethel Baraona Pohl and Pelin Tan for the 1st Istanbul Design Biennial. My collaboration with the team materialized in the exhibition catalog, which I co-edited with Avinash Rajagopal and Tamar Shafrir. The Adhocracy Reader was designed by Folder (Marco Ferrari and Elisa Pasqual), and in its 400 pages we tried to push the concept of a standard catalog and create a reader, evoking a standard college reader — a compilation of pre-published material. A series of introductory essays frame the exhibition’s premises and the catalog’s intentions, followed by a carefully curated selection of material on the projects on display in the exhibition, alongside a series of pre-existing essays. The whole catalog can be consulted on Issuu, and a Flickr photoset by Ethel Baraona Pohl can be seen here.

Concrete Mushrooms


Concrete Mushrooms. Photo by dpr.barcelona

During June and July 2012, I copy-edited and helped Elian Stefa finish the book Concrete Mushrooms: Reusing Albania’s 750,000 Abandoned Bunkers, which was then published by dpr.barcelona in August 2012. The book, in Albanian and English, traces the history and fascinating “bunkerization” of Albania during the last years of Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship, and proposes a series of uses for these now discarded military structures. The project was originally started as a research project at the Politecnico di Milano. In August 2012, Concrete Mushrooms was also one of the initiators of Concrete in Common, an exhibition at  the Kunst Raum Riehen, in Basel, Switzerland — which I reviewed for Domusweb —, and was presented as one of the projects in the Albanian Pavilion at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition — Venice Biennale 2012.

Grey areas

When Frederico Duarte asked me if I’d be into having a conversation about social design in Portuguese, I was instantly game. Over email, we had a fun back and forth that became a section of the Portugal e África: Melhor Cooperação, Melhor Desenvolvimento [“Portugal and Africa: Better cooperation, better development”] book, a publication of the ACEP — Associação para a Cooperação Entre os Povos. This was the first time me and Frederico collaborated, and it was an immense pleasure to finally pen something with him. The full book can be seen at the ACEP website in PDF, or it can be ordered at info@acep.pt. After the jump, the full conversation between me and Frederico — unfortunately only available in Portuguese.

Continue reading Grey areas