All in the Balance

There is a distinct lack of dogma to the designer Peter Ghyczy’s practice. Although concerned primarily with function, his approach has never discounted form, decoration, beauty or, indeed, even the principle of design as a sort of divine intervention.

Peter Ghyczy, Garden Chair
There is a distinct lack of dogma to the designer Peter Ghyczy’s practice. Although concerned primarily with function, his approach has never discounted form, decoration, beauty or, indeed, even the principle of design as a sort of divine intervention.

In Peter Ghyczy: The Evolutioner, the book accompanying Ghyczy’s new exhibition at Brussels’ Design Museum ADAM, the designer writes: “My work takes its orientation from its purpose […] Nonetheless, design can be a spiritual passion. The designer is close to the divine, practicing a profession that affords them the chance to further evolution […] As in natural evolution, not every new species represents a desirable step forward with a promising future. The phenomenon has borne strange fruit, especially since design took up with art.”

The exhibition commemorates 50 years since Ghyczy designed his famed Garden Egg chair, an early experiment in a then new material, polyurethane, for the manufacturer Reuter. The form was inspired by that of a suitcase, and the intention was to design a chair that was light and easy to transport, comfortable and water-resistant. The curved form, manufactured in a range of iconic Pop colours, became a key piece for the atomic age and, paradoxically, East German culture. When Gottfried Reuter – “a capitalist with Marxist leanings”, as the book describes him – sold his company to BASF Group in 1972, he also sold his knowledge of plastics and the rights to the Garden Egg chair to the German Democratic Republic. The Garden Egg chair remained in production through the Cold War, and while plastic furniture became less economically viable elsewhere due to the oil crisis, it remained popular behind the Iron Curtain because of a quirk in Cold War regulations. The chair forms the centrepiece of Peter Ghyczy: 50 Years of Functionalism, which traces Ghyczy’s design practice from his early works to the material experiments that still occupy him today.

Curated by independent design curator Kunty Moureau, the exhibition features some of Ghyczy’s most famous pieces –the Garden Egg chair, Spring chair and T24 table – alongside drawings and limited edition works including a neon tree lamp and brass dumbbells. Current projects such as the new Safari chair, an extendable sofa and brass-fronted cabinet are also included. The walls are lined with quotes from Ghyxzy, reflecting on his practice – both past and present – and the legacy he’d like to leave behind: “Timeless, functional design that leaves minimal waste and respects nature,” reads one. There is a mock-studio space, its desk stacked with sketches and tests for structures, forms and joins.

As we sit down for an interview at Ghyczy’s family home in Bessel, in the southeastern Netherlands, Ghyczy describes how he thinks of his practice: “It’s difficult to explain something that comes so naturally. Ideas surface in my mind – like a composer hears a melody, I imagine a design.”

Ghyczy’s process is a balance of science and intuition, and although he is known for artistry and invention, he considers himself primarily a craftsman: “I’m a joiner first – I’m interested in finding the most simple and effective solutions. ‘How does it function? How does it fit together?’ I always start with the clamp, and without a product in mind, I test how it can be loosened and tightened, how it can move and adapt. I’m interested in invisible connections, or frames that fix with a single screw. They’re primarily functional, but something of the result is decorative and beautiful. A good solution is always beautiful.” 

The principles of adapting and connecting, and employing problem-solving as the root for form and function, may be a practice that stems from Ghyczy’s personal history. Migration plays a significant role in the history of 20th-century design, and specifically in regards to Modernism – from the Bauhaus, and particularly Marcel Breuer’s move from his native Hungary to Germany in the 1920s, to the collective shift of mid-century Modernists from Europe to the US during the Second World War in the 1940s. In Peter Ghyczy: The Evolutioner, writer Bernd Polster suggests: “The emigrant’s simultaneous experience of gain and loss and his position between two different worlds can evidently provide extremely fertile ground in creative personalities.”

Ghyczy was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1940 to an aristocratic family, and his father was killed during the Red Army invasion in 1944. He was moved first to the Hungarian countryside, then to Belgium as part of a Red Cross aid programme, before returning to Hungary to attend a Benedictine boarding school. In 1956, Ghyczy fled Hungary for Bonn, via Vienna, where he joined his family. His mother had exchanged a portion of her family’s jewellery for a smuggler to lead Ghyczy on a three-day trek across the Hungarian border and into Austria. Once settled in Bonn, and on completing school, Ghyczy attended the Polytechnic University Aachen, where he studied architecture. On graduating in 1967, he took up the position of head of design at Reuter, a chemical and product design company helmed by German chemist Gottfried Reuter. Here, Ghyczy specialised in experiments with polyurethane, components and design systems. It is also where he designed the Garden Egg chair in 1968. By 1972, however, Reuter had been sold to its main competitor, and their design research output had been defunded.

Having gone freelance, Ghyczy subsequently started testing the idea of a frame-less glass shelf, which would be wall-mounted by a clamping bracket. “What is key is an understanding of the flow of weight,” he says, holding a hardbound book between his thumb and index finger to mimic the bracket. “I made the glass wall shelf and tried to sell it to a few companies, but they said it was too simple. It fit well with the aesthetic of the period, but they couldn’t see it; it was too new. I decided I’d have to produce it myself, so it was then that I founded my company.” The oil crisis and subsequent economic crisis was at its peak, but by 1975, Ghyczy’s furniture company was off the ground. His frame-less glass shelf became a commercial success, revered and imitated by his peers, and he’d moved with his wife and children to Beesel, a small town on the Netherlands’ river Maas. “I was young,” he says. “I didn’t know how difficult it was to run a business. And I’m very happy that I didn’t know, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.”

“To be a designer is not easy,” Ghyczy continues. “You have to be strong and able to defend your work. Either your ideas are too ‘known’ or too ‘unknown’. That’s why I’ve been happy to be on my own, I haven’t had to defend every new idea. It’s turned out to be a blessing. Now, I can look back with satisfaction. I’ve had success thanks to my own work.”

Although born to an affluent family, Ghyzcy’s life as a near-constant émigré – with, as he attests, “no mother tongue” – has afforded him a sense of openness and independence in terms of thinking and practice  which can often be impossible for those solidly rooted in a particular culture. He designs with a consistent focus on innovation and timelessness (in his frames, joints and applications of material), human comfort (in his padded, flexible furniture), and environmental impact (in making his furniture to order, with low impact materials). While his practice centres around functionality, there is a clear thread of Art Deco that does not only run through its details and forms, but also its ethos of social and technological progress, glamour and exuberance.

Ghyczy’s arguments for aesthetic charm sit firmly outside of cold perfectionism. “I have a theory on this”, he says. “If people are ‘high gloss’, or behaving ‘high gloss’, they get damaged. Hollywood beauties, they have to repaint everything, every morning, because no fault, no scratch is allowed. Every day they go to the hairdresser and do their make up and everything, this is not the solution. I like it much more when people are natural, they have flaws, lines, scratches. We are ageing, and I like furniture to age too. To have a patina conveys a life.”

All text originally published by Disegno Daily. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

An eye for the uncanny: Viviane Sassen on her concurrent exhibition with Lee Miller

Lee Miller and Viviane Sassen’s work, intentions and verve crossover in ways that may be unexpected considering the close to a century’s gap between their births. Both started out as models: for Sassen, her shift to photography was initially driven by a desire to show a kind of sexuality that was different from that created by the male gaze, “one that’s more fractured and disjointed”

Viviane Sassen, Ra
Lee Miller and Viviane Sassen’s work, intentions and verve crossover in ways that may be unexpected considering the close to a century’s gap between their births. Both started out as models: for Sassen, her shift to photography was initially driven by a desire to show a kind of sexuality that was different from that created by the male gaze, “one that’s more fractured and disjointed”; for Miller, it was frustration with the passivity of life in front of the lens. In a manuscript from the archive found and maintained by her son, Antony Penrose, she’s reported by The Guardian as having written: “I looked like an angel, but I was a fiend inside”. For both women, the move from simply being seen, to being the authors of their own image, was soon recast as an opportunity to convey their ideas and experiences, and to show the distortions inherent to subjectivity. In concurrent shows at the Hepworth Wakefield – Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain and Hot Mirror – Miller and Sassen’s affinity with the surreal will take centre stage.

Having played model and muse for a number of Surrealists, Lee Miller went on to become an accomplished artist in her own right, and alongside her art practice, she set up a portrait studio in New York and was instrumental in the invention of “solarisation” – a technique that involves the reversal of tone in photographic prints, creating a silvery aura. As a London correspondent for Condé Nast, she worked first as a fashion photographer before moving on to war reportage. Her eye for the uncanny continued to influence her practice – framing photographs of bomb-sites in ways that distorted their form and challenged perceptions of scale and tone – until the playfulness that defined the Surrealist approach no longer seemed appropriate, with the impact of WW2 unravelling as she followed the German retreat through Europe.

