Thursday, January 25, 2007

Antidotes to a Contemporary Monotony

written by Hamish Bigg and Jennifer Kay

Amongst a diverse range of collections, the smaller companies proved to be the real gems of Passagen. In this time of rapid turn-over and mass production, it was refreshing to see a return to seemingly lost values such as fine handcraft, locality, re-use and originality.

Temporary exhibitions reinforced the initiative and notion behind Passagen, offering new designs and installations that are both accessible and welcoming to anyone with the curiosity. The best of these exhibitions surpass the majority with originality, honesty and quality while others merely question the commercialism of Passagen. “Commercialism” however, seems essential to support the reach of such an event.

Ehrenfeld’s Farm Project presented a collaboration between the kitchen manufacturers Dornbracht and art director Mike Meiré. Meiré has created a utopian kitchen, the “place of life”, a kitchen that is evidently used in the way intended. The project questions the sense in minimalism within the home in a welcomed contrast to the archetypal furniture fair kitchen, encapsulating a visionary domestic environment. Aromas, warmth, live animals and old crockery all piece together to create a safe haven in which you feel truly at home. The Farm Project does not suggest a future décor; Meiré in fact suggests “an attitude, a belief - a call to the alternative”. “For years now there has been this incredible urge to design everything, as the result of which we have gone without so many interesting, lovely and enchanting things, especially in the kitchen.” They do not oppose the stance of other manufacturers but do however highlight the monotony that is becoming of most manufacturers and fairs. Do not expect the Farm Project as the next kitchen trend but this installation could be the needed inspiration for a more honest and pragmatic style of living.

Passagen provides a platform for younger design collectives to unveil their work, exposing them to both public and professional attention. One such collective is Duunddu who produce unique, witty products such as their rabbit hutch made from a shopping basket or run consisting of giant caged jigsaw pieces; storage units inspired by the humble banana box and wine crate; shelves that ingeniously work with torsion rather than relying on screws to hold it together - these are just some of the items that made the young company stand out from the crowd.

The same flirtatious attitude was displayed at Floor to Heaven where playful designs have dramatically elevated the status of the humble carpet. Their new range ‘Silver & Pirates’ was launched at this year’s Passagen and drew plenty of interest with vivacious creations featuring skull and crossbones and patterns inspired by traditional Russian textiles. All the floor pieces are hand tufted, displaying astounding workmanship and intricate beauty, creating the dubbed “Floor Couture”.

Meanwhile, RCA graduates OKAY Studio exhibited work ranging from commercial products to mythological interpretations, all flaunting characteristics of the RCA Design Products course. Shay Alkalay’s Hoover Bag Bear inspired by sentimentality for throwaway products is accompanied with an amusing anecdote that personalises a peculiar object. “A simple employee at the council rubbish disposal services had a peculiar imagination -he could see teddy bears in all the rubbish he observed.” While RCA’s critics are irritated by the school’s “arrogance and complacency” and some pieces were verging on the ridiculous, we love Alkalay’s once disposable Hoover bag made lovable. It is these experimental and novel qualities of OKAY Studio that gave a playful perspective to a rather commercial and repetitive Passagen, reinforcing the young designer’s position amid the more established.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Brazilian company Etel Interiores presented its custom-made furniture and accessories from managed Amazonian forest wood. Each piece is bespoke and beautifully handcrafted near São Paulo. Etel works with young and renowned Brazilian designers such as Isay Weinfeld to give a refreshing take on handmade wooden furniture. Although not as colourful or attention grabbing as some furniture, Etel does give a welcome contrast to the plastic lacquered cabinets and poorly made furniture that are so common today.

DejaVu’s designer Doris Armbruster utilises reclaimed treasures, notably old architectural wood, to forge new furniture/ functional art pieces. A bench made from old ceiling beams, a cabinet made from the side of a barn, a cupboard featuring a rustic door – just some of the items that form a collection of beautiful furniture, each piece telling its own story and of course benefiting the environment through compelling reuse of materials.

It is crafted objects like these that are so good to see – a step backwards in terms of commonly perceived ‘progression’ but undeniably in the right direction. We are tired of seeing more and more soulless mass-produced furniture being distributed all over the world by large manufacturing corporations. Homes are filled up with the year’s must-have products from the latest ‘hot’ designer, only to be replaced the following year with something new. Bespoke furniture has the quality and character that spiritless factory-made items simply can’t provide. We say less mass-manufacturing, more soul!

Love or hate product goes to Architects hatch’ chipboard and neon orange resin cupboard. Artist and designer Marcus Benesch has done wonders to create anything out of chipboard, let alone this well finished composite of, shall we say, diverse materials. It may not sit well with your showroom replica living room but diversity and neon should be welcomed with open arms. But considering the €4,000 price tag, we would say, “look, but don’t touch”!

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