Speculating the future of luxury

Pleasure, passion, innovation, exclusivity, expertise, extraordinary, investment, preciousness, opulence, non-essentials – these are some of the words that once defined luxury. Yet to understand the meaning of luxury in the future requires a further set of definitions.

In speculating luxury for future generations words like authenticity, legacy, access, resource, journey, skill, memory also come to the foreground.

This is the premise behind What is Luxury? – an intriguing exhibition that has just opened at the V&A museum in London. It does not attempt to offer a straightforward dialogue on the subject; there aren’t any cliché projections of luxury here either.

Instead, the objects on display are a seemingly disparate mix ranging from mechanical timepieces to an installation of dandelion seeds and laser-cut haute couture. Together they form a dialogue exploring and interrogating the true concept of luxury.

The term is saturated. Much like the words ‘design’ and ‘curate’, ‘luxury’ seems to have been overused, at risk of loosing its, ironically enough, value.

In the dark halls of the exhibition space we are asked to take a different view of words associated with luxury. For instance what does preciousness mean in a future with diminishing natural resources? Will privacy be an ultimate component of luxury for the next generation?

What is Luxury? provokes us to speculate through fictional scenarios that consider such issues like privacy, resources, access.

A DNA vending machine by American artist Gabriele Barcia-Colombo, for instance, invites visitors to consider our increasing access to biotechnology, and how privacy and ownership of our very own DNA may become a luxury in the future.

Elsewhere, Unknown Fields Division has created a set of three ceramic vessels from toxic mud. Each is sized according to the amount of waste created in the production of three tech items: a smartphone, laptop and the cell of a smart car battery.

This forms the basis of a video installation by Toby Smith that traces the object back to the mines of Inner Mongolia where the toxic waste is sourced. The film is reversed so the resource itself becomes the focus rather than the end object.

In another installation, glass specialist Steffen Dam uses real dandelion seed heads harvested before opening to make the enchanting Jellyfish Installation for the concept of extraordinary.

‘Luxury isn’t something new, it’s as old as civilization,’ notes co-curator Leanne Wierzba, ‘but we argue that it is a particularly prescient topic at the moment because it’s so much a part of the vocabulary of our time.’

Last week I watched as a Japanese artisan beat a copper ingot into a thick sheet by hand, adding colour through a reaction between tin plate and compounds taken from nature. It took months to create Kodoki, a delicate copper vase using this ancient tsuiki method.

This delicate object in a way represents what luxury will be to future generations. It will be about demonstrating skills that can’t be taught, crafts that have passed down generations, materials that are so rare, and the time spent in creating. Luxury has to become about creating the extraordinary.

Nargess Banks

What is Luxury? a V&A and Crafts Council Exhibition will run from 25 April to 27 September 2015.

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Milan Show: Mutant Architecture & Design

Installations by Zaha Hadid Architects, Ingo Maurer, Mini and other world architects and designers decorate the gardens of the Università degli Studi di Milano. On this dazzling spring day their presence visually contrasting with the crumbling beauty of this magnificent sixteenth-century state university building in Milan.

Initiated by design magazine Interni, Mutant Architecture & Design proposes an exploration of the notion of mutant in architecture and design in the context of this space.

The responses have varied from innovative and avant-garde to playful – a giant, somewhat intrusive blue mesh ball named Plasteroid by Jacopo Foggini, to Carlo Colombo’s Green Tower, a large white space housing a tropical garden that creeps up the internal walls. University students lounge in the deck chairs soaking in the northern Italian April sun.

In the peaceful Cortile d’Onore, architect Hadid’s project Twirl is a modern interpretation of the architecture of this courtyard, translated and transformed from rigid Cartesian geometries into the linear fluidity of dynamic space.

The large-scale installation for Artemide almost melts into its surroundings by adapting the natural contours of the courtyard. It emphasises the slopes of the arches, creating a powerful vortex of special distortion that ultimately hopes to create a dialogue with its surroundings of five centuries ago.

Hadid worked closely with Lea Ceramiche, the producer of floor and wall ceramics; manipulating its flexible Slimtech laminated stoneware. Seen from various angles, especially from above, Twirl is quite a spectacle.

At the entrance of the main square carmaker Mini’s Sintesi is another impressive installation, albeit with a completely different purpose. The idea behind this playful sculpture is to capture the evolution of the iconic car, turned brand, through contour lines of various profiles – from its birth as a tiny car in the sixties to its twentieth-century recarnation, and projecting into the future with its twenty-first propositions.

The contours of the classic Mini, framed by the silhouettes of the Hatch, Clubman, Countryman and the most recent arrival Coupe Concept represent the centre point of the installation.

The structure references a fundamental design principle of the Mini family: that all family members emerge from the same core and share the same genes, yet also display some very different and individual characteristics. Therefore the overall form of the installation changes as you move around it, encouraging the visitor to view it from various angles.

The marque’s creative director Anders Warming explains that although Mini is no longer the original micro car, its identity is still of a car that is as small as it can be relevant for its time and purpose.

‘First the theme mutant architecture threw me off a little bit as the word had a negative ring – it has an association with deteriorating,’ says the German designer. ‘But then I got out the dictionary and found out the actual verb is a good enough word, the word is holistic enough.’

The name Sintesi, synthesis, represents the positive side of the word mutant, he explains. He wanted the sculpture to conveys a positive message about mobility. ‘We take peoples’ fears away of ruining the environment just by the positive nature of the product,’ he says.

‘We’re talking about something that is supposed to transfer into the future,’ says Warming, ‘and I believe that’s our job in Mini design is not to constrain ourselves but also not to break with the past. The famous word for Mini is from the original to the original and if it is mutating along the way or continuing, authentic.’ In this context Sintesi works perfectly.

Mutant Architecture and Design was exhibited as part of Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a yearly event held at various venues around Milan from 12-17 April.

Read our other coverage from the show Sestoseno and RCA Intent.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Fiona Banner: Brutal seduction

Fiona Banner’s work for Tate Britain’s 2010 Duveens Commission plays on situation and scale – neo-classical gallery space strikingly juxtaposed with two decommissioned fighter jets.

Harrier by Fiona Banner at the Tate Britain ©Nicholas Smith

Harrier is streamlined avian form playing martyr to deadly function – a trussed trophy reworked with hand painted feather markings mimicking its namesake; Jaguar lies upturned on the floor like a toy cast aside by its young owner – a polished mirror surface tying the audience to their own reactions.

Jaguar by Fiona Banner at the Tate Britain ©Nicholas Smith

Banner’s choice of subject matter shows a clear lineage with earlier works, sharing their topicality in questioning our attitudes toward war. But that much is obvious. Requiring little imagination from its audience, such subtle conceits in her treatment of these carcasses do little to divert the viewer’s attentions away from their shear presence, and it is within this context where she succeeds.

Perhaps they have more in common with those iconic works by Koons or Hirst; derided by many but lauded by the art market. And there lies the rub – the incongruity of setting is integral to them being definable as ‘art’ – remove them from the space, as they inevitably will be, and their worth might just, well, fly away. A brutal yet seductive spectacle well worth seeing.

Tate Britain Duveens Commission 2010 until 3 January 2011.
For more on Fiona Banner.

Guest blogger Nicholas Smith

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | www.d-talks.com | Bookshopwww.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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