Like Miller, Viviane Sassen splits her time between commercial and fine art practice – working in advertising and editorial, as well as making books, installations and works for exhibition – and while there are various points where the nature of these contexts diverge, Sassen considers each element as part of one whole. “They feed off each other, it’s still my brain and eyes making all the connections. Fashion photography allows me to experiment in a more frivolous way, and I love the playfulness and energy of the collaborations” she says. “In my personal work, it’s really exactly that – it’s personal and introverted. I’m interested in material, texture and tactility. I’ve always been drawn to sculpture and painting, and photography – being a medium with such smooth surfaces – makes me particularly obsessed with texture!”

In Hot Mirror, Sassen presents work from the last ten years, alongside and mixed up with new photographs, collages and installations in a series of what she describes as “image poems”. Drawing upon Surrealist strategies of cut-ups and montage, the “image poems” offer new and unexpected juxtapositions between locations, ideas and forms; foregrounding the fragments, shadows and magical thinking that defines Sassen’s practice. “I realised that rather than making a chronological or historical overview, it would be much more interesting to mix the works, so new narratives and connections appeared” she said. “I’ve always been interested in how the meaning of an image can change, sometimes quite drastically, when you change its context. In that sense, I see these images as single words; together they can create new sentences, based on how you combine and order them. The meaning of an image is never fixed, it has a fluidity I like to play with.”

Of showing beside Miller, she says: “We both have an eye for the uncanny, the slightly off, a fascination with shadows, a darker side – and with a pinch of humour. The Hepworth Wakefield asked me to do a show next to Lee Miller, as a contemporary counterbalance to her work; as the exhibition of her work focuses on the Surrealist period, we agreed that it’d be interesting to look at the same elements in my work. Like them, I’m very much involved with the idea of the subconscious, the dream world, magical thinking.”

In Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain, the first exhibition to explore Miller’s involvement with surrealist circles in Britain, the story of the period is told through her lens, focusing on both her work and that of the artists she knew. Featuring works by Eileen Agar, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Henry Moore; the exhibition considers Miller’s role in gathering the community of artists together, many of whom were forced to leave continental Europe due to the tensions and trauma of WW2. Miller’s husband, the artist Roland Penrose, had put together an organising committee for the first International Surrealism exhibition in London in 1936, and an exhibition in Cornwall in 1937, which showed Miller’s work – and works featuring her – alongside that of her contemporaries. After the war, Miller and Penrose moved from London to East Sussex, where they hosted many of the artists they’d worked and shown with at their home, Farley Farm House. They’d hold elaborate dinners – according to a New York Times piece from 2007, Miller would make “historical food like roast suckling pig and Surrealist fare like marshmallows in Coca-Cola sauce” – and photograph their visitors during walks on the South Downs including, most famously, the photograph Miller took of Henry Moore clinging to his sculpture, Mother and Child, in her garden at Farley’s.

It was also during this period that Miller would shut away her archives – her art practice and her work as a fashion and war photographer – which her son Antony Penrose only found after she died in 1977. According to Penrose, as reported by Janine di Giovanni in The New York Times, her experience during the war had left her traumatised: “How could he not have known [about her life as an artist and photographer]? ‘When Lee closed something, she closed it,’ he said firmly. “I knew she was handy with a camera when I was little – but that was about it. She never talked about the war.”

A surreal approach can be a way to escape from, challenge or play with reality, or a way to return to a heightened, magical view of life, a more child-like perspective. Viviane Sassen is very much of this view, seeing mystery, atmosphere and memory as her focus rather than prioritising absolute clarity of context, position or form. “I’m not interested in making statements, I usually don’t believe in them” she says. “I’m much more interested in confusion, the unknown. I think that doubt is underrated.” She describes her intention as wanting a “round” image, “I want to leave out distractions and simplify my images, so viewers can’t really grasp or relate to the situation. They’re lost, in a sense, which I like. For me, it’s a way to make these works less about a specific subject and more about a feeling, a broader message, which allows them to behave more like archetypes.”

The aim for doubt, to disrupt the clarity of time and place is anti-ethical to the principles, or rather purpose, of fashion photography, and in some ways most applications of photography, which has so much to do with the specifics of time. In Sassen’s view, “photography is a magical thing”: “It somehow connects the real and the unreal, the past and the present. It’s like a magical portal into a parallel universe. Working with photography makes me into a little bit of a magician, which I love.” And while Sassen works more within the recording and conjuring of feeling, Miller was very much focused on recording life as it happened, on the real, even when framing it in the uncanny. Having originally worked as a fashion photographer, with the outbreak of WW2 she shifted to reportage. Perhaps her most famous image from the period, Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub, taken in 1945, exemplifies her approach. There’s little room for confusion in the composition or intention, with Miller both nonchalant and defiant, curled up in the bath; her boots dirty with mud from Dachau soiling the bathmat. She’d been one of the first to arrive at Hitler’s secret apartments after it had come under US control, and would later recall the moment with something close to disregard for the strength of her response. In Janine de Giovanni’s aforementioned New York Times piece, she quotes an interview Miller did with celebrity radio interviewer Ona Munson, where she spoke about the photograph: “‘Naturally I took pictures’ [said Miller] in her deep movie-star voice. ‘What’s a girl supposed to do when a battle lands in her lap?’”

Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bath features in the Hepworth exhibition, and while it’s an example of her practice that sits outside of the Surrealist tradition, it’s haunting and strange, in a way that only reality can be. It’s intimate and detached, private and public, both calm and full of rage.

On the complexity of navigating the personal and public, or political, in photography, particularly in the context of art practice, Sassen says: “While I’m in the act of photographing, I never really think of the public; it’s usually a very intimate process. Once a photograph goes out into the world, gets exhibited, published, put online, it is out of my hands. It starts to lead its own life and I don’t have control over it anymore.” She continues, “It can easily be pulled out of its original context and become something else, sometimes even the complete opposite of what my intentions were. It’s rather useless to try to control that, since the viewer will project their own subjective thoughts and feelings on it – suddenly these images become mirrors, reflecting our own image. We’re all pre-conditioned by our personal history; photography as a medium is especially prone to this.”

In the same way that an audience is pre-conditioned by their personal histories, so is the photographer, or artist. Sassen readily admits that “most artists make self-portraits”: “In some instances it’s more obvious than others. In my work, all the themes are personal in one way or another. That’s the red line that runs through it. It’s only natural for me to make use of my memories, mix them up, revisit old ones, and put them in a new light. But then, I do like the idea of witchcraft.” Drawing upon her personal history – and recasting it in a way that’s focused more on magic and atmosphere than accuracy and clarity – allows for Sassen’s work to be accessible in a way that it may not be if it were more straightforwardly autobiographical.

Born in Holland, Sassen spent three years of her childhood in a village in the west of Kenya, and often returns to the memories of her time there. Although a brief period, it seems to be one that had a profound impact on her. In various photographic series’ and books, she draws upon her personal experience with almost child-like naivety. Although not interested in reconstructing her childhood specifically, she says: “I rather seek ways to allow the subconscious to flow, to reach a kind of child-like view on the world around me; a vision of wonder and freedom, unbiased by our preconceived ideas and prejudice, etc.”

As a medium, photography is intrinsically linked to political, colonial and historical baggage, a form for “othering” and exoticism; and Sassen’s work sits in an interesting, complex position – her experience of living in Kenya can’t be denied, and it’s a memory she certainly has ownership of, but it’s also a very specific one. A brief moment, which coincided with – as she acknowledges – a time when her vision was “of wonder and freedom”. It’s, in many ways, a positive outlook, but also one that lacks complexity, in a way that child-like expression often does. But on the other hand, that’s also part of what makes Sassen’s work so engaging – it’s challenging in its compositions, it’s full of contradictions, and doesn’t define clear positions formally or thematically. In certain instances, the abstract forms, vivid colours and energy of her photographs combine to make them appear as if they could be blurred visions speeding past in your peripheral vision. Sassen’s work makes you doubt yourself, and your assumptions about what you think you know and understand.

All text originally published by It’s Nice That. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

Elizabeth Friedlander: A Legacy of Letters

On her commission from the then Frankfurt-based Bauer Type Foundry in 1927, Elizabeth Friedlander became one of the first women to design a typeface, and particularly one of such exhaustive variation. Completed in a variety of point sizes in roman letter and cursive, and detailed in bold and swash characters, it took until 1939 for Elizabeth-Antigua and Elizabeth-Kursiv to be cut – six years after Friedlander had been forced to leave Germany.

Elizabeth Friedlander, Prisma
On her commission from the then Frankfurt-based Bauer Type Foundry in 1927, Elizabeth Friedlander became one of the first women to design a typeface, and particularly one of such exhaustive variation. Completed in a variety of point sizes in roman letter and cursive, and detailed in bold and swash characters, it took until 1939 for Elizabeth-Antigua and Elizabeth-Kursiv to be cut – six years after Friedlander had been forced to leave Germany.

