‘There is no need for new design anymore, but an urge for new discourses about design and methodologies,’ says French designer Audrey Large. Based in the Netherlands and a graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, Large’s work is a highly saturated, hyperreal mash-up of CGI and sculpture, blurring the lines between object and image.

Large is part of an emerging group that have been dubbed design’s ‘wild ones’ – an amorphous mix of confident individuals, free-wheeling duos and loosely bound collectives producing highly experimental, one-off, expressive work that at a push categorisation might fall on ‘functional art’. ‘I think a more accurate description would be ‘the Eindhoven Group’, which is how internally we refer to these young designers because most of them have studied or are studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven,’ says Benoît Wolfram, co-founder of Functional Art Gallery in Berlin.

BAsic In in by Anna Aagaard Jensen Courtesey of Everyday Gallery
‘While they are all very educated academically, they all share an interest in looking beyond tradition for inspiration,’ explains Wolfram. ‘Often their work is informed by what’s happening in their day-to- day life, the political and social cli- mate we are living in, so they are drawing from their own experiences to create functional art that is new on the scene and in their own way addresses the reality of our lives.’Together with Everyday Gallery in Antwerp, Wolfram is helping define a generation of practitioners by providing representation and sup- port, even if the audience of collectors is still to be established.

Everyday Gallery founder Boris Devis describes the work as avant-garde: ‘It’s a group using design more as a starting point. Extruding de- sign, making design bigger than it has been and bringing it closer to the art world. ‘Design is a field that hasn’t been explored fully, especially in this artful kind of way. In a couple of years I think they will probably go much more sculptural and even less functional, so they are really going to transgress.’

Jet 7 by Messgewand, 2018
Some of the ‘wild ones’ have been through the alfa.brussels residency programme that Devis set up in the outskirts of Brussels. These include the recently formed Touche-Touche, the collective work of Carolin Gieszner and Théo Demans. Georaphically the duo have touched down in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin, and when they first started working together it was largely in the contemporary cultural context of scenography, exhibition design and artist collaborations. A move to a more ‘surreal direction’ can be seen in their first mini-collection of sculptural furniture objects, full of the ‘super primitive process’ they engage by lengthy sessions of testing and throwing things together to see where they land. But wanting to move beyond ideas or so-called invention, for Gieszner it’s important that they ‘don’t get bored with any process. We want it to be fun. So every piece is like an exploration.’

Not all of the group’s members are graduates of the Design Academy, but almost all of them have been educated in, live in or are originally from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and have attended design schools that have encouraged them to think more deeply about what design is or what it might be. But these designers have gone a step further, deconstructing the idea that design has to be useful in the functional sense and instead hoping to trigger a more visceral response in the viewer – sometimes creating work that even an institution like Design Academy Eindhoven, with its reputation for conceptualism and experimentation, struggles to get its head around.

Fountain of Money by Théophile Blandet Photo: Femke Reijerman
Sumatra Orangutan by Ortamiklos, 2019 Courtesey of Fun ional Art Gallery, Berlin
‘I would describe my work as being alternative and sociological – somewhat removed from our classical notion of furniture,’ says Anna Aagaard Jensen. ‘In its expression and form, it is very free and it takes on a narrative that aligns with the contemporary social climate that aims to disrupt the traditional perception of how things are.’ A Basic Instinct, a series of chairs that began as Aagaard Jensen’s graduate project from Design Academy Eindhoven, is a case in point. The flesh-coloured seats are labelled ‘only for women’ and are vaguely anthropomorphic, with spread legs and bulbous protrusions that are intended as a comment on the way women are encouraged to occupy less physical space in public.

The ambition for previous generations might have been having a prototype picked up by a manufacturer and turned into a product that sold thousands of units, or to create products or systems that could help solve the world’s problems. But the ‘wild ones’ want to talk about ideas, to comment on the state of the world, to take materiality to an extreme, to blur boundaries. Rather than roll their eyes at the hoary old question ‘is it art or is it design?’ they rollick in it. It’s not that these definitions don’t matter anymore, it’s that the answer is usually ‘both’.

