thinkingaboutobjects

contemporary craft and design, art and architecture exhibitions, things seen...

The Languages of Making: Learning and Craft in Dialogue symposium: a write up

How do we talk about making?  What words do we use to articulate non-verbal practices and ensure their meanings don’t get lost in translation?  These questions were the basis of The Languages of Making: Learning and Craft in Dialogue, a one-day symposium on contemporary making practice and theory organised in the Stanley Picker Gallery at Kingston University in February this year.  The aim was to bring together different knowledges of making from different disciplines, institutions and geographies, in order to encourage collective critical debate on design and craft, and think about future developments of such communal conversations. 

There were seven speakers in total, from craft theorists and historians to designers and design educators.  This mix of backgrounds was part of the ‘languages’ theme, one also found in the different nationalities present – we had speakers with British, Swedish, Japanese and French backgrounds. As this was a small and informal event, the symposium wasn’t recorded, and so I’ve produced this write up to document the day and think about where to go next.

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Is it too late to resuscitate?

Consider this a resuscitation.  In light of the unbelievable truth that it has been over nine months since my last blog post (bad, bad social media form), here’s a selection of some of the thinking about objects I’ve been doing since May last year, in a bid to reboot the habit.  Unfortunately it sounds like a bit of blog-based bragging, but really these are just excuses for an inexcusable absence.

First there was the event that followed the last blog post, a roundtable on The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968 - 76 with Alex Coles, Carlo Caldini and Martino Gamper at the ICA.  You can watch the video here.   The book, a great project in itself, keeps on giving.  In December Alex, Verina Gfader and I held a roundtable with Pier Vittorio Aureli at the AA.  The Radical Avant-Garde isn’t going away.  In March I’m taking part in Zero Design Festival on the subject of what happened to the avant-garde, and what young designers can learn from them today.

Talks: ideas of making today at the Wysing Arts Centre, the future of designing and making tomorrow at Dulwich Picture Gallery and pop’s mixing of art and design at the Southbank Centre.  Conferences that ensure the research  up to scratch, from fellow Italophiles to furniture fans - the latter at the excellent, but threatened, Bucks New University.  Even an app (one of the shortest, but most exciting, projects of last year).

The writing continues.  From Domus reviews (the latest is on In the Making at the Design Museum) to a chapter on primitivism and the pastoral in Radical Design for Grace Lees-Maffei and Kjetil Fallan’s edited volume Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design, another on prototypes in Italian design for Louise Valentine’s Prototype: Design and Craft in the 21st Century, the mix of writing continues to be productive.

That’s just some of it: this isn’t to mention the great students I get to teach at Kingston Uni, the helping out with fixperts, and all the other things that I am lucky enough to do.  On which note there’ll be more interesting, less narcissistic, stuff to follow soon.

 

Okay, so not a blog post, but this is exciting news - this week saw the publication of The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968 - 1976, co-edited by Alex Coles and I and published by Sternberg Press.  We’ve been so lucky to get some fascinating contributors, and this has been a project in the works for a year or so, and its publication now feels timely, given the current socio-political turn in design practice - something I’ve written about for Disegnodaily.
We’re having a talk at the ICA on Friday 31st May as part of their Culture Now series, with Martino Gamper and Carlo Caldini of Gruppo 9999 in conversation with Alex Coles and I on the movement and its legacy - you can book a place here.  Feedback on the book more than welcome!

Okay, so not a blog post, but this is exciting news - this week saw the publication of The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968 - 1976, co-edited by Alex Coles and I and published by Sternberg Press.  We’ve been so lucky to get some fascinating contributors, and this has been a project in the works for a year or so, and its publication now feels timely, given the current socio-political turn in design practice - something I’ve written about for Disegnodaily.

We’re having a talk at the ICA on Friday 31st May as part of their Culture Now series, with Martino Gamper and Carlo Caldini of Gruppo 9999 in conversation with Alex Coles and I on the movement and its legacy - you can book a place here.  Feedback on the book more than welcome!

Video from Collaborative Effects: A Symposium, held at Nottingham Contemporary in April this year that examined the Italian artist Piero Gilardi and his relationship  with Arte Povera, Radical Design, and socially engaged practices.  This video includes Professor Robert Lumley, Professor of Italian Cultural History at UCL, Teresa Kittler, a PhD candidate at UCL studying the concept of ‘living’ in 1960s Italian art and then I come in (about an hour in!) on connections between Piero Gilardi and Radical Design in 1960s and 1970s Italy.  The Museum is going to be creating an online resource for material on Gilardi soon, something to watch out for.

