I believe Europe should be, for design, more than the land of antiques. It produces many of our moment’s leading talents—and yet its collectors famously ignore them. Collectible, the sole fair exclusively dedicated to contemporary design, aims to amend this, by directing to the living some of the attention which has been awarded to the dead. Its 5th iteration concluded on May 22. For those already tuned into the now but who couldn’t attend the fair, this review will help you feel bad about missing it. If you’re still pawing through inventories of Perriands and Jeannerets, this review will help you feel bad about being you.
Design Museum Gent displayed some of its recent acquisitions, reflecting the institution’s emphasis on research and process. By valuing prototypes and experiments, the museum is doing what the commercial market will rarely do—invest in work that prioritizes development above result. This is an area in which Europe generally has as an advantage over the United States. Generous government arts funding in the E.U. allows designs a bit of room to be curious without being pragmatic—and as a consequence, their work benefits at their market’s expense.
Erez Nevi Pana, Stool.
Consider, among the works in Design Museum Gent’s booth, a salt encrusted enigma by Erez Nevi Pana. Stools may not grow from trees yet, but they can now be grown in the sea. Pana’s was generated by the Dead Sea over the course of seven months. I say stool, but the designer uses the typology only as a notional reference for manufactured objects in general. Using wood and dried Luffa as an armature, Pana seeds his stools by placing them at the evaporating edge of briny sea water. Over time, salt creeps and blossoms across the surface, densifying until the object appears to be a crystalline monolith. This belongs to a vein of design which treats problem solving as a performance art. The problem Pana set himself was to create an entirely grown object—thus he uses Luffa, rather than, say, wire mesh. The object has an awkward grace; its surface, glittering with small facets and planes, contrast with it’s irregular, lumpy form.
Lauris Gallee. Fence Flowers. Tableau.
Laurids Galée showed a remarkable collection of colorful woodwork with Tableau, the construction of which has puzzled me from some time. He uses a very clever process for scribing and selectively coloring the surface to achieve near-impossible effects. Beginning by scoring the wood with a laser cutter, he applies pigments without thinner so that their bleed stops crisply at the sheared grain of the scoring line. The results look like marquetry in their segmentation but pop out like mosaic with their abrupt differences in coloration. His imagery combines a disciplining grid and a kind of folkloric inventory of symbols and figures—poppy flowers, hands, fire. These elements overlap and are overlapped by the grid which wraps the entire surface. The contrast between mechanistic order and imaginative expressiveness resonates throughout the work on multiple levels—between his blocky, orthogonal furniture forms and their complicated surfaces, and between the evident handcraft and the laser produced geometries. Taken together, his work might even be read as register for the ways creative impulse interacts with the forcing pressures of a given process. Even things which are made through digital and mechanized tools often rely to a surprising degree on primitive-seeming handcraft. As an example, Galée modified his laser cutter by cutting a hole in the bottom of the machine and devising a clamping mechanism so that he can work with materials which would not otherwise fit. An illustration of the ways old-fashioned hands-on problem solving is often still the technology at the bottom of all the others.
Everyday Gallery, Lionel-Jadot Plexi Tree 2021.
Lionel Jadot’s work is a wild bricolage of found objects. This likely incomplete list of materials for Open Your Eyes Lamp, 2020, is revealing: carved butcherblock, spray foam, resin, concrete plasticizer, hand turned wooden balls from India, recycled crocheted bags from Africa, 20th century paper fans from Japan, a light fixture from Burkina Faso, part of an Israeli hookah, and a 20th century broken Chinese vase. One of the methods by which he gathers materials is by going to antique shops and asking for everything they have that’s broken. Plexi Tree 2021, a work Jadot exhibited with Everyday Gallery, was something the likes of which I haven’t seen before—a Ficus tree winds itself helically around a fluorescent light. The geometrically tamed plant brings to mind the queasiness I’ve felt looking a square watermelons. The appearance of a symbiotic relation between plant and human technologies is evidently counterfeit. The fluorescent light cannot give the plant the sustenance it truly needs.
© Mia Karlova Galerie, Vadim Kibardin, Black Mirror Coiffeuse.
Mia Karlova Gallery presented Vadim Kibardin’s “Black Mirror Coiffeuse,” in which a sinuous and dramatically bulging form seems to be metastasizing around a stable armature. A black paper skin covers the surface almost completely. Kibardin’s paper is not pulped, a technique which has passed through a full clean cycle of internet-accelerated trending, but instead layered in strips and sheets so that their individual fragments are visible. This gives it a nuance of surface which grows more vivid up close and disappears from afar.
Soft Jug Process. Photo: Renee Espinosa.
Soft Jug . Photo: Renee Espinosa.
Soft Jug, by Panoramma Atelier, is a raw flesh-toned silicone vessel with sutured seams and an evil-looking steel corset. The vase evokes a long history of human skin furniture, which dates at least to the Achaemenid Empire, when King Cambyses II had a corrupt judge flayed alive and then used his skin to upholster the judicial bench. The judge’s son then inherited the post and was made to sit upon his father’s skin while administering law. So much for anyone who doubts what stakes can really rest on a seat design.
The European design scene is clearly taken with the idea that the grown/made distinction has come on hard times.