Secional sofa 'BBC's' by Touche-Touche for alfa.brussels gallery, 2019

These sentiments can be seen in the work of OrtaMiklos, the Eindhoven alumni of Leo Orta and Victor Miklos, whose work was exhibited by the Functional Art Gallery at Collectible in Brussels this year and its Decadence installation for the gallery at Design Miami. The French-Danish duo blur, twist and bounce around with typologies, materials and aesthetics that play with our minds, and when speaking to HighSnobiety they called this process ‘ignorant design’.

‘A lot of designers of our generation share the idea that the function of utilitarian objects have been proven enough over the last few decades and see that their expressive qualities still have untapped potential,’ say Moreno Schweikle and Janne Schimmel. Working as Schimmel & Schweikle, they use digital tools to shape a design methodology that creates physical and often surreal furniture. ‘We do not feel that function prohibits a certain object from having a relevancy or need to express,’ they say. ‘We make whatever we want because we don’t feel limited by any constraints of how you are supposed to do things,’ adds Dutch designer Koos Breen. ‘I like that people are often confused when seeing our work.’

Lampe-Çmir by Stéphane Moufflette

Trained as a graphic designer, Breen is another designer working in the grey zone between digital image and physical reality. Instead of graduating with a book or poster design, he presented a carpet. Since then he has developed a method of working called Morf From Form From Morf, in which one project creates the starting point for the next, demanding that he constantly learn new techniques to realise his ideas. ‘I think it was already clear from the beginning that I would follow a less traditional route,’ he says.

Breen, Schimmel & Schweikle, Large, Touche-Touche and Orta-Miklos are all part of the Morph Collective, a sprawling group of designers that is at the centre of this movement. Fellow member Théophile Blandet describes Morph as a ‘bicurious [entity] that fucks, and gets fucked by the art and design world’. Over the past year the collective has staged immersive exhibitions at Collectible and Milan Design Week and has just finished a collaborative show in China.

Innocent Welder by Thoms Bahoulley, 2019

‘I still can't pinpoint what exactly my work is about, but I would say it is quite often about disturbing the image of the “modernity of design”,’ says another member Thomas Ballouhey. He achieves this by ‘using rather primitive techniques with modern materials. Or the other way around.'

Outside of Morph, the ‘wild ones’ include French designer Stéphane Mouette and Paris-and-Amsterdam-based Messgewand – the collaborative studio of Romain Coppin and Alexis Bondoux – with their self-described ‘trash aesthetic’. ‘We have a fascination for aesthetic ambiguity, our work is trying to be constantly in between, always oscillating between trash aesthetics and plastic radicality,’ say Messgewand. ‘We are more into an intuitive and raw collage process, mixing mediums, popular aesthetics and domestic codes.’ The result is furniture that offers a colourful collage of materials and meanings and a critique of contemporary methods of production and consumption. Not exactly practical, definitely political.

Mouette is also deeply interested in aesthetics, playing with materials to emulate other materials in arts plastiques, which reimagines gilded baroque furniture in crinkly polyester film and resin, or offering a gently humorous take on techno- logical progress in bulbous assemblages that reference nanotechnologies and mutations. ‘There is a convergence of disciplines and status, a chair no longer resembles a chair, the painting no longer clings to the wall, says Mouette, ‘and it's rather interesting.’

Untitledyjut by Stéphane Moufflette

This article appeared in DAM74. Order your personal copy.
Furniture 29 by Messgewand, 2019
MORPH: Look Mum, No Ruler by Thomas Ballouhey, 2019
Graffiti 1 by Messegewand, 2016
Servante by Stéphane Mouflette
Daybed by OrtaMiklos
CrossFit loungechair by Schimmel&Schweikle
TPC by Théophile Blandet
CrossFit BlownUp with Lamp by Schimmel&Schweikle
MetaBowl by Audrey Large, photo by Daniele Iodice
CrossOver Light by Thomas Ballouhey, 2018
FAR, Mocap.vfx, Backstage by Audrey Large
READY, SET, GO, 2018 by Thomas Ballouhey
Furniture 13 by Messegewand, 2018
A Segregated Chair by Anna Aagaard Jensen