Milan Design Week
When most people think of Milan, I’d imagine the first thing they think of is often Milan Fashion Week. Obviously, Fashion Week is one of the International events of the year which is hosted in the city, but it’s not the only one. Since 1961, the Salone del Mobile, a coveted furniture fair and prize has been hosted in Milan, which is an integral part of Milan Design Week. Milan has long been the centre of Italian furniture design, the city being the home of successful designers such as Giovanni Sacchi, Achille Castiglioni, Vico Magistretti, and brands such as Alessi and Kartell, who perhaps you may not know by name, but whose work you’ve undoubtedly seen. I’ve recently visited the archives of some of Milan’s most famous designers, as well as getting into the design week spirit and seeing some of the hundreds of exhibitions and installations which are hosted around the different design districts of the city, including a takeover of my own university for the annual project named “Human Spaces”.
Sadly due to a busy university schedule, and having been in Milan for only part of the week, I only got to spend two days seeing shows, but what I did see really shows why Milan remains one of the centres of Italian design. It is clear from seeing simply 3 of the many shows that design week is a serious matter here in Milan. The city overflowed with people and the visitors were clearly more fashion conscious than your average tourist.
Firstly, “Human Spaces”, undoubtedly one of the larges installations in the city, features works by many different artists. Being the largest, and therefore the busiest installation, I felt not all of the design was as serious, and some of the corporate sponsors meant that a couple of the installations were a little tacky (take the giraffes holding chandeliers by the designer of Seletti’s awful monkey lamps), but big names in the design world were still present, and the 15th century courtyards were used to the best of their ability.
A stunning exhibition which was recommended to me by so many people was the Knoll retrospective on Bauhaus design at their store in Corso Italia. Florence Knoll, who started the furniture brand studied under influential Bauhaus designers including Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius, and died earlier this year age 101.
Small room set-ups were created to showcase different designers and the key concepts in Bauhaus design featuring iconic pieces such as Marcel Breuer’s Wassily and Cesca chairs, still on sale in their stores today. Simple lines and block colours are the main features of Bauhaus design, which is almost certainly which gives it such an enduring legacy and means that 100 years on the style is still liveable and seems timeless, showing good design never goes out of fashion.
A final exhibition I saw was the short film show “Hypervisuality” at Palazzo Dugnani. Whilst not strictly a design show, the films were designed to be projected in harmony with their surroundings, shown in a beautiful 17th century palazzo.
The films were all incredibly different - you enter upon a very short 30 second clip of a vinyl of “Imagine”, playing and then someone scratching the record with a nail until the sound becomes too distorted to tell what the song is any more. Then we see a vapid interview with an art auctioneer, which merges into a touching interview with a Filippina maid in the house of super-rich art collecters, recounting her isolated life in Dubai. From here things become more bizarre - a video of a man carrying his pet peacock through a gallery, with the delicate faces of the of the renaissance paintings contrasted with the clawed feet of the bird. This film is shown in the main hall of the Palazzo, with a beautiful frescoed ceiling that has faded somewhat during the building’s long life. The films become only more bizarre - a 1920s lust filled dream on a war torn film set, gangsters performing some sort of theatrical exercise in stage movements. All the films make us reconsider the people and objects around us, our relationship to our surroundings and how this can be displaced. Dreams, bizarre movements, sounds, emptiness, animals - all can make us feel out of place, sometimes invisible, sometimes TOO visible. The films had their desired effect and were incredibly powerful - they held my attention and I left feeling shaken and strange, but not necessarily in a bad way.