Aric Chen questions design’s impact on our planet at Design Miami/Basel
As new curatorial director of the collectible design fair, Chen sets the theme ‘Elements: Earth’ for the Swiss showcase
In the year 2000, scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer penned an article in the newsletter of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme declaring that, at the fault of the human race, the world had entered a new geological epoch named the Anthropocene. Given that the term is now widely used both in and outside of the scientific sphere, it’s hard to believe that when the article was published, many didn’t believe the concept would take off.
Fast forward to 2019. Discussions in the design world are, and rightly so, centred on our impact on the earth. Whilst we question our own responsibilities, we look at how the discipline can function as we enter this so-called Anthropocene era. It is set to be a focus at this year’s Design Miami/Basel (11-16 June) fair, given its theme created by new curatorial director Aric Chen, ‘Elements: Earth’.
‘We probably don’t need to point out that the extent to which human activity is changing the planet is a pressing issue, and to address this in the context of a collectible design fair is I think really compelling.’ says Aric Chen, who began his tenure earlier this year, and will continue on until the Miami edition in December.
In particular, he has focused on injecting life into the Design At Large section of the programme, which this year puts the discipline through its paces in terms of the role it will play in the Anthropocene future. Posing the question of our own impact on the planet, and how designers can interact with the issues brought about by climate change, waste, and responsibility in general – Chen has narrowed down submissions to select a series of installations, performances, pavilions and structures, each reflecting his chosen theme.
‘With Design At Large, we’re not presenting work that claims to solve our environmental problems – which are too complex to be "solved" as such – but instead prompt new ways of seeing, making, and thinking. The environmental crisis is also a cultural one, and I think the fair is a great way of supporting designers – of whom there are many – who are tackling it from that perspective, who are offering ways of reimagining the future in the way designers have always done,’ Chen says.
While some installations have been seen before (such as Formafantasma’s Ore Streams project), others have been created specifically for this year’s show. Here’s a taster of what to expect...
A Million Times and Leaking Fountain by FOS and Piano by Guillermo Santomá, presented by Etage Projects
Copenhagen gallery Etage Projects brings three different works to the Design At Large section, made separately by Danish artist FOS and Spanish designer Guillermo Santomá. Although different in format, together the works look to the role of the human being in our ‘newly declared epoch’. FOS (whose CV includes exhibitions at Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, as well as a collaboration with Celine) firstly presents a film named A Million Times, which depicts a single expedition into the Arctic, and secondly a neon light piece titled Leaking Fountain. Etage’s third work on display comes from Santomá, who has embedded a working piano with chopped up foam as a nod to post-industrialist aesthetics.
The Black Pavilion by Odile Decq and Galerie Philippe Gravier
French architect Odile Decq is known for her gothic style, and with that comes a penchant for all things dark. Her proposed installation, created in collaboration with Paris-based Galerie Philippe Gravier is no exception. Named The Black Pavilion, the design is intended as a multilayered experience that questions the relationship between its setting and the viewer. Its black glass exterior is brought to life by projections of light sculptures, which were created by artist Patrick Rimoux but inspired by Decq’s interpretation of nature. Inside, a one-way-mirrored glass means that visitors can see out – but nobody can see them inside. Photography: James Harris
Territories by Andrea Branzi, presented by Friedman Benda
Co-founder of Italian design collective Archizoom in the 1960s, Branzi’s Territories installation, which will be presented by Friedman Benda, is made up of 25 works that have been created over the last four decades. Each of these forms part of Branzi’s research into human relationships and the surrounding landscape. It will be the largest grouping of his works and texts ever to be exhibited together.
Magnus V by Joseph Walsh Studio
The Irish designer is set to present his largest work yet. Forming the latest part of his Magnus series, ‘Magnus V’ is a towering sculpture that has been crafted from layers of olive ash wood. The material seems to have been pushed to its limits by Walsh, as it takes a ribbon-like form that appears to balance on the gallery floor. Alongside it is limestone bench designed by Walsh, named Eximon, which features fossils embedded in its surface.
Metamorphism: Deep Time by Shahar Livne
When Shahar Livne began her Metamorphism project in 2017, she wanted to look into the way man-made materials had changed the earth’s makeup, as a way of combatting man’s ‘apathy’ to the problems we have created. During Design Miami/Basel, the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate will present the latest iteration of the project produced in collaboration with video artist Alan Boom. ‘A scenery constructed by objects and video reflects and allows a meditation on the notion of plastic as a hyper-object that exists outside of the cycles of life and death, petrified existence only akin to the geologic,’ Livne says. §