Newsletter 06.2008

Dear Readers,

As happens every year, during 'Art', the major trade fair for modern and contemporary art, Basle is for five days transformed into a central forum for the international art scene. For the third time now new and classical design rarities have been presented under the 'Design Miami' label by the still young segment of exclusive design galleries.
We have put together for you a selection of some remarkable creations in the borderline area where art and design meet, and have taken a critical look at the increasing encroachment of the booming art market on the field of design.

In addition we interview Xavier Lust, the Belgian designer, who has achieved international acclaim with his groundbreaking designs in aluminium for manufacturers such as MDF Italia or De Padova.

Be inspired!

Your Architonic Team

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Design Miami/Basel
or what design has to do with art
    Design Miami/Basel  
Cetacea by Ross Lovegrove, Edition of three, Albion Gallery, London

For the third time international design and art galleries are presenting much sought-after design classics and exclusive products as part of the 'Design Miami' exhibition at the Art Basel fair.
In comparison to previous years there was this time an especially strong increase in limited editions of contemporary works. This confirms a development of which there have been indications for a number of years and which has now become an established fact: design has gradually managed to penetrate the art market. No other subject receives so much comment in the specialist press as this development and its consequences, and there are now few designers who don't offer their works for sale in art galleries or auction houses:

Archiduchaise by Xavier Lust, Edition of 18, Carpenters Workshop Gallery, London

Archiduchaise is a poetic creation by the Belgian aluminium specialist Xavier Lust, who has already created a stir with his ingenious designs for MDF Italia. Elegant as a baroque crinoline, the lower structure of this cantilever chair stretches well beyond the seat, which gives this sculpture its figure-like appearance.

Tom Dixon's recliner consists of an interwoven polyethylene rod which is apparently briefly heated and then draped over a mould like a net - a one-off product in which the biggest challenge is very likely to be the craftsmanship and skill required to make it.

Untitled Chaise Lounge by Tom Dixon, unique piece, Kenny Schachter ROVE Gallery, London

'Designer of the Future' is a grant which enables young designers to create a project and then put it on exhibition at Design Miami. Candidates have to observe certain specifications, which this year involve the materials of concrete and wool.
The designs of Julia Lohmann, one of the four recipients of the grant, are inspired by the rigid and brittle characteristics of concrete as a material, in particular as displayed by cracked headstones and floor slabs. "Cracked concrete represents disaster, war, the forces of nature and destruction. By temporarily subjecting the material to these forces I give it new qualities and design potential", states the German designer. Grants have also been awarded to Britain's Max Lamb for a series of stools shaped by rotation, and to Martino Gamper, an Italian designer living in London who presented a range of terrazzo tables. Further recipients are the designer duo Clemens Weisshaar & Reed Kram, whose installation 'Vendôme' is the product of design software which generates an endless number of form suggestions within a specific framework. The installation consists of concrete shapes whose geometry is composed of vectors in the form of threads of wool stretched between ceiling and floor.

Cracked concrete table and bench by Julia Lohmann

However, what could at first sight be regarded as an exciting collection of design experiments leaves a strange after-taste when we think about it a little more closely. Traditionally and by definition the aim of design is to create things for mass production. This is the significant aspect which differentiates design from the craftsmanship manifested in art. The aim of designers is the series manufacture of a product, even if they seek to achieve this by indirect and experimental routes. If the results of such experiments in the shape of prototypes or studies of form have the effect of motivating design enthusiasts pay a little more for them, this is still understandable. But artificially restricting supply by turning products which are ready for series production into so-called limited editions gives the impression that it is the name of the designer which is being marketed here purely and simply to create a new form of financial investment. This development is a highly logical one now that design is being traded by those in the know as an investment which provides extremely reliable yields, and it is therefore all the more farsighted of the HSBC Private Bank to recognise the trend and to function as the principal sponsor of Design Miami.

Vendôme by Clemens Weisshaar & Reed Kram

For designers on the other hand, this ambivalent development represents an opportunity to enter into the kind of direct marketing of their prototypes and to benefit from the value which is suddenly being attached to their experiments. The ability not just to work without being shackled by the cost/benefit calculations of the manufacturer but also to be paid for doing so in the process provides many designers with the opportunity to put into practice highly unusual and even perhaps utopian ideas. Let's hope that this freedom from production-specific restrictions also leads to some trend-setting innovations.
Almost 'No Design'
An interview with the Belgian Designer Xavier Lust
The Belgian designer Xavier Lust has won international recognition with his ingeniously crafted designs. Since achieving his big breakthrough with 'le banc' ten years ago he has produced designs for well-known manufacturers such as MDF Italia, Driade, De Padova and Extremis.
We got together with Xavier Lust during the Salone del Mobile to talk about his work and the development of his studio in Brussels.