Colloquium: Conversations in Theory and PracticeKingston University
Craftsmanship Reconsidered: framing, coding, cutting and unveiling17th April 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, QD046Intersections: Craft and Design historiesDr Trevor Keeble and Dr Catharine Rossi in conversation25th April 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, INFERNO, 31 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5AE Digital VisionsProf Jane Harris, Director of Design Research, Kingston University in conversation with DrRolf Gelhaar, Artist, Composer and Postgraduate Course Leader in Design & Digital Media atCoventry University1st May 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, MA Fashion studio, Knights Park Campus, Kingston UniversityCutting: On the Fabric of the Human BodyNinela Ivanova hosts an open discussion with Rhian Solomon, Visual Artist and Director ofsKINship™; Amy Congdon, PhD Researcher at Textile Futures Research Centre and JaneWildgoose, Artist, Researcher, Writer and Curator of the Wildgoose Memorial Library8th May 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, Rose Issa ProjectsThe Future of Tradition/Tradition of FutureKarima Al-Shomely in conversation with Rose Issa, Curator, Writer and Producer, Rose IssaProjects, Contemporary Art from the Arab World and Iran16th May 2013, 6 – 8 pm, Institute of Contemporary Arts, StudioGuest speakers return for a panel discussionEvents produced by Portia Ungley, Shaza Sabbagh, Jane Wildgoose, Karima Al-Shomelyand Ninela Ivanova: doctoral students in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, KingstonUniversity. Attendance to all events is free. To book a place please email Ninela Ivanova: k1020964@kingston.ac.uk

Colloquium: Conversations in Theory and Practice
Kingston University

Craftsmanship Reconsidered: framing, coding, cutting and unveiling

17th April 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, QD046
Intersections: Craft and Design histories
Dr Trevor Keeble and Dr Catharine Rossi in conversation

25th April 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, INFERNO, 31 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5AE
Digital Visions
Prof Jane Harris, Director of Design Research, Kingston University in conversation with Dr
Rolf Gelhaar, Artist, Composer and Postgraduate Course Leader in Design & Digital Media at
Coventry University

1st May 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, MA Fashion studio, Knights Park Campus, Kingston University
Cutting: On the Fabric of the Human Body
Ninela Ivanova hosts an open discussion with Rhian Solomon, Visual Artist and Director of
sKINship™; Amy Congdon, PhD Researcher at Textile Futures Research Centre and Jane
Wildgoose, Artist, Researcher, Writer and Curator of the Wildgoose Memorial Library

8th May 2013, 5.30 – 7pm, Rose Issa Projects
The Future of Tradition/Tradition of Future
Karima Al-Shomely in conversation with Rose Issa, Curator, Writer and Producer, Rose Issa
Projects, Contemporary Art from the Arab World and Iran

16th May 2013, 6 – 8 pm, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Studio
Guest speakers return for a panel discussion

Events produced by Portia Ungley, Shaza Sabbagh, Jane Wildgoose, Karima Al-Shomely
and Ninela Ivanova: doctoral students in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Kingston
University. Attendance to all events is free.
To book a place please email Ninela Ivanova: k1020964@kingston.ac.uk

Thinking about contemporary practice and attempting to understand it from historical and critical perspectives are two of the main drivers of my research.  I set up this blog as a way to explore this in a more informal way, and I also write about it in more conventional academic contexts such as journals - a demanding but worthwhile format for the rigorous editing, depth and length of research and writing that they entail.  So I’m delighted to be in the current issue of Design and Culturea bumper issue full of reflections on design practice and writing today, with an article called Bricolage, Hybridity, Circularity: Crafting Production Strategies in Critical and Conceptual Design”.  As with the blog, I hope this can contribute to a conversation about design, so any thoughts welcome.

Photo: Thomas Thwaites, The Toaster Project,  2009, one of the objects discussed in the article.  Source: Dezeen.

Waste Not, Want Not: Design’s Dealings with Rubbish

We live in an Anthropocene age.  So great is the imprint of man’s dominance over the environment, so fundamentally and permanently have our activities altered the way that the earth functions, that there is increasing agreement that the Holocene era is over; it is not the rhythms of ice ages that determine the condition of the planet, but the destructive rhythms of the globalised systems of production, distribution and consumption that define much of our existence.

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Photo: Pi Studio.

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Drawing and Making: The Elements of Creativity, Friday 7 December 2012, Edinburgh College of Art.
This symposium is one of the reasons why my blog activity isn’t what it should be, or rather this is one of the great things that can happen as a result of having a blog…together with Susan Cross, Reader in Jewellery & Silversmithing at Edinburgh College of Art, I am co-organising a symposium on the relationship between drawing and making, on Friday 7th December at Edinburgh College of Art.  The event is free and open to all.  Sign up via eventbrite.

Drawing and Making: The Elements of Creativity, Friday 7 December 2012, Edinburgh College of Art.

This symposium is one of the reasons why my blog activity isn’t what it should be, or rather this is one of the great things that can happen as a result of having a blog…together with Susan Cross, Reader in Jewellery & Silversmithing at Edinburgh College of Art, I am co-organising a symposium on the relationship between drawing and making, on Friday 7th December at Edinburgh College of Art.  The event is free and open to all.  Sign up via eventbrite.