Friedlander’s life was one of near-constant shifts, both geographic and in her professional life; born in Berlin, she lived in Milan, went through a lengthy, unfulfilled process of trying for an American visa, lived in London and finally in Kinsale, Ireland. She worked across a range of contexts, from packaging, printmaking and patterns, to calligraphy, clandestine publishing and correspondence. She mixed with the likes of Noël Coward, Jan Tschichold and the Toscanini’s and was equally adept at designing book covers for Mills & Boon as she was at making black propaganda at the department for psychological warfare and forgery techniques as Britain’s Political Warfare Executive.

Born in 1903 to a Jewish family, Friedlander had studied under influential typographer Emil Rudolph Weiss at the Academy of Berlin’s Museum of Decorative Arts, and it was Weiss who introduced her to Georg Hartmann, who ran the Bauer Type Foundry. On graduating, she worked as a designer and calligrapher at Die Dame – Germany’s first illustrated lifestyle magazine for women – and until 1935, been regarded as one of Germany’s pre-eminent graphic designers.

The Reichstag’s passing of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, established a legal framework for the persecution of German Jews. On being informed that she was deemed as “lacking the necessary reliability and fitness to participate in the creation and dissemination of German cultural values”, and forbidden from continuing her profession, Friedlander left Berlin. From here, she moved briefly to Milan, applied for a visa to the USA, and in 1939, moved – at the time, temporarily – to London. It was here that she met Francis Meynell – a poet, printer and editor working at the advertising agency Mather and Crowther – who’d edited the Penrose Annual, a review of graphic arts, in which there was a piece on the Elizabeth typeface.

Meynell would go on to be a great advocate for Friedlander and her practice; and Katharine Meynell, Francis’ granddaughter, has taken on that legacy in an exhibition of Friedlander’s work at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. Elizabeth Friedlander is the first show to focus on the designer’s practice, and, fittingly, it stems from a series of chance events, as Katharine Meynell recalls: “I came across an anthology of poetry that Elizabeth had compiled for Francis’ birthday. It was written out in her calligraphic hand but only initialled E. F. so at the time I had no way of identifying it. She had included lots of Meynell poetry, presumably to flatter Francis, by having his work next to Shakespeare’s.”

“Some years later, I was at the St. Bride’s Library researching another project, and the librarian happened to hand me a book that referenced the anthology – Pauline Paucker’s New Borders: The Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander.” It’s from here that K. Meynell began her research into Friedlander’s life, initially for her film Elizabeth – on display at the show – and then towards the exhibition. “[Friedlander’s] story runs parallel to things that are necessary to think about again”, she says. “I’m interested in thinking about where people end up, and what becomes meaningful when you having to be constantly moving.”

In the period that Friedlander was working, although Europe had been wrecked by WW2 – literally, figuratively and economically, it was still more commonplace for every household to own, and be engaged with, “good” design. A sort-of leftover from pre-war ideals and orthodoxy: “People had very clear ideas on design, and were all writing didactic texts on what was good and what wasn’t. They were terribly certain about it and convinced that they were writing from a neutral, objective position, in a way that seems odd today.” While the impact was non-hierarchical, the certainty of opinion, and paradoxically of objectivity, kept an inferred hierarchy firmly in place. 
“It wasn’t a star system at that time, but there were big personalities,” says K. Meynell, and a factor that impacted Friedlander’s practice, which was very much outside of the merits of her work, was the fact she was considered “unclubable”. “She didn’t fit to the British class hierarchy, and people couldn’t make sense of her. She didn’t behave right or look right, or do right; and Francis would have been completely cool about all of that, because that was the way he was, too.”

Although there is little information available about her personal life, Friedlander catalogued and maintained her work with precision: “She clearly understood the value of her work, but there was a different idea of what the role of the designer might be. Stanley Morison – a typographer and advisor to the British Monotype Corporation – wrote on how individualism was unhelpful in design. He thought that as a printer or designer you ought to be serving the community, making things legible and elegant. Your job was to do the work, rather than announce yourself in front of it.” This was very much the way Friedlander worked, and although her practice hasn’t been widely recognised by the contemporary design ‘canon’, the Elizabeth typeface has been an ongoing critical and commercial success and her work in publishing – particularly that with Penguin – has remained popular, both in itself and via imitation. “Is it self-effacement or is that your position, which you are happy with because you know you’re doing a good job?” considers K. Meynell. And although the thinking – on designers and their position and purpose – was flawed, as it is in every era, there is still room for nostalgia: “There was a sense of the collective, which feels horribly absent at the moment.”

On her arrival in London — on a Domestic Service visa afforded to her by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, who were helping people flee persecution — perhaps coaxed by the aforementioned Penrose Annual Review, Friedlander knocked on F. Meynell’s door at advertising agency Mather and Crowther, to discuss finding work as a designer. She had arrived from Milan, where she’d worked for the publishers Mondadori and Editoriale Domus, as well as with the Toscanini family. The exhibition includes various commissions from Walter, the son of the conductor Arturo Toscanini – record sleeves and labels, and letters: “There’s a fabulous letter from Walter Toscanini, a political diatribe. He felt that the King of Italy had let them all down, Churchill had let them down, everyone… Italy had become Fascist where it could have been prevented. There are several letters of his, there’s another about the beginnings of a European Union Post-War, which was really interesting”, recalls K. Meynell.

While in Milan, and with the help of the Toscanini family, she had made her first of many applications for a visa to the USA, having been offered a job by the Bauer Type Foundry who had opened a New York office. Before she could secure a visa – although she had received recommendations from Toscanini, Random House and Nöel Coward – in 1939, Italy passed fascist laws under Mussolini, and Friedlander was again forced to leave.

“The Toscanini’s were trying to help various people move to the USA. There were lots of people trying to help Friedlander get there – particularly them, but also Nöel Coward and Bauer Type had offered her work at their New York office – but immigration laws meant it wasn’t possible” says K. Meynell. “We construct the legality of individuals and it’s absolutely bonkers. Somebody being illegal is a social construction that we are complicit in.”
Back in London, Meynell had introduced Friedlander to Ellic Howe – an author writing on occultism and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who at the time worked for Britain’s Political Warfare Executive at Bush House, on psychological warfare and forgery techniques. He employed Friedlander as head of design and put her in charge of designing and disseminating black propaganda. She’d previously shown her political motivations making literacy books and newspapers for Italian and German prisoners of war; and in her new position, she forged Wehrmacht and Nazi stamps, ration books and other false documents for the political intelligence department.

As the war ended, and her position in the UK became more secure, Meynell continued to advocate for her and paved the way for work in both advertising and publishing, with the likes of Penguin, Mills & Boon, Linotype and Monotype. At Penguin, Friedlander worked with Jan Tschichold – who wrote the Penguin Composition Rules as head of typography and production at the publishing house. There she worked on book covers, and was responsible for a lot of their output post-war, while elsewhere she produced borders, maps and drawings for cosmetics labels: “She turned her attention to working on end and cover-papers, book ornaments and greetings cards; and applied the same technical approach she had employed in her typography, to patterns and forms, as well as in her advertising work”, says K. Meynell. “There’s an extraordinary drawing for the mechanism of a lipstick, which employs technical precision in a way that is just bonkers when you look at it. There were also tubes for hand cream, for which she was specifying the milling on the lids, as well as the labels and colour ways – all pastel shades that resemble flavours of ice cream.”

One of her ongoing jobs was the inscriptions for the Roll of Honour at Sandhurst, of the names of Commonwealth officers who had been killed during WW2: “It was virtually unheard of for someone not enrolled in military service to be allowed in, but she wrote every name in her calligraphic hand – and seemed to be good friends with her employers there.”

In the early 1960s, Friedlander moved to County Cork, Ireland, following her friend Alessandro Magri MacMahon, or Sandro – an Irish/Italian author, classics professor and fishing expert – who had also been working in the intelligence services at Bush House: “He had been driven out of Italy because of his anti-fascist activities, and then after being in London, working in intelligence and taking some work as a professor, he moved to Kinsale.” There he worked with the Irish Shark Club, and Friedlander continued to commute to London to work with the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst while designing letterforms for the Shark Club, and other local affairs.

Friedlander died in 1984. There was little in the way of personal accords, but her professional archive went to friends in County Cork, and later to University College Cork, where it resides today. One item, a violin made in 1703, which had belonged to her mother, had travelled with her from Berlin to Milan, to London, to Kinsale, and now to Cork. It was one of the few personal items Friedlander kept when she fled Berlin, and it’s now loaned out each year to outstanding students at the Cork School of Music. The violin is on display in the exhibition, among an array of musical scores with cover designs by Friedlander. Each cover is made up of a pattern that conveys the shifting times – from repeat forms of traditional, strict, detailed line work; to abstract, loose waves; modernist jiggle marks and playful squiggles. What ties the series together is that, however hard to read, they each maintain continual cycles and loops, much like history.

