Supersalone co-curator Anniina Koivu on how to teach design today

Writer, curator and educator, Anniina Koivu, speaks with STIR about her curatorial intervention at Milan Design Week 2021, and the multidisciplinary nuances of her practice.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Sep 18, 2021

Anniina Koivu is a design writer, curator, consultant and teacher, who divides her time between Milan and Lausanne. Working across several fields, from curation and art direction, to product development, editorial and research projects, Koivu has a unique multidisciplinary outlook of the world of design. It is a perspective that she carried with her as one of the six co-curators who worked in conjunction with Stefano Boeri to bring this year’s Supersalone event in Milan to fruition. As the Head of Master Theory at ECAL/ University of Art and Design Lausanne, Koivu ponders on the question, How to teach design today? It comes through during the Open Talk session moderated by her titled, Who can say no to education?

In an interview with STIR, Koivu speaks about her role as a co-curator, her most important curatorial intervention (The Lost Graduation Show), and her practice.

Anniina Koivu moderated the Open Talk session titled 'Who can say no to education?' | Supersalone | Salone de mobile | Anniina Koivu| STIRworld
Anniina Koivu moderated the Open Talk session titled 'Who can say no to education?'Image: Andrea Mariani; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

On Salone

Devanshi Shah (DS): Could you tell us about some of the concepts and ideas that you and your co-curators wanted to highlight together in this iteration of Supersalone, and what you, as an individual, wants to bring to the foreground?

Anniina Koivu (AK): The title “Supersalone” says it very well. We wanted to create a Salone, which is outstanding for many reasons. Following two years of disruption and taking place in the exceptional month of September, Supersalone is a moment of celebration, of relaunch and acceleration. Considering The Lost Graduation Show, Supersalone was the occasion to take stock of what has happened among the latest generation of designers.

DS: In design curation, there is an increased popularity in collective curations; we have seen examples of this at the Venice Architecture Biennale as well. Could you tell us a bit about how this collaboration manifested and how all of you worked together?

AK: Working in a group creates discussion, which is always fruitful. And because all roles were very well defined – each curatorial team of Supersalone taking care of a specific aspect – we created a support system for each other. And, of course, there are practical benefits: with only three months to prepare, we needed all hands on deck.

View of The Lost Graduation Show | Supersalone | Salone de mobile | Anniina Koivu| STIRworld
View of The Lost Graduation Show Image: Studio Piercarlo Quecchia; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

On The Lost Graduation Show

DS: What was the main inspiration behind doing this show?

AK: The show was conceived for the young designers who are now ready to make their debut in the industry. At the same time, we were aiming to provide a chance for producers, makers, designers, journalists, gallerists and other design professionals, as well as the general public, to see the latest in young design. And, after an 18-month disruption, the exhibition is an invitation to re-establish the important dialogue that centres around design’s future.

We, as an audience, have missed out on visiting graduation shows and contact with emerging designers in the last two years. So, it was particularly important to create a large stage for these designers from all over the world. The Lost Graduation Show was both a design exhibition as well as an occasion for recruitment. Supersalone allowed for such an extraordinary occasion: the young designers were, for once, in the heart of the commercial fair, impossible to be missed. Laid out next to each other in a homogeneous installation, we wanted to create a dialogue between the different projects while staying away from self-promotion.

The Lost Graduation Show features 170 projects from across the world | Supersalone | Salone de mobile | Anniina Koivu| STIRworld
The Lost Graduation Show features 170 projects from across the world Image: Studio Piercarlo Quecchia; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

DS: Could you give us an insight into how you curated the featured projects?

AK: We started from a vast group of works that reached us following an open call to all international design schools. From more than 300 works, we selected 170 projects based on a very clear criteria: each work needed to exist in a well-made mockup or final prototype. As Supersalone was not only aimed at design insiders but also open to the general public, we needed to showcase objects that would be most comprehensible and communicative.

Finally, the exhibition design by Camille Blin and Anthony Guex, was extraordinarily flexible in the way it allowed us to work, reshuffle and match projects until the very last minute. It was like a long game of Tetris. Built from 9000 concrete blocks, which were sponsored by Xella Italia, every object, whether a set of pills or a full-scale car, found its dedicated spot in the overall design. And, being locally sourced, the bricks returned to the production line just after the week of loan. So I can proudly say that after six days of the show, we did not leave any trace – no ecological trace, if not a cultural one.

Best in Class: Helix by Ithzel Ceròn and Daniel Lopez | Supersalone | Salone de mobile | Anniina Koivu| STIRworld
Best in Class: Helix by Ithzel Ceròn and Daniel Lopez Image: Studio Piercarlo Quecchia; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

DS: Which is one of the most common ideas that you observed among the graduation projects?

AK: What quickly became clear to us was that once you start putting the works on the stage from all around the world, nationalities become less important. The show highlights the concerns and concepts which are currently being discussed in educational institutions across the globe. The most pressing topics and questions in contemporary design – those questions that the new generation is facing, working on and proposing to solve – are global and universal.

The selected works explore many domains. These include material research and sustainable design, mobility, service or inclusive design, medical, sports and outdoor design. Some projects were born out of the specific, enclosed circumstances we have all been experiencing. These projects seek comfort, healing, or simply improvements in our everyday lives. Some designers tinkered with low-tech factories, reinventing ways of producing design, and others were on the lookout for better collective areas and public spaces for people to enjoy together. Throughout the proposals, the common theme has been a collective awareness that materials should be treated carefully and with respect, while avoiding excess. 

Best in Class: Robust Nest: An incubator for newborns by Fabien Roy | Supersalone | Salone de mobile | Anniina Koivu| STIRworld
Best in Class: Robust Nest: An incubator for newborns by Fabien Roy Image: Studio Piercarlo Quecchia; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

On work

DS: You are a writer and educator, in addition to being a curator. How do you balance these roles? Could you also elaborate how some of these roles feed into each other (if they do)?

AK: There is also 'art director' on the list. All four different roles go hand in hand, influencing and feeding each other. Reflecting on design and being in touch with the thoughts of the latest generation of designers feed into the work as a curator and art director. In all of these cases, it is important to be on top of the ongoing design discourse.

Best in Class: Yolkkh by Amna Yandarbin | Supersalone | Salone de mobile | Anniina Koivu| STIRworld
Best in Class: Yolkkh by Amna Yandarbin Image: Studio Piercarlo Quecchia; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

DS: As a teacher, what do you consider to be some of the most important aspects of design education and teaching methodologies?

AK: "How to teach design today" is an important question that should also be publicly discussed more often. Schools are places of formation where designers get the tools of their future profession. But these are also the places where thought and attitude towards design are formed, both being long-lasting influences. Personally, I think schools need to be an open platform, where the basics, historical and theoretical thinking are developed, but design schools must also keep pace with the industry. Schools need to be young, dynamic and as close to reality as possible.

“Throughout the proposals, the common theme has been a collective awareness that materials should be treated carefully and with respect, while avoiding excess.” | Supersalone | Salone de mobile | Anniina Koivu| STIRworld
“Throughout the proposals, the common theme has been a collective awareness that materials should be treated carefully and with respect while avoiding excess.” Image: Studio Piercarlo Quecchia; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

Click here to read all about STIR at Supersalone, a STIR series on the best of exhibits, moods, studios, events and folks to look out for at Milan Design Week 2021.

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