Is that a fly in your chair? Design and all Things Edible

Its November. Term is in full swing, meaning plenty of lecture writing but little time to put finger to keyboard for a blog post or two.  That’s not to say that there isn’t much to write about - tickling my tastebuds recently has been the multi-faceted turn to food by designers.  I kickstarted this thought in a review of the London Design Festival in September where, as Wallpaper also noted, food was something of a going concern at this year’s festival.  

Faye Toogood and Cocomaya, Force of Nature, 2012, at Designs on Nature. Photo: Tom Dixon.

The magazine picked up on the food-based treats and installations that designers such as Tom DixonPaul Cocksedge and Cocomaya together with Faye Toogood were offering, alongside the creation of ample opportunities for eating together, such as Cocomaya's collaboration with the Vera Project and KopiasteDesign Marketo and Haptic Thought's pop-up cafe in West London, in which designers such as Michael Anastassides created silicone food moulds whose design commented on the current socio-economic crisis in Greece.


Michael Anastassides€uro Bread wooden dough stamp,2012.  Photo: Core 77

Across town, Italian collective Arabeschi di Latte and Studio Toogood's collaboration contained some of the interests circulating in design currently; hosted at the latter's canal-side studio was their M25 lunch, a spin on the traditional British Ploughman’s lunch.  

M25 Lunch, Arabeschi di Latte and Studio TooGood, LDF 2012.  Photo: Dezeen

The meal expressed the post-industrial and utilitarian ethos that was also seen in the clothes and chairs on show at The Back Room: it opted for the limitations of localism over long-distances in the sourcing of ingredients, all of which had been gathered within the environs of London’s perimetrical motorway, from smoked-salmon to cheese, chutney to honey. 

Designers’ recognition of the potential for food to unite, to create communities and have a positive social effect is not new - witness the influence of the Slow Food Movement on design - and the connection between food and design is, as always, one of those subjects far larger than the narrow gaze considered here.  What I’m particularly interested in is the current use of food as a material in design, a cross-pollination of the edible and the non.

Debbie Nitsan, Baked Electronics, 2012.  Photo: Designboom

As Debbie Nitsan’s baked electronic suggest, bread seems to have particular appeal in this respect, also seen in Studio Formafantasma’s flour-based Autarchy and Baked series.  On a different note is Alkesh Parmar’s orange-peel based Apeel.  Unveiled at the RCA Show last year, Apeel turns rind, a byproduct of juice and fruit salad production, into a biodegradable material.  

Alkesh Parmar’s Apeel, 2012. Photo: D-Talks.

Informed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle concept, Parmar’s use of an existing byproduct is part of the larger set of sustainable approaches to design, one here informed by an increasing urgency of the need to recognise the issue of waste in our consumerist society, and the need to adopt more circular approaches to design - expressed in the use of Apeel to create the juicer that leads to the rind that it is made from…and so it goes on.

Closely tied to this use of food as a material is the potential of using techniques associated with food on conventional design materials.  Included in Out of the Woods, an exhibition documenting the RCA’s collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council on view at the V&A was the Leftovers chair by Lauren Davies.  Based on the design of a traditional kitchen chair, Davies used processes normally associated with preserving food for treating furniture, in a project that, like Parmer’s Apeel, is similarly concerned with maximising the life cycle of the material culture that surrounds us.

Lauren Davies, Leftovers chair, 2012.  Photo: Core 77

As Davies describes, the chair was the result of a love of cooking and the fact that there is an overlooked affinity between food and furniture - as she has noticed of the project, ‘so many of the American hardwoods we were working with are connected to food production’.  This dual concern with food in both the materials and processes used permeates the chair; its hickory legs have been ‘smoked’, the maple spindles on its back flavoured with fruit essences such as beetroot and blackberry, and its seat, made from timber offcuts, pickled with vinegar.  As these treatments suggest, these olfactory element to the chair express a concern with a sense beyond the visual, one that is normally overlooked in design and yet which a food-based approach can clearly exploit.

This is not to mention the widespread application of design to the realm of food; from rethinking the shape and social custom for eating food, as in Marti Guixe’s FoodBALL, Bompas and Parr's jelly architecture, and Carl Kleiner and Evelina Bratell's re-visualisation of ingredients for IKEA’s Hembakat är Bäst (Homemade is Best) cookbook, in which the layout recalls a self-assembly kit - allen key not included.

Carl Kleiner (photography) and Evelina Bratell (styling), Hembakat är Bäst, 2010. Photo: Carl Kleiner

These examples are just for starters (for dessert, see Naomi Filmer's chocolate jewellery).  As always, these snapshots of a larger phenomena raise a number of questions.  Chiefly, this interest in food comes at a time when less of us are cooking, and yet more of us watching and reading about food - witness the global phenomenon that is The Great British Bake Off - and in a context in which unethical and unenvironmental processes dominate food production, distribution, consumption and disposal.  Could these examples mean therefore that we can use design to value food more in the future?  The benefits could run both ways - does a food-based approach to design suggest new sensual and social possibilities for design practice? (Re)conceived variously as material, medium, energy source or social glue; food could become more than what we put on the table, but what the table is made from.