All text originally published by It’s Nice That. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.


Your First Look Inside The Met’s Ettore Sottsass Exhibition

He’s perhaps best known for his work with the design group Memphis – so-named after Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, the ancient capital of Egypt and the modern city in Tennessee – but Ettore Sottsass’ practice spanned a vast range of media, contexts and applications…

Murmansk Fruit Dish, 1982, Ettore Sottsass
He’s perhaps best known for his work with the design group Memphis – so-named after Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, the ancient capital of Egypt and the modern city in Tennessee – but Ettore Sottsass’ practice spanned a vast range of media, contexts and applications. He trained as an architect, and designed interiors, furniture, machines, ceramics, glass, jewellery, textiles and patterns, painting and photography; and his practice fluctuated between the concerns of Modernism and Postmodernism, the one-size-fits-all and the one-off. Now, in one of the first of its contemporary design-centric exhibitions, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will open Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical at its new location, The Met Breuer. We spoke to the exhibition’s curator, Christian Larsen, while the gallery finalised the hang before the opening this week.

On curating the show

“The Met has a chequered history of modern and decorative arts. They had a curator from the 1910s ‘til 1933, Joseph Breck, who would go to Paris every year and buy Art Deco pieces direct from the studios. So we have an amazing collection from that period, but over the years there’s sometimes been a curator and sometimes not. I was hired one and a half years ago with the goal of revising, building and filling in the gaps – working out the parameters [for modern and contemporary design at the museum]. Sottsass was one of the highlights of the collection, Craig Miller [who held the position of associate curator of 20th century art at The Met between 1983-90], saw him for the genius that he is. He was was very keen on acquiring pieces and promoting connections between art patrons and Sottsass – some of whom went on to commission houses, including [photography dealer and art collector] Daniel Wolf, for whom Sottsass designed the Wolf House in Colorado.”

On his legacy and the battle between Modernism and Postmodernism

“Sottsass has been celebrated previously at MoMA [where Larsen previously worked], who championed his role in the history of Functionalism and Modernism, his work with Olivetti and his architectural drawings… they celebrate Sottsass the industrial designer and the utopian radical thinker, but they disowned anything with the faintest whiff of Postmoderism. Memphis is famously not part of their collection and that’s what The Met has – including works that are one-offs and experiments in materials, it’s a more even representation of his career. The Met’s history of Sottsass is number one. Personally, I’ve always been interested in him. Most designers know who he is, but will always raise an eyebrow as if it’s bad taste or bad form [to appreciate his later work]. As if he is a loser in history, while the winners are the Modernists, and the Postmodernists lost the battle. He’s been given short shrift, and it’s important that his reputation be reconsidered.”

On Postmodernism

“Postmodernism tries to inject Modernism with some of the values it had strayed away from: irony, humour, joy and colour, historical references… A lot of Postmodernism we see as being a historic pastiche, but it is much more than that, it’s a return to humanism. We have 5000 years of art and design to draw from, what The Met can do better than any other museum is put works in context alongside each other. Sottsass is the perfect person to do this for, as what’s missing from his reputation is a sense of context. He doesn’t come from a vacuum, he has a very sophisticated sense of his connections to the past, to ancient cultures and civilisations. He did a lot of research, and he saw the connections, which made their way into his work.”

On looking forwards

“I hate doing a show that only looks backwards, so where we could we included contemporary designers, such as protégées who were part of the Memphis group. The contemporary context didn’t necessarily fit into the the space of the exhibition, so we created an extension of the show in the museum shop, where it continues with contemporary designers. That’s where they want to be, in the marketplace. I think of him as a designer, that’s where his greatest contribution lies, but he was also a photographer, a painter and an architect. His method was drawing, and that practice of drawing is essential to the idea of the designer, who doesn’t necessarily make the objects, the work is in the concepts. And that’s true of artists too. He has a sense of colour, texture, pattern and material; he’s tuned into the social side, social responsibility. He deliberately intended certain works for a high-end market – like designers today who can seem exclusively interested in the gallery roster, and forget is the potential of mass production – but he didn’t neglect the mass.”

On Sottsass’ move to America

“It was a technological society, full of suburban cookie-cutter houses. Sottsass saw the potential [of mass-production for the masses], but also recognised how it might be scary, the potential for sameness and alienation. Sottsass wanted to revise mass production and mass consumption, to establish a new model, to figure out a new way to create a personal interaction between user and object. He would work at every range and scale, making work that is beautiful and humble in its materials and approach; elevated through artistic sensitivity; great, but not necessarily more expensive. A highlight from the exhibition is the Tower Cabinet, which was commissioned by engineer Mario Tchou, who Sottsass worked with at Olivetti. I discovered at this year at the Salone del Mobile, having recognised it from photographs in an old copy of Domus magazine. It summarises all of Sottsass’ influences: from the Bauhaus and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, to Pergotta construction, Chinese lacquer gold leaf and Secessionist grids. It’s a synthesis of sensitivities into a hybrid object, a catch-all for the stuff of everyday life.”

July, 2017

All text originally published by AnOthermag.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

Eduardo Paolozzi: On a Singular Teacher and His Devil-May-Care Philosophy

“It’s the one with the red motorcycle outside” said David Queensberry as he gave directions to his west London home. The former head of ceramics at the Royal College of Art, and trustee of The Paolozzi Foundation had agreed to meet to reminisce on Paolozzi’s time as a tutor at the RCA…

Eduardo Paolozzi maquettes, photographed by Jamie Stoker
“It’s the one with the red motorcycle outside” said David Queensberry as he gave directions to his west London home. The former head of ceramics at the Royal College of Art, and Trustee of The Paolozzi Foundation had agreed to meet to reminisce on Paolozzi’s time as a tutor at the RCA, after we were introduced by Neil Parkinson, the college’s archivist.

His house is dotted with masterworks, from archive Paolozzi sculptures, to maquettes, ceramics and prints that adorn the walls of almost every room; as well as his own ceramics, and a vast collection of antique and contemporary pieces. When we returned to photograph his collection of Paolozzi’s work, there were recently returned pieces from the Whitechapel show, leant against sofa cushions, beside fruit bowls on the dining table and stacked behind a dolls house and pile of books.

As Aristotle the cat splayed himself prominently across an Eames footstool, we sat with cups of tea in Paolozzi mugs, and Queensberry started at the beginning. “It just so happened that Eduardo, who was a rather famous artist by then, was also one of my best friends. So I said to him, ‘What do you think about working for a bit at the college? It’s a nice environment, and you can do your own thing there’. He said yes, so he shipped up and started coming in. He had a glorious presence, some people found him rather difficult, other people, quite magical.”

In 1959, when David Queensberry was appointed head of ceramics at the RCA, the college had been through an overhaul of approach. “Since 1948, when Robert Darwin took over as rector, there was a drive to go back to its roots and be primarily concerned with design,” Queensberry explains. With his appointment came the decision that “this ought to change, the college’s approach to ceramics should be on a wider spectrum. From pre-Ice Age figurative sculpture, to mugs and high technology ceramics; as well as works that didn’t have any umbilical connection with a pot—objects, or artworks.” The design part Queensberry could handle. “I had great experience in the industry, but we were taking on these students who needed something else.” That’s where, and when, Eduardo Paolozzi came in.

“Eduardo wouldn’t give traditional advice. He wouldn’t say ‘Why does the handle on that cup have such a pedestrian angle?’ Instead he’d ask ‘Why do you need a handle on a cup at all? The Japanese don’t.’ He’d bring in portfolios full of the collage material he’d been working with, and hand it out to people. He could be very, very good for certain students, he was like a conjurer, he could pull a rabbit out of a hat.”

Paolozzi would invite students for dinner at the Meridiana, a now long gone Italian restaurant in South Kensington, where “he had given the guy all these sculptures for their terrace, in exchange for unlimited credit at the restaurant. We’d have a huge table, the students would be wined and dined, and sometimes things would go a bit wrong – he had quite a short attention span, and if he got bored with things, he’d leave abruptly.”

A regular guest at the Meridiana, was product designer Robin Levien, a former student and assistant of Paolozzi’s. Levien recalls: “He was one of my tutors, but tutor in an unconventional sense. We didn’t have formal meetings or tutorials, it was more that he was around. There was one occasion where Paolozzi told a student, ‘Come and see me at my studio at Dove House Street tomorrow’, she said ‘Fine, what time should I come?’ And he told her to arrive at 8am, probably quite provocatively to suggest she ought to be up early if she wants to be a serious artist. So she arrives at 8am, presses the buzzer and just as the door opens, three dwarves came out. When she arrived upstairs, nothing was said.”

