Tools & Crafts celebrates traditional expertise at Milan Design Week 2023
by Pooja Suresh HollannavarApr 19, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Almas SadiquePublished on : Apr 15, 2023
Who among us did not wait, with bated breath, for the world to come to an end, or atleast for some calamity to strike on the 21st day of December in 2012? Although end-of-the-world predictions had been propagated and discussed several times before, the Mayan predictions popularised for 2012 were further legitimised by a flurry of films, books, radio and television shows, and YouTube videos that either discussed, with evidence, the possibility of this happening or narrativised an apocalyptic tale out of it. Hence, a miniscule doubt, and anticipation gripped the minds of even the smartest of us in December 2012.
While the Mayan doomsday similarly hounded and haunted each one of us across the globe, end-of-the-world scenarios, emergencies, and the threat of crises striking people are disparate—across regions, religions, social hierarchies, and economic privileges. While those higher up on the Maslowian ladder may often conjure up fictional scenarios to imagine a life on the run, and with only limited resources to fend for themselves, those marginalised by the system and society, live these realities and are left to periodically arrange provisions to protect themselves against their imminent displacement due to riots, demolition of properties, threats of civil or communal warfare, economic collapse, migration, forced immigration, or natural calamities.
The preparedness, to fend for oneself, and collectively, against happenings of such nature, is what forms the crux of one of the two exhibitions hosted by mudac (Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts) at Milan Design Week 2023. Titled Prepper’s Pantry: Objects that Save Lives, the exhibition serves as a prelude to future research appertaining to survivalism and the mechanisms undertaken by preppers to initiate a process, and sometimes a lifestyle, pivoted on the necessity of being ready for any emergency. Later, in 2024, this research will culminate in an exhibition at mudac in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The second exhibition, platformed by mudac in Milan, Italy, is The Last Pencil, which again serves as a prologue to a year-long residency that aims to explore the possibilities of collaboration between institutional and artificial intelligence.
With Prepper’s Pantry: Objects that Save Lives and The Last Pencil, mudac marks its debut at the design fair. Both the exhibitions rely heavily on pedagogical research, and come with a promise for future exploration in convergent disciplines, realising hence mudac’s new director, Beatrice Leanza’s vision for the museum. Upon her appointment as the director in January 2023, Leanza shared, “Among my mainstays would be a dynamic integration of digital and offline actions that expand the museum’s reach beyond its physical confines, a critical engagement with social and civic participation, as well as supporting professional research and pedagogical experimentation through new collaborative initiatives with both the public and private sector.”
In platforming topics and narratives that are not popularly categorised under contemporary design or applied arts, but bear the potential of informing and influencing the designs of our lives, lifestyles, living abodes, and work and leisure spaces, mudac succeeds in upholding its promise of “pursuing a policy of openness and exchange between the many disciplines of contemporary creation,” as well the museum’s dedication to posing questions on contemporary social issues.
The two exhibitions by mudac will remain on view at Dropcity—an upcoming centre that will platform discussions on and about architecture, design and the contemporary city—from April 17 to 23. The programming for mudac at the design event also includes a breakfast conversation, to be hosted on April 18 at 11 AM in the House of Switzerland at Casa degli Artisti in the Garibaldi area in Milan. The conversation, titled Making Things Public: The Design of Institutions Now and Then, will be moderated by Beatrice Leanza and witness the attendance of Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director, Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam; Johanna Agerman Ross, Curator of Twentieth Century and Contemporary Furniture and Product Design, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; and Ewan McEoin, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Ahead of its opening in Milan, STIR established contact with the curators of the two exhibitions in an attempt to better understand the showcases and the idea behind them.
Prepper’s Pantry is a project by design writer, curator, consultant and teacher, Anniina Koivu. The exhibition, designed by product and furniture designer, Camille Blin; Swiss product and interior designer, Anthony Guex; and product designer, Christian Spiess with graphic design by Danish designer Frederik Mahler-Andersen, ponders on Survivalism, which is a social movement that emerged in the 1930s in the United Kingdom and United States. The exhibition text for this showcase reads, “Preppers and survivalists are terms that tend to evoke extreme, marginalised images: a woodsman in the tinfoil hat, a hoarder of canned beans, a religious doomsday-prepper. However, this subculture has, in fact, evolved over the last century, mirroring larger social trends.” The upcoming installation in Milan is an introduction to what will be an 18-month research project on the idea of preparedness. Prepper’s Pantry will invite visitors to step into a room, a pantry, or a store, with objects, equipment and tools meant to serve a purpose in case of an emergency. Additionally, the exposition will also showcase study models, examples of bunker models and evacuation plans, survival kits, and a series of references and testimonials from experts regarding various prepping movements and techniques.
Here are a few snippets by Anniina Koivu that delineate the idea, process and intention behind Prepper’s Pantry: Objects that Save Lives.
Almas Sadique: How can the concept of prepping for emergencies become a part of our daily decisions and conversations?
Anniina Koivu: With the Prepper’s Pantry, we want visitors to step into a storage-cum-store kind of installation. You might consider the practicality of some of the objects that we have on show for your own needs and therefore become part of the preppers movement yourself. However, being prepared doesn't necessarily require stockpiling months' worth of food and equipment - there are many different forms of preparedness, from small-scale personal emergencies to larger global disasters.
After only a few months of looking into the topic, I believe preparedness is an inherent aspect of human nature, as we are constantly thinking ahead to future needs. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as collecting and preparing food and firewood in preparation for winter. Or think of the recent pandemic and how it triggered the wish for self-sustainability in us. People did not only stockpile toilet paper but started to bake bread, grow their own gardens or learn how to knit.
