Exhibition Design Maciço, Paredes, Portogallo
Casa da Cultura de Paredes, Portugal.
ART ON CHAIRS DESIGN MACIÇO
Exhibitions are almost always an appalling waste of resources, almost always generating mountains of waste. I increasingly seek to make project designs that reduce, as much as possible, the amount of wasted resources, work and materials, despite the limits of a clientele which often shows little interest in such project-related motivations. An exhibition should also respond to such goals without sacrificing the communicative intensity that an exhibition environment should be able to achieve, even via a montage.
The space and architecture of display containers are often a wasted resource, even in the exhibition environment through a project-related practice projeto that hides the pre-existence of the container, through another architecture that is temporary, ephemeral, made using materials intended for recycling. In the case of exhibition spaces at the Paredes Culture Center, we have halls with perfect lighting provided by a system of windows characterizing architecture and hidden by the display equipment, at the forefront, using pivoting panels, rendering invisible the architectural quality of the interior of this building. We feel that an exhibition is also an opportunity for valuing the architecture hosting the exhibition: the visitor should feel enveloped in a close dialogue between the containing building and the overall contents of this exhibition. As a result, I proposed the reduction of panels and their mounting elements on the first floor, so that, throughout the entire exhibition, the building’s architectural design once again becomes the leading player, as provided by the granite-framed windows, and the useful exhibition space can, thus, extend to the pre-existing architectural framework.
This choice of project design comprises another choice: the exhibition environment uses mostly the beautiful natural light obtained through ample windows. Designing the exhibition environment, valuing the architectural container that houses the exhibition, using natural light, means savings not only of space, but also of electricity. Moreover, natural light makes items on display appear less unreal. This does not exclude the possibility that, when less natural light enters, especially for an exhibition taking place in autumn and winter, we should also look into artificial lighting achieved, as much as possible, using low-energy lights (led lamps, cold-light lamps, low-energy halogens, etc.), and, using artificial lighting, while seeking to bring back the actual dimension of objects. The existing electrical lighting in the exhibition halls at the Paredes Culture Center, specifically studied for exhibition events, and used in an opportune manner, can avoid the very high costs of specific installations for each exhibition environment, intended to be disassembled and only partially reused later on. Let’s not forget that that this is an exhibition of chairs, not of sculptures or of jewelry. These works remain on display, as they claim a specific identity of common-use objects, many of which are mass-produced, not unique museum pieces, but, rather, objects designed to be a part of household living.
However, an exhibition is not a home. We cannot allow the preparation of environments coherent with projects involving useful utensils for sitting in our own day-to-day, because, even though this might be an interesting solution for the exhibition, it would entail much more ample spaces and the purchase of every product on display. Moreover, we cannot think that the visitor will use these chairs, causing them to undergo rapid wear, even though, from the standpoint of complete product information, it is in using them (and, in this case, sitting in them) that we discover their overall quality. The quality of merchandise also consists of enjoying their use, which it is able to convey to its beneficiary. I repeat: chairs are not sculptures, and should not be kept as works of art and in front of the disseminated “artistification of merchandise.” Design should once again appropriate its basic function of being a human activity capable of combining the merchandise’s esthetic quality with the enjoyment of using the utensil, as this enjoyment is one of the esthetic dimensions of living, and this is an exhibition of utensils of which we seek to convey the formal as well as the building, productive, type- and use-related innovations. The fact that we call into question the “artistification” of the merchandise should not mean turning away from the constant discussion and quest for arte in the design of merchandise, but, rather, practicing the project design in the constant use of the many innovations of art, as this is one of the subjects of project design, without turning away from the specificity of design that is intended through providing overall quality and, therefore, also esthetics to durable merchandise. It’s too easy and mystifying to use the alibi of arte under each human operation to protect it from criticism. Still, we cannot place our chairs on the ground, having the public sit in them, even though this would thus greatly serve to confirm its nature as household merchandise. They will be on display on a support that will only lift them up. In this regard, once moderately lifted up, without emphasis because they are “monumentalized" on a pedestal generally regarded as ignoble, such as waste material. This way, this act puts them out of reach for the visitor, as they are placed close to one another, one facing the others, while highlighting, in the legends and in the catalogue, how the project-related work, the production process and distribution of the plain chairs are part of the overall topic of study which is the project design of living today, on planet Earth, of which art is certainly a part, as well. However, we wish to repeat: it can never be an alibi, a justification for any merchandise, just like its disseminated “artistification” tends to do, precisely today.
The exhibition comes into being through a set of “Theme-based Islands” (See classification referred to in the project tables and on the pages of each product which are part of this catalogue) made from mounds of recycling material, such as pieces of glass, plastic, cork, aluminum, paper, marble, granite, etc., on which there are placed, flat, waste items with slabs of that very material: pieces of glass on the island made with pieces of glass, pieces of cork slabs on the island comprising pieces of cork, etc., and it is on those flat pieces of waste materials that the various chairs, supported in their usual positions, grouped by topic and their various innovations. The islands are surrounded by thick grooves in various colors (white, greenish blue, reddish gray), which are normally used for running cables underneath road pavements. Both the mounds of pierces of various materials and the pieces of slabs, on which the chairs are on display, are materials which, once the exhibition is disassembled, are returned to waste-recycling companies, and the used grooves are returned to the companies that produce or market them; thus, they can be fully reused. Therefore, this exhibition does not produce “mounds of waste,” as it uses up a minimal amount of fuel needed for transporting these materials from the recycling company near Paredes to the Culture Center, and work is limited to loading and unloading the wastes and positioning them “in bubble form” and on shelves where the chairs will be placed, as well as positioning the variously colored grooves so as to delimit and mark the various theme-based islands. Explanatory texts, or rather, blown-up pages from the catalogue on display on the walls and small “indicators of works” (the very pages of the catalogue product) placed on the mounds of waste close to each work, such as the products’ market price and in the fruit and vegetable business, all inform the visitor concerning the product on display. Likewise, as with any project that is useful for household use, merchandise, architecture or regional or landscape design, it seems to me that an exhibition environment, today, should try to reach that vital goal of minimal waste of resources while reusing, as much as possible, what has already been made and/or produced.