“I always thought of Eduardo of a bit of an enigma, he’d be giving things away all the time, but it was surprisingly difficult to give him anything,” Levien continues. “It was a way of keeping everybody at a distance—it adds a performative quality to relationships—and it kept him in control” says Levien. “I got to know him reasonably well, because he was interested in my work. He offered to buy some a few weeks before my degree show, and I said: ‘Eduardo, OK, but I’d rather see how things go at the show before saying yes’. And unlike my BA show, I didn’t sell anything—it was all a bit academic, a bit cerebral—so afterwards I asked if he’d still be interested in buying my work, and Eduardo said: ‘No, too late.’ It was a great lesson about not looking a gift-horse in the mouth…”.

After graduating, Levien returned to the RCA to assist David Queensberry, who ran his ceramics business from the college. “I was still around a bit, and so was Eduardo, and on one day I came back from a job interview with Terrence Conran, which David had recommended me for, and was telling Eduardo about it. All he said was: ‘Another one of my failures’, which was really his sense of humour. Eduardo had taught Terrence at the Central, I suppose it was because he had gone into design and not art.”

“Eduardo would be in the interviews, as would some of the students. There was one occasion where, after the interviewee had left, he just remarked: ‘Evening class, not collected.’ It doesn’t get worse than that, does it? He was very sharp, very succinct”, recalls Levien. “He had a wicked streak too. There was one occasion when he bet a girl in my year £100 to streak around the Albert Hall, and that was a lot of money in the 70s. So half the ceramics department went down to the lobby, she took off her coat and ran, and when she came back to the double doors, he wouldn’t open them! He did give her the £100, though.”

That wicked streak ran through to his dealings with the art world, “When he had the Tate exhibition in 1971, which had probably been his biggest show to date, he suddenly became popular on another level”, says Levien. “The story goes that a couple of rich American women came to his studio—and a lot of the things he was doing at the time were tables with objects on top. He would make the works in wax and if someone wanted to buy one, it would be cast in bronze—and these women were gushing about how fabulous everything was, ‘We love it, it looks so great’ [said in a fittingly exaggeratedly gushy American accent], and then they got around to the price. I don’t remember the exact figures, it might have been something like, ‘it’s £10K’, at which point they said: ‘Oh dear, Eduardo, that’s a little more than we’d really want to spend’. So he took a couple of steps back, went at it, and kicked a lump of wax off the top of the work. ‘OK, that’ll be £8K’, he said. He might as well have just kicked them right up the backside.”

“He never really had a good relationship with an art dealer”, remarks Queensberry, “he was suspicious of them. Of course, it didn’t help him. He was prolific, and varied, there’s no obvious theme, and in a lot of ways, Eduardo’s work is difficult. He stood for something different. His work is alarming, the opposite to decorative”, he says. “A lot of work was left unsigned, and he was always giving it away – no good keeping it in the drawer forever.”

One such instance led to a strange incident involving the exhibition of a series of erotic collages, supposedly attributed to Paolozzi. “Francis Morland, who was a sort-of wannabe artist in the 50s, had latched on to Eduardo”, remembers Queensberry. “He was quite rich—his family ran a business that made sheepskin coats in the West Country—and he built a primitive foundry, in which he made primitive castings. He then went on to get heavily involved with drugs, spending eight years in prison in America when he was apprehended with a massive haul while sailing his yacht.”

“Then about two years ago, a London gallery held an exhibition of Paolozzi’s erotic art. And I, not only I, but a lot of us were pretty bloody sure that he didn’t do it. Not with a view to protecting him, but just on an analytical basis of what we knew he had done. I was Popzi’s best friend, somebody would’ve seen it, something, ‘Just a joke David’, anything. But there was nothing”, remarks Queensberry.

“We then started to analyse the work and were convinced that Francis Morland had done them. We knew that Eduardo had given him a lot of collage material he had used, so Morland would have had a lot of stuff. But the big issue was the signature, Eduardo would often leave his work unsigned. But we got them in the end, the auction houses wouldn’t take them and the gallery had to refund their sales, so we did succeed there.”

Paolozzi had a knack for attracting eclectic groups of people. “He had a way – he was not a social climber at all, people found him rather interesting. He seemed from another world, and he was hugely likeable”, remembers Queensberry. “He was curiously childlike, in a way” says Levien. “Life was entertaining and amusing with Eduardo, he had a fantastic group of people around him, and he’d invite you along to parties. He’d take the role of entertainer, and whether it was all totally genuine or there was an element of bullshit there I don’t know. But I’d forgive him that. You make allowances – never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Nicole Fahri met Paolozzi when she was casting her first sculpture work at the RCA’s foundry. “He came around next to me and we started chatting. He invited me to his studio, then he came to see me at home, and little by little, we became very close friends”, she recalls, as we settled down to talk in her studio, which is sheltered among the trees at the far end of her garden.

Fahri had been taking classes with the sculptor Jean Gibson, who taught her how to cast: “She was very much about theory, and when she didn’t like something, if I thought it was not bad, I would bring it home to show Eduardo. By then he was coming for lunch or dinner, and he was very encouraging. Eduardo would teach you to decide for yourself whether your work is good or not. He would say that you are the better judge, and no one could tell you that what you are doing is crap”, she says. “Eduardo taught me how to see, how to concentrate and discover things.”

When Fahri met her husband, the playwright David Hare, she stopped making work for a year: “Eduardo kept saying, ‘Love doesn’t suit your art’, and he decided to come once a week to my studio. He suggested I stop working in clay to get ‘a new buzz’, and I will never forget the day he taught me how to sculpt with wax. He would sit at one end of the table, and I at the other, and for six months we would work. At the end, I went back to clay, which was what he wanted, for me to go back to working.”

It was difficult for Paolozzi to be around people who weren’t excited by life, “Many times, when after dinner had ended he was not enjoying the conversation, he would stand up and say, ‘Who is taking me home?’ He would break the party, that was it. But that was Eduardo, he could be the way he wanted to be, I didn’t care,” Fahri smiles.

“If he really liked you he wouldn’t let you go, but a lot of people who he met throughout his life did not stand the test of time. He would fall in love quickly, and then you had to keep him interested—in what you were doing, or what you were saying—otherwise he would get bored. He couldn’t stand small talk.”

“With me, there were no problems. He’d sit at the end of the table, taking the whole side, so jolly and happy”, Fahri recalls. “When David and I got married, he was my witness. My father had died and he said, ‘I will be your Dad’. He really was like a father, he’d come to my house with his friends and I would cook for him, my home was open to him. We became a big family, because Eduardo was gregarious. He liked people to meet, he always enjoyed big parties and his friends becoming friends.”

Fahri’s home is testament to that, with Paolozzi’s presence felt around every corner. From works lining the walls, to small casts of animals from Noah’s Ark as bookends, and giant feet as doorstops; massive pink ceramic hats sit under side-boards, notes and photographs are slotted into frames and prints are racked up in the downstairs loo and run along the staircase.

“We would celebrate his birthday in our garden. I’d take out all the plaster works that he’d given me, put them out in the garden and we would have a party” says Fahri. “And he was interested in everything, theatre, design, music. The house became like a salon, it was so joyful, a beautiful life. I have a friend who is a flutist, they would play music, and Eduardo would be sat at the end of the table. The king of the party.”

Everything about Paolozzi was larger than life, “He had a big voice and big hands, he’d embrace you and kiss you on the mouth,” Fahri remembers. “Everything about him, his appetite, everything, was charismatic. People who are so open to the world, so giving, of course you are drawn to them. You go towards them, because they open your life, they open your world. It’s a great gift that he had, to be giving all the time. The whole of himself, his knowledge.”

July, 2017

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.


Five Works that Defined Sussex Modernism

In the early 20th century, rural Sussex was cast as a kind of arcadia for artists and writers of diverse practice, whose spells in the countryside were acts of both retirement from and rebellion against the modern world…

In the early 20th century, rural Sussex was cast as a kind of arcadia for artists and writers of diverse practice, whose spells in the countryside were acts of both retirement from and rebellion against the modern world. Today, the Modern Gothic architecture of Two Temple Place provides the setting for an exhibition of the work of said artists who were driven to abandon the metropolis for the county’s rolling hills. Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion, curated by Dr Hope Wolf, proves the biographical and conceptual links and detachments between members of the modernist community, with the common thread of being “out of place”. “There is a sense that modernists in Sussex identified themselves [that way] – partly to emphasise their metropolitan and cosmopolitan interests, and partly to express the experience of living in uncertain times; this was a world in which it was difficult for anyone to feel at home,” remarks Wolf in her introductory essay. Here, AnOther charts some of the key works of the exhibition that came to define Sussex Modernism. 

