Fabrics and textiles are definitely among the protagonists of Milan Design Week, but quite often we tend to overlook them, conceiving these materials as secondary characters maybe destined to be employed for interior design pieces. Textiles are instead the main focus in one the window projects launched at la Rinascente department stores in partnership with the Serpentine Galleries.
"A Search Behind Appearances" (until 19th April) by designer Hella Jongerius (of Jongeriuslab) and researcher, writer and lecturer (she worked as curator for the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and the Textile Museum in Tilburg, amongst others) Louise Schouwenberg consists indeed in eight windows that look onto Piazza Duomo.
The first and last windows explain the project, but the six central ones feature fabrics characterised by complex woven patterns onto which shadows generated by the continuous movement of letters and scale models of designer items are projected with the help of several small machines.
The fabrics in the displays celebrate the hands-on research of traditional and new weaving techniques and the spectators are also invited to zoom in on the multi-layered details of the textiles and analyse them.
Passers-by are invited to decode the messages hidden in the splashes of colours, letters and words integrated in the windows or grasp their design essence, making connections between one window and the next or imagining such links.
Jongerius and Schouwenberg's windows become therefore visual and abstract metaphors that prompt people to ponder a bit more about the complex world of design.
Yet, while the most interesting thing about the windows is that they seem to create a clever shadow puppet theatre revolving around the design industry, there is actually a wider and more important meaning attached to the displays that aren't just intriguing for their mere visual power.
Through the windows Jongerius and Schouwenberg wonder indeed if design can still be poetic and culturally innovative in a commercial context such as the Salone del Mobile. Their display shows therefore a sort of continuity with Jongerius and Schouwenberg's manifesto "Beyond the New - A Search for Ideals in Design", launched at last year's Salone that analysed the lack of in-depth interconnection between cultural awareness, social commitment and financial gain in the world of design.
"A Search Behind Appearances" complements that research, but tries to go beyond a mere critical attitude, emphasising the potential of design and turning the attention to context, with windows covered with provoking slogans stating "Judge a design by the questions it evokes!" (a message asking for honest communication in the world of design that too often produces just a lot of meaningless information...) and "Innovation requires serendipity!", or with philosophical questions such as "Why design for a world of plenty?", "How to entertain a vivid dialogue with the archive?", "Has the full potential of design been exploited?", "What is cultural innovation?" (the latter is featured on a window with a textile covered in quotes from great thinkers, including Plato and Andrea Branzi).
The windows are part of a wider project at la Rinascente that also features Aldo Cibic and Studio Cibicworkshop's "The Chameleon and The Souq" and the Annex's windows with the #Emojimilan installation (both in Via Santa Radegonda 10) curated by a team of students from Central Saint Martins. Jongerius and Schouwenberg's project proves more interesting than the others, though, both for the way the duo worked with different materials and for the fact that their principles and ideas could be applied to other creative fields as well, such as fashion.
On the main window that introduces the project the design duo printed a statement that could be used to describe the fashion collections produced in the last 6 or 8 years: "The essence of design is the way it engages with users. Seemingly invisible, design draws on many levels of meaning to communicate with these users. But for decades already design is reduced to the production of mere style differences, a deceitful play of illusions, and an accompanying marketing verbiage. Today, market and value and the claim of novelty seem to overrule any other value we might attribute to a design."
As you get to the last window you understand that maybe Jongerius and Schouwenberg have found the answer to the crisis in the design industries: truly innovative design is indeed rooted in the history of cultural production and reflection and not in adding new stuff to a world drenched in consumerism, genuinely new pieces do not therefore consist in simply regurgitating on a daily basis thousands if not millions of meaningless and soulless products. Interior and fashion designers please take note.
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