Almas: What are some of your new learnings while working on the exhibition?
Anniina: Diving into a new research project is always an exciting adventure and learning curve, as you begin to find intricate stories, read the bigger picture and uncover connections to our history, surrounding and daily life. I did not expect to see how preparedness is so present in our every day, its history, its many facets and subcultures, its influence on architecture and design, the hundreds of TV shows, books and blogs and movies on the topic. It’s like a parallel world within ours, that you start seeing once you start uncovering it. Particularly for setting up this exhibition, I did not expect to be spraying hairspray onto a stockfish in order to retain its smell.
Almas: How does the exhibition intend to engage audiences? Are the installations more interactive, or can one anticipate a museum-like exposition at the fair?
Anniina: Prepper's Pantry represents a cultural addition to the Salone del Mobile. Like with previous exhibitions that I have done, whether U-Joints – A taxonomy of joints in 2018 or The Lost Graduation Show in 2020, the Salone is a wonderful occasion to launch new cultural contemporary topics. It is a refreshing break from commercial events. The Salone also provides a unique opportunity to spark conversations. It's an ideal setting for introducing new research topics, as we are able to reach a much wider crowd and also find unexpected connections to projects and related topics that will enrich the next 18 months that we are diving into the topic of preppers. In other words, the exhibition is a showcase of different themes and objects that are showcased in a temporary museum.
The Prepper’s Pantry is a cultural contribution to the Salone del Mobile. They stimulate discussion and give a little relief to the otherwise commercial events. Also, for us, it is a fantastic way to launch a research topic, because you never know how someone else might be doing something that is related to our topic.
Almas: Does prepping for an emergency hint at the possibility of a bleak view of the future? Have we given up hope for our future?
Anniina: I am a positive person, and I believe this positivity allows me to maintain the necessary critical distance to work on the preppers movement. But it's also important to recognise that while preppers are preparing for a potential future emergency, their goal is to successfully navigate through it and ultimately achieve a positive outcome. Ultimately, it is about a happy end.
The Last Pencil is a project, an experiment, that is set on exploring the evolution of drawing tools. An excerpt shared by the museum about the exhibit reads, “Just like pencils have been a fundamental tool of human creativity throughout history, The Last Pencil is a provocative depiction of how artificial intelligence could radically change the way we design together, in a not-too-distant future.” The show in Milan serves as a precursor to a year-long residency—initiated by the museum—which will witness explorations by studio oio, a collective of designers, technologists and bots working on future products and interactions, co-founded by Simone Rebaudengo and Matteo Loglio. The year-long residency will be dedicated to collectively utilising the archives of mudac for studio oio’s case study, as well as initiating the operational procedure, prototyping ideas and engaging with non-human agencies to create, experiment and understand the potential of newly available tools and software.
A few thoughts by studio oio on The Last Pencil and the upcoming residency:
Almas Sadique: What are some of the tools that will facilitate the explorations during the future residency?
studio oio: During our residency explorations, we will probably have a look at all the recent and present advances of Generative tools to look into their impact on the practice of design and in particular in its relations to institutions and museums like mudac.
These tools are already impacting the way we work and think today and more and more of these tools might come out in the course of our residency. If you think about it, less than a few months ago, no one really knew about ChatGPT or Midjourney and even less about Neural networks and other machine learning algorithms that allow you to 'create'.
Almas: Ahead of the residency, what are some ideas that The Last Pencil intends to convey, and how?
studio oio: The Last Pencil is a 'product' of the recent hype and growth of generative AI technologies entering the world of design and creativity in general. As the role of designers and creators, in general, is changing and sometimes questioned by the emergence of these tools, we wanted to create a pencil for these times. A pencil is not really a pencil, as it doesn't allow you, as a human, to draw, but it draws for you, in a digital space. Each of these limited edition pencils allows you to access a synthetic sketchbook, where the pencil will sketch some ideas for products for you.
It's not really a tool, but rather a starting point of a discussion. Will we still draw or think in the way we used to? Will we need pencils, or these are the last ones?
Almas: Is the showcase built as a space for discourse, which will later facilitate experiments during the residency?
studio oio: The Last Pencil is sort of an introduction to our experiments with mudac. It's a way to set the tone about the present situation of over-excitement and fear, in an ironic way. We do not really believe that our role as designers will cease to exist, and we will probably need and use pencils in the future, but we think that our creative process is changing and will change even more. Like other projects we did in the past, such as the Spawns collection, we want to move the discussion from 'Oh my god, it's scary' and 'wow, this is making design so easy' to 'What else can we do if we collaborate with 'machines''?
Almas: Who are some of the practitioners who will participate in the residency?
studio oio: We will for sure involve both human and non-human practitioners in the process. Besides having Roby, our now three-year-old AI creative director, we have more non-humans to involve in mind, but, generally, we will try to involve other design practitioners, technologists and companies to have a common discussion and exploration around the impact of AI in design processes and design museums.
‘Prepper’s Pantry: Objects that Save Lives’ and ‘The Last Pencil’ will remain on view from April 17-23, 2023 at Dropcity, Magazzini Raccordati, Tunnel #46, Via Giovanni Battista Sammartini, 20125 Milano, Italy.
STIR’s coverage of Milan Design Week 2023 showcases the best exhibitions, studios, designers, installations, brands, and special projects to look out for. Explore Euroluce 2023 and all the design districts—5Vie Art and Design, Brera Design District, Fuorisalone, Isola Design District, Tortona District, and Milano Design District—with us.
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