Mae West, by Edward James and Salvador Dalí

In 1934, Edward James, a collector and patron of the Surrealists, moved to his family hunting lodge in the midst of a scandalous divorce. “But James attracted Surrealist visitors, who fuelled his decadent rebellion against mainstream culture and helped him to fashion an alternative fantasy world,” writes Wolf. The most notable piece is a sofa shaped to replicate the lips of Mae West, designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí. It has long ceased to shock, “but in a grand house in the countryside it would have stood out strikingly from the more prudish, tasteful domestic decoration of the time,” she continues. Monkton House also boasted quilted walls, carpet depicting a dog’s footprints, and a purple exterior with cast palm tree columns.

Venus and Adonis, by Duncan Grant

The Bloomsbury Group moved to Charleston House, Firle, in 1916. Unlike many of their modernist contemporaries, it was avowedly agnostic or atheist, feminist, and open to same-sex and polyamorous relationships. They sought to “blend beauty with utility, art with craft,” and brought to Sussex the imagery and bright colours of art from continental Europe. Duncan Grant’s Venus and Adonis is a satirical take on the classical myth, which refuses the narrative of male domination through its portrayal of a gargantuan Venus and belittled Adonis.

As well as being a feminist retelling, his version of the story is a continuation of the political position that brought him to Charleston during WW1. “Grant, a conscientious objector, had refused to enlist, and was required instead to work on the land,” writes Wolf. “In light of this, his mockery of machismo is perhaps indicative not only of a feminist agenda but also a pacifist one.”

Icon, by Eric Gill

Sculptor and typographer Eric Gill was a key member of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, an organisation that described its move to Ditchling village as “an exodus from an enslaving industrial system that denied the workman responsibility for his creations, and also as an escape from a culture that preferred to worship money rather than God”. His works as a member of the Guild were controversial at the time, both to his cohort and the public, due to their eroticisation of religious imagery. An early example is Mulier, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary pinching her nipple, which was commissioned by Bloomsbury group member Roger Fry, but later refused. Icon, a later work – from 1923, when Gill was a member of the Guild – shies away from nipple-pinching in favour of a warm embrace, but at the time, particularly for a staunch Catholic, would have been similarly controversial. In 1989, cultural historian Fiona McCarthy published a book on Gill that disclosed incestuous relations with his daughters, which have “deeply troubled his idealisation of ‘retreat’, and cast suspicion upon his attempts to set up cloistered communities away from prying eyes”.

Beach and Star Fish – Seven Sisters Cliff, Eastbourne, by John Piper

In Beach and Star Fish – Seven Sisters Cliff, Eastbourne, John Piper clearly depicts a Sussex coastal scene. But while the setting was on British soil, the work was “pieced together using style inspired by the paper collages pioneered by the Dada movement” and distinctly continental. “In the context of popular resistance to outside influence, modernists often used the coast as a subject through which to create unsettled works that explored themes of ‘inbetween-ness’,” says Wolf. And in Beach and Star Fish, Piper challenged the view of Sussex as a kind of idyll, and hinted at both military and civic strife: “The fragments of newspaper refer not only to Nazism in Germany but also suggest how capitalism and profit-making had transformed National Socialism. Adverts for English private schools are pasted alongside the news reporting: was Piper making an implicit critique of English society, narrowing the gap between the two countries?”

Saul Steinberg, by Lee Miller

Lee Miller moved to Farley Farm, Muddles Green with her partner Roland Penrose in 1949. “The house became a rural retreat for artists who opposed the mainstream culture and politics of the day”, and saw visits from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. Another such visitor was New York cartoonist Saul Steinberg, who Miller photographed in 1952 pretending to draw The Long Man of Wilmington – a chalk giant thought by some to have originated from the Iron Age. Miller established a tension between the city suit and the country walk, and “in part encouraged the placing of ‘modernism’ and ‘Sussex’ in an antagonistic relationship”. According to Wolf, “the photograph replicates a familiar opposition, so prevalent in literature and art, which associates the city with the new and the now, and the country with consistency and the past.”

February, 2017

All text originally published by AnOthermag.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

Venus and Adonis, Duncan Grant


Five Talking Points from Milan’s Annual Furniture Fair

Wisteria climbs and collapses over Milan’s streets in spring, and with the bustle of Salone del Mobile, its terrazzo floors and imposing concrete arches are set aflutter with throngs of design devotees and cherry-red Campari…

Salone, by Mary Gaudin
Wisteria climbs and collapses over Milan’s streets in spring, and with the bustle of Salone del Mobile, its terrazzo floors and imposing concrete arches are set aflutter with throngs of design devotees and cherry-red Campari. Built up around land which had largely been occupied by private gardens and allotments, the city’s palazzos can be quite unassuming from the street – at least in comparison to their opulent interiors and lush gardens which, during Salone, are opened up for exhibition.

Their architecture falls between, and often combines, the styles and practices of the 15th and 20th centuries, due to both the need for restoration and aesthetic whim. One architect who fell on both sides of the restoration process was Piero Portaluppi, who had been particularly popular with the 20th century Milanese bourgeoisie, renovating Casa degli Atellani, Palazzo and Villa Crespi, among others. His most famous work, thanks in part to Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love, is the Villa Necchi Campiglio, which would later be renovated by Tomaso Buzzi, combining Portaluppi’s Rationalism with 18th-century Rococo.

This approach, with its fluctuations and shifts of style and purpose, can be felt across the Salone, where ornament and utility sit both alongside and atop one another, and humour and earnestness in an enthralling to and fro. 

New Ornament

Such contrasting styles can also be seen at the Casa degli Atellani, which played host to Passegginata, an exhibition curated by magazine editor Martina Mondadori Sartogo and hosted by Airbnb. It featured a variety of personal collections from Faye Toogood, Forma Fantasma and Ashley Hicks; of rocks, clay forms and textiles, as well as abstract totems, curiosities and utensils.

Set against the frescoes and grand architecture of Atellani – which once played host to Leonardo da Vinci while he painted The Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie across the street – these cabinets of curiosity read as both expressions of process and abstract ornament.

Meanwhile, Nobody & Co’s Bibliochaise, exhibited down a garden trail with structures decorated by Toogood, is a chair-cum-library – and in the case of the special edition held at the garden – decorated in gold leaf.


Sustainability and social consciousness as principles and behaviours are difficult to communicate successfully through furniture or product design. At this year’s Salone, there were a number of projects which engaged with those media as a form of resistance, or productive output, as well as advanced applications of re- or up-cycled materials.
In the lower floors of the Fondazione Luigi Rovati, Paul Cocksedge exhibited a series of tables, shelving units and sculptures made, predominantly, from his London studio floor. On being handed an eviction notice, he excavated the site, creating concrete rounds and obelisks which contribute to a comment on the uncertainty and displacement inherent to London’s property market. 

For Danish textile company Kvadrat’s new project, Really, whose aim is to up-cycle end-of-life textiles into solid textile boards, Max Lamb designed a series of benches using waste cotton and wool. Lamb’s benches employed curved edges, wavy patterns, geometric stacks and hover-effect structures in an experimental approach to an everyday material and form.


Equally integral to the fair was a focus on entertainment and design as a playful distraction. At the Palazzo Serbelloni, quartz manufacturers Caesarstone collaborated with artist Jaime Hayon on Stone Age Folk, an exhibition of fantastical furniture including a mask as cupboard, clown faces and carousels.

Another exhibition which exemplified the theme was Marni’s Playground, made up of various shades of sand, rocking chairs, out-of-proportion games and picnic blankets, all in a concrete warehouse; while for Atelier Swarovski Home, Barbara Barry designed a series of multifunctional candle holders and vases in mellow, 70s hues which could be stacked, turned and repurposed.


Layers of material, layered perspectives, stacks and tiers appeared here as both practical solutions and decorative details. At Matter-Made, there was a variety of flat-colour pastel furniture, which could be stacked, slotted or reformed, doubling up materials and cascades of light. At Calico’s Imagined Landscape exhibition, Ana Kraš designed a wallpaper with a linear pattern which created the illusion of slotting papers, while Faye Toogood combined three paintings – of moors, woodlands and fields – into a single landscape.

At Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades, pieces were woven, spliced and formed into organic rounds and repeat patterns akin to honeycomb. Design duo Fernando & Humberto’s sculptural Cocoon chairs were suspended over the Palazzo Bocconi’s grand staircase, while cheese plants and palms filled each room, collapsing over a variety of chairs and daybeds which were made for lounging, including Patricia Urquiola’s Palaver Chair and Atelier Oï’s Swing Boat.


Design and theatre coalesced at a number of exhibitions as immersive multi-sensory experiences, maximalist installations and temporary TV channels. In a fine example of the latter, students and alumni from Design Academy Eindhoven presented a “mashed-up media and design studio” at the Atelier Clerici, which analysed the relationship between design and contemporary media in both high and low culture. 