The maximum height of each island, in the middle, should range from 50 to 60 cm. This fact will enable us to see the chairs at various heights relative to the pavement. The islands are located in the in the middle of two large mezzanine rooms, displaying the “modern” chairs in their “rationalist” and “organic” meanings. The island of rationalism, of geometric simplification of shape, to facilitate its industrial production, to the left of the entrance, shows, from Mackintosh to Castiglioni to Rietveld, some of the masterpieces of the rationalist and productivist trend of design under the modern movement. The island to the right of the entrance, comprising Gaudí to Mollino, Wright to Alvar Aalto, the contemporary presence of the organic trend in design under the modern movement. In designing the utensils, the organic design seek the complacent and exalted adherence of the material’s shape to the body, and the African headrest, with which the exhibition begins, is a symbolic example of man’s age-old need to cause the wooden material to adhere to the shape of the parts of the body. The organic need in the utensil may be pushed up to the limit project design by Mollino, where the utensil itself tends to resemble (with the sensuality of shapes) an inanimate body, as if it were almost an animal where we could recline our body. At the entrance, the start of the exhibition, along with two other pre-industrial utensils, reminds us of facts regarding African populations, the other practice, which today appears to be increasingly human to regain that relationship with the fruits of “nature” for making liquid containers, bringing to mind a very distant past where household utensils were of minimal importance in products of nature to value their functional potentiality. Starting from these basic utensils, indispensable and fascinating in their sobriety, I seek to include, in this small exhibition, “in the perspective of a sober society that puts an end to unbridled consumerism, to the destructive bulimia of the land area and resources, to the pressure of infinite growth, to the mortification of human diligence reduced to merchandise, to unlimited competition, to the dissipation in work and in the consumption of our lifetime.” (taken from a basic text by historian Piero Bevilacqua: Elogio della radicalitá, p. 11, ed. Laterza. 2012)
On the mezzanine, the visitor will find not only chairs, but also modern items in their two aspects: rationalist and organic. At the forefront of the Paredes Culture Center, we present the chairs that can be regarded as anticipations of overcoming the “Modern” style.
In the middle of the hall, highlighted by two panels containing images of the Poltrone di Proust, with various decorations, we find, on display on pieces of plastic, the gold-decorated version of Poltrona di Proust which is certainly a symbolic work of that “artistification” of design, of which Mendini is its most convinced craftsman and which, for better and for worse, marks the end of the modern style. On peninsulas converging in the middle on pieces of glass, we see, on display, the other “ANTICIPATIONS,” the other proposals for how partially they move beyond the modern style. Afterwards, the remaining space, divided into “Anticipations” “Recycling” “Proposals” always on small islands comprising recycling materials and on a plank made with waste from cutting, boards with tree bark, using only partly the pivoting panel system, presents a few interesting examples of the current use of hardwood in the project design of the chair manufactured both industrially and in small series. These are experimental and non-experimental products, which enable us to get a glimpse of other possible path to go along, in order to return centrality to natural materials in general and to hardwood in particular, in manufacturing a chair. In the anticipations as well as in the catalogue, some of the chairs are contrasted with an architectural image, the work of the chair’s designer, for it appears to me that, in the perspective of a household priority more than building the project design’s various subjects (design, architecture, interiors, urban planning, land area design, landscape, art) should find that overall project design capability that the produtivistic specialization of the modern style slowly destroyed.
The exhibition environment and the exhibition itself end with the recycling and reuse as well as the use of wood, by including synthetic materials that improve the qualities of their performances, such as in the Leggerissima chair by Riccardo Blumer, a product still found entirely in the tradition of modern design. Chairs able to radically bear witness to new perspectives through the use of natural materials, have not yet been found or seen. I preferred to highlight an intentional space of the subject of design which, however, seems to be very strong with or without the natural materials and regardless of the use of hardwood.
This exhibition should conclude with a few prototypes of chairs designed and built by young designers who, in dialectic terms, with their projects, seek to respond to the many topics proposed by me through the exhibition itself. This was not possible. The exhibition was intentionally left with no conclusion of its own, but, rather, a program text (Designing Today), which is part of this catalogue and which, together with the exhibition, seeks to be an opening to a discussion to be put forth to designers, to design students and to workers, technicians and entrepreneurs, as to the possible project design for hardwood products to be manufactured even in Paredes. It seems to me that the current historical trend requires more critical reflection than triumphant examples that at least I am unable to see. The exhibition ends with a white square containing the following writing similar to that of graffiti artists: “I have yet to find the chair obtained from ecological conversion.”
Milan 15.06.2012, Paolo Deganello