  Almost 'No Design'  
Xavier Lust

We're sitting here at the Triennale, surrounded by a number of world-famous designers whose faces are familiar from the covers of various design magazines. How do you feel in this distinguished company?
It is always a great thing to come to the Salone del Mobile and meet designers from all over the world. Year after year you get to know more of them, and more of them recognize you, which is a nice thing. I particularly appreciate to receive comments directly from colleagues who have seen my work and appreciate it. Designers are becoming more and more like superstars, so to be able to talk to Philippe Starck, Ron Arad or Ross Lovegrove, whom you have casually met at a party, is pretty amazing.

To what extent do you allow yourself and your work to be influenced by the growing interest of the media?
I try to put up some resistance, but the media have become such an important aspect of the designer's work that it's almost impossible to stand aside from it.

Baobab by Xavier Lust for MDF Italia, 2008

For young designers, of course, it's a good opportunity to attract attention.
That's true. They also receive more respect and from this point of view they have it easier today than I had 15 years ago, when I graduated from design school. On the other hand there is also a total overdose of information - above all when it comes to young design. There are also a lot more young designers than in the past. And this increase in quantity has not, unfortunately, led to an increase in quality. I see a lot of young design which I find simply boring. I'm afraid that for many young designers the image factor is the main focus, and not the product. But I don't want to be too negative about this. There are also lots of good young designers. But in spite of this I'm not sure if this publicity has so manyadvantages, because the quality of the publications which are involved also plays a major role. When I exhibited eight years' work at the Salone Satellite in 2000 I suddenly saw an elderly gentleman lying under my aluminium bench. When I asked him in surprise if I could help he stood up and gave me his card: it was Terence Conran. At the time you would find major producers looking for talent at the Salone Satellite. I doubt whether that's still the case today. Instead the media presence has increased.

Okay, let's begin at the beginning: how did you start your business?
As I said, that was 15 years ago. At the time the only option I had was to produce small editions of mine on my own initiative. Things were really difficult. Working with metal processing firms wasn't easy - at least in Belgium. When you told them you were a designer they would raise their eyebrows and look at you as if you were a freak. Nobody thought that you could earn money with design. As a result I worked in my own little workshop. That was great experience, because I needed to and was able to decide every operational step for myself. In spite of this, after four years I decided to change my strategy. After all, I wanted to design things, not produce them. I was spending far too much time on solving technical production problems. Shortly after taking the decision to concentrate on design I had the idea which would later help me to make my big breakthrough, namely folding aluminium in this special manner. That was great, because for me it was the perfect result of the way I looked at design.

PicNik for Extremis, 2002

How do you regard design?
Raymond Loewy had a theory which impressed me. He said that the design of an object is an aesthetic equation which is based on four parameters. These parameters are functionality, beauty, production technology and culture. And by the way, these parameters are also a good method of analysing design.

Let's talk about this special folding technique with which you made such an impression at the time. The way 'le banc' looked made me pretty sceptical about its stability, until I actually sat on it.
Exactly. The bench makes an impression of being extremely fragile, but in fact it's exactly the opposite. And this goes back to one of these famous four parameters: with my special processing technique you can optimise the resistance of the material, which enables you to save a lot of material. In addition this technique doesn't require any moulding, which means that the financial investment is incredibly low. The form is in fact a kind of 'no design', because it's simply created by working the material. All I had was a sketch. The rest was created by the processing - all you need is an ordinary folding machine and experienced craftsmen. Yes, that was really a good idea, probably the best one I've ever had (laughs).

le banc for MDF Italia, 2001

How did you finally enter into business with MDF Italia?
As I told you before, I exhibited at the Salone Satellite. At the time this exhibition was new and unique worldwide. Then suddenly everybody was talking about my 'le banc' and I then had a choice between three prestigious manufacturers. I really took my time about making a decision, because after all I had nothing to lose. After six months I reached an agreement with MDF Italia. I have a very good relationship with the company, on a personal level, too. However, I also began to look for a suitable manufacturing location, because I didn't trust these Italians (laughs). I then finally found a Belgian company which is still producing for MDF Italia today, as well as for other clients of mine, such as De Padova and Extremis. This has turned out to be a very good connection, and the fact that it's on my doorstep means that I still have some influence on the manufacturing process. This continues to be an important factor for me.

What has changed in your work since you have become successful?
Not all that much. Of course I have a lot more orders now, and I no longer have time to implement ideas which are not based on the specific request of a client. As a result a lot some of my work is lying in a drawer still in the design stage.

You, too, have also got some of your work in galleries.
Yes, a few of the designs which I would like to realise are simply not suited to mass production. Nowadays we fortunately have the possibility to publish and display work like this, too. From my point of view this makes it more interesting to work on experiments.

Thanks for talking to us, Xavier

Crédence for De Padova, 2003
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