Another design school working with an immersive approach was ÉCAL, who presented More Rules for Modern Life, an exhibition by the Fine Art and Product Design students that considered the grey zones between the two practices via crispy golden walls, exaggerated forms and elaborate patterns. Milan-based Dimore Studio presented two exhibitions, one of an Art Deco-inspired geometric interior, the other of a plush, surreal veranda, with palms and pastel pink balloons growing out of tiled beds. Like much of this year’s Salone, the Dimore presentation imparted a sense of having stumbled upon a private oasis, works and spaces that held a wealth of elaborate tales.

April, 2017

All text originally published by AnOthermag.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

A Repetitive Day in the Life of One of Ragnar Kjartansson’s Troubadours

Of his exhibition at Barbican, Ragnar Kjartansson remarked that he hadn’t realised the extent to which his work is about, or uses, repetition until he saw the show. “Maybe it comes from being an altar boy,” he says. “You repeat stuff again and again until it becomes divine”…

Ragnar Kjartansson, Barbican
Of his exhibition at Barbican, Ragnar Kjartansson remarked that he hadn’t realised the extent to which his work is about, or uses, repetition until he saw the show. “Maybe it comes from being an altar boy,” he says. “You repeat stuff again and again until it becomes divine.” The opening work Take Me Here by the Dishwasher: Memorial for a Marriage is a case in point, a performance in which ten musicians, scattered through the gallery on bedroom-like islands, sing and play guitar for eight hours straight.

The lyrics of the song, composed by Kjartan Sveinsson of Sigur Ros, are based on dialogue between a lonely housewife and fantasy plumber, from Iceland’s first feature film Murder Story, which stars Kjartansson’s parents. The suggestion is that he was conceived at the time the film was shot, and the piece forms a memorial to their now broken relationship, blurring fact and fiction – mirroring Kjartansson’s experience of life imitating art since his birth.

A three-minute clip of the soft focus love scene plays behind the performers as they repeat the mantra “Take me here by the dishwasher” in an endless, absurd loop. Musician Phil Serfaty is one of those performers, taking on “the cliché of the bedroom singer-songwriter, a kind of pathetic, woe is me, boozing figure.”

“As someone who has done the pop music thing, while I recognise that it is a packaged, clichéd way to express yourself, it is still very familiar to me. I’ve sat around in my underpants and played guitar, sung a sappy song and drank beer before, multiple times, and I wondered if doing this I might learn something,” he says. “Take Me by the Dishwasher is like a hyper version of it, and I found that by singing this really kitsch dialogue over and over, there were things that started to ring true and effect me emotionally. There are moments when it really does start to feel like you’re singing a memorial for a marriage, it’s a love that doesn’t exist anymore, it’s dissipated and you’re honouring that”.

People respond to the chorus in multifarious ways, “some burst out laughing, others scoff, cry and some move from one individual to another, listening intently to each part. When someone walks in you can never tell how it’s going to affect them,” says Phil. “If they sit down with you it’s a boost of energy. It’s so physically demanding, and psychologically you go through all kinds of emotions – sometimes it’s a real struggle, other times it becomes this bubble of sound that is completely transcendental. If you start thinking about it as a cycle it becomes really hard, whereas if you just exist in the moment it can be really beautiful”.

As a viewer it can be strange when you first enter the space, it feels at once public and private. The room is set up with mounds of dated, pink satin, dark wood furniture and empty beer bottles; and as you move around the installation different elements of the soundscape become audible. Phil continues: “The audience controls the way they hear the piece, and you see some engaging with that maybe for the first time. We, in turn, have the power to move bodies and guide people through the room with sound. It feels very alive.”

Raised in the theatre, Kjartansson’s work makes blurry distinctions between fact and fiction – conveying the tragicomedy inherent to life, and sending up the stereotype of the singular artist as genius. His work has a lightness to it, it’s joyful and funny with the weight and absurdity coming through in the repetition common in his performances, films, paintings and drawings. Kjartansson has described art as a “slippery, devilish thing,” and in his hands that devilish character turns toward the certainties of his audience; brushing them away with the swipe of a paper scythe or in the strum of a guitar.

August, 2016

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

Into the Unknown

Rarely does anything date faster than our visions of the future. From the flying cars and under the sea croquet parties of the En L’an 2000 cigarette cards; to the need to ‘retire’ bio-engineered replicants who travel to Earth illegally and assimilate to 2019 Los Angeles…

By Sophy Hollington
Rarely does anything date faster than our visions of the future. From the flying cars and under the sea croquet parties of the En L’an 2000 cigarette cards; to the need to ‘retire’ bio-engineered replicants who travel to Earth illegally and assimilate to 2019 Los Angeles, as proposed by Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Bladerunner – although this isn’t necessarily so far from our reality of fake science propelled by GOOP-y ‘lifestylers’ and Trump-ed up news.

By definition, science fiction should balance the speculative with the rational, taking where we stand as the starting point, and blowing it up and outwards – pushing the boundaries of our knowledge and imaginations. The sense of wonder, and a willing suspension of disbelief are imperative, as the genre flits from the near-future to the prehistoric, the distant future to the recent past. Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction, which opened at Barbican on 3 June, features everything from Jonathan Swift’s Robinson Crusoe, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; to Dune, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Terminator. As well as various iterations of Star Wars and Star Trek, obviously.

The exhibition design, by Ab Rogers’ studio ARD, drops you further into the already sci fi-esque architecture of the Barbican Centre—with Modernist ideals and aesthetics so often crossing over with those of science fiction—and the imposing structures require you to look up and around, at works hovering high towards the ceiling and low to the ground. Into the Unknown covers the strange and the familiar with equal weight, both in terms of subject and familiarity. It doesn’t shy away from conveying the complexity of the genre, or its potential for commercial success.

The show, which was curated by historian and writer Patrick Gyger, considers both Thomas More and Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s visions of Utopia. The former a socio-political satire and imagining of a parallel reality devoid of private property, published in Latin in 1516; and the latter a novel written in 2011 and set in 2023, which tells the grim account of a gated community in the north of Egypt, where the wealthy are insulated from ‘The Others’, those who remained outside of Utopia after the collapse of the Egyptian middle class and the apparatus of the state. There is an interactive piece by Territory Studio, based on their work on Ridley Scott’s The Martian, spacesuits worn by John Hurt in Alien, Sam Rockwell in Moon and Cillian Murphy in Sunshine; and Astro Black, a two-channel video installation by Soda_Jerk that looks at Sun Ra’s theories of Afrofuturism, and considers the centre or focus of science fiction and social politics in Black Atlantic sonic culture.

Into the Unknown engages with prehistoric romance, dinosaurs collaborating with humans, forgotten sea-monsters awoken by atom bombs, parallel worlds or galaxies, artificial intelligence and clones. The tales can be ones of utopia or dystopia, and are commonly interlaced with the socio-political climate of the day.

While it can be an opportunity to speculate on the potential to overcome divides, hardship and conflict; the motivations, themes and impact of science fiction, whether in the context of film, literature or comics, can also be problematic. The history of its plots and storylines is one closely aligned with the ‘othering’ of people. Along the lines of race, religion, culture or gender, the glorification of war, and visions of imperialism – although the racial dynamic in these instances is often flipped, creating sort-of self-flagellating visions of Western colonialism, somehow, and perhaps subconsciously, intended by the authors, as a means of eschewing shame or guilt.
A key example of this is H. G Wells’ War of the Worlds, which establishes the British invasion of Tasmania as analogous to the warring Martians: “The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?”

There are of course instances where science fiction relates to society in an engaged and positive way. Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which depicted aliens as peaceful beings, suggested that humankind may have reached a point where it was ready to interact with the cosmos. It portrays almost youthfully optimistic communication with the unknown as a positive attribute, and new technologies as a natural progression of development and an indication of health and growth. The 1976 film, Logan’s Run engages with climate change, overpopulation, urbanism and individualism; and since 1977, Star Wars has told tales of rebellion against a brutal totalitarian government.

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film, Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution, was shot in and around the Modernist buildings of Paris. It follows secret agent Lemmy Caution as he tries to destroy Alphaville and its dictatorial computer Alpha 60, which has outlawed free thought, love, poetry, emotion and any form of questioning. Author of a variety of post-apocalyptic dystopian fictions, including Vermillion Sands and The Atrocity Exhibition, J G Ballard often took inner space rather than outer space as his science fiction battleground. The author is said to have despised the term ‘science fiction’, and referred to his writing as being, instead ‘apocalyptic’. He focussed on our interactions with strange and exotic technology, Brutalist architecture and gated communities, assassinations and graphic representations of collisions.

Science fiction can’t entirely be viewed through the realm of socio-political context and consciousness, it is equally important as a narrative structure for entertainment. The B Movie tradition, including Attack of the 50 ft Woman, The Blob and It Came from Outer Space, lives on in science fiction comedies like Repo Man, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Class of Nuke Em High; and the aesthetic and narrative devices of sci fi have long been adopted, for better and worse, by designers in a variety of contexts.

Into the Unknown includes early advertising by the aerospace industry, which adopted the visual language and iconography of sci fi and Modernism—both associated with visions of progress—to promote jobs and feats of engineering in the midst of the highly politicised Space Race. The ads showed airships engaging with explorations of the sky, leisure and war, and utilised the language of fiction and entertainment to lighten what was, and remains to be, an ethically complex invention.

The influence of science fiction, and its potentialities that became realities alongside it—such as geodesic domes, mobile technology and space travel—can be seen in everything from Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, which went on to influence Steve Jobs (and many other tech bros); to Archigram’s Plug-In City and Walking City; Marshall McLuhan’s writing on media; Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and April Greiman’s work for the women’s movement; Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and early issues of Wired magazine. The aesthetic of “the future from the past” can be seen in contemporary sportswear, as details and in the form of the fabric and in generally useless wearable tech. It is being employed in an interesting, forward-facing way by designers and publishers like David Rudnick, Landfill Eidtions, Metahaven and Hassan Rahim; and illustrators Essy May, La Boca and Viktor Hachmang.

What unites classic expressions of science fiction is the willing suspension of disbelief, but what is perhaps the strangest, and most interesting skill of the genre is its ability to predict our most boring, limiting inventions—mechanisms that show humanity’s knack for invention but need for a higher or outside control—exemplified by the sentient computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hal 9000’s, slow refrain of “Just a moment, just a moment, just a moment.”

June, 2017

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

The Couple that Reimagined Space: A Portrait of the Work of Charles and Ray Eames at Barbican

Charles and Ray Eames’ holistic approach to design was rooted in their interest in addressing and resolving the needs of any given problem; be that executive seating, the welfare of sea creatures, plywood leg splints or their pre-eminent vision of the “information age”…

The World of Charles & Ray Eames, Barbican
Charles and Ray Eames’ holistic approach to design was rooted in their interest in addressing and resolving the needs of any given problem; be that executive seating, the welfare of sea creatures, plywood leg splints or their pre-eminent vision of the “information age.” Established in Los Angeles in the 1940s, their studio’s initial experiments were in devising a way to mass-produce the moulded-plywood furniture Charles had previously designed for a MoMA brief with architect Eero Saarinen. Through a process of trial and error, they soon came across a way to apply their experiments to the war effort in the form of emergency transport splints and stretchers. This led to the establishment of the Eames Office as a business and was the beginning of the studio renowned for its expansive work and collaborations, “provide the best, for the most, for the least.”

Barbican’s exhibition The World of Charles and Ray Eames, designed by 6a Architects, surveys the work of the couple and their Office. It encompasses their architecture, furniture, graphic and product design, painting, drawing, film, sculpture, photography, multimedia installations and new models for education. Their prolific output is difficult to summarise but the show succeeds in guiding viewers through the Eames’ approach to the business of life. Their disciplined visual communication and consistency with materials prevents the show from feeling like a whirlwind of scale and context as it shifts with ease due to the clarity in their intentions and process.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue designed by John Morgan studio, with a series of essays, stills slideshows and chapters on their home life, research and major projects on “celebration as a human need” and the “information age.” Barbican has also worked with the Eames Office on a selection of products based on Eames textile patterns and materials, including their dot pattern and scale models of their fibreglass chairs.

Structured thematically, the ground floor of the exhibition introduces the “parts” making up their set of tools: experiments in plywood, film, graphic design, textiles and architecture. The first two galleries show their abstract, painted covers for the magazine Art & Architecture, large-scale structures for aeroplanes and miniature furniture for children that includes plywood elephants and tiny tables. In an anti-clockwise progression, the next rooms give an impression of the extensive research involved in their work; with rough and perspective drawings for the Eames house, and letters between Charles and Ray concerning its development as well as films by architectural historian Reyner Banham on his thoughts on the architecture of their adopted home, Los Angeles. In the final section of the ground floor we see examples such as their film Tanks , on the health of marine life and a model of an Eames living room, giving a sense of their vibrant colour palettes and attitude towards their work in space.

As the exhibition progresses, the upper floor seems to take on these parts and develop physical or theoretical “total environments” that employ the Eames Office skill-set. Early on is their exhibition design for The World of Franklin & Jefferson, for which the Eames’ applied their unflinching approach that an exhibition should communicate the understanding of a subject by exhibition designers and curators, “limited though it may be, in such a way that it has meaning for a non-specialist but isn’t trivial or embarrassing for the person who knows most about the subject.” Their design had an array of information presented in multiple mediums and took on decorative elements according to the season, such as potted plants in spring. The section for their suggested design education curriculum in The India Report included a miniature school-like set up and showed their film Banana Leaf: Something about Transformations and Rediscovery, which explores the cyclical life of the banana leaf in Indian culture including its use as a tool for eating. In one of the final sections, the Eames’ film Powers of Ten is screened, surrounded by a selection of stills and development research. Concerned with communicating the relative size of things in the universe, the film links microcosm to macrocosm, and in perhaps the most famous scene zooms out from a family picnic to a view of the park, the city, the state, the country and through to a view of Earth from outer space.

Perhaps one of the most renowned projects, and one that communicates both the design approach of the Eames’ and the Barbican exhibition, is the IBM Pavilion. Described as “not a building but a grove”, the pavilion was “part garden of delights, part vision of the future” with an oval theatre that hosted the Eames’ multimedia experience, the “information Machine.” The design was welcoming and carnival-like, allowing IBM to introduce their automated technologies to the public in a relaxed atmosphere, one that emphasised advances in technology as a force for positive change.

The show could easily have been overwhelming, but due to the straightforward, un-intrusive exhibition design and the nature of the Eames’ work, rather than feeling exhausted by the breadth and quantity, as a viewer you are left only wanting more. To know more and see more perhaps in the hope that you’ll be able to pick up some of their ability and drive. The exhibition is much more than a survey of Charles & Ray Eames’ work, it’s a record of public life in the latter half of the 20th Century, somewhat localised but reflective of the trauma and progress happening worldwide.

October, 2015

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.


The Artist Constructing Modernist Ruins in a Gallery Garden

In a garden facing onto, and somewhat consumed by, a basin of London’s Regent’s Canal sits the cavernous ruin of a modernist home. The ruin is, in fact, a fiction – one constructed by artist Alex Hartley for the exhibition After You Left at Victoria Miro’s east London gallery…

A Gentle Collapsing II, Alex Hartley
In a garden facing onto, and somewhat consumed by, a basin of London’s Regent’s Canal sits the cavernous ruin of a modernist home. The ruin is, in fact, a fiction – one constructed by artist Alex Hartley for the exhibition After You Left at Victoria Miro’s east London gallery. Built to resemble European modernism’s International Style, and California’s later iterations of the tradition, A Gentle Collapsing II transforms the gallery’s waterside garden into a scene of thriving wild ferns and material decay.

A sort-of a folly, the piece performs as an homage to utopian ideals. It seems to have been vacated without explanation, and carries an atmosphere of activity – both in terms of the traces of its absent owner, and the growth of trees, moss and supposed mould around and within what remains. The walls were planned and built up according to Hartley’s impression of what the minimum requirement would be for the structure to be understood as a Modernist home. The open stairs, metal-grated horizontal window and cut section of low-hanging roof were shaped and finished – with painted on black mould – to give the impression of an accelerated process of ageing, and the accelerated progress of time.

A Gentle Collapsing II breaks boundaries between interior and exterior, public and private, natural and manmade, all of which are themes that continue in the interior spaces of the exhibition. “It’s the battle of architecture sinking back into nature that I find interesting”, says Hartley. “The work has already changed so much with the seasons, and when the leaves entirely fall it’ll have a much more direct relationship with the surrounding architecture. This is the second iteration of A Gentle Collapsing and they do take time, both in terms of considering what works in the space and how they adapt and grow once installed.”

In contrast to the canal-side garden, indoors it is nature that feels more controlled, held within frames and drawn away from its surrounding architecture. “If there’s one thing that has run through my work all along it’s the idea of boundaries, and where they lie. When I lived in Los Angeles I’d go to see modernist houses, but because of the relationship between the garden and the building – with the outside space being treated like another room – the boundaries would always be heavily defended. I’d end up crawling through foliage and up to fences to photograph the buildings through a hedge. In the wall-based works I’m showing I’ve tried to draw out the idea of the balance between nature and architecture shifting in favour of nature. The glass-walled pavilions slip back into either the wild, or their controlled versions of it.”

The subject of utopia, and the juxtaposing back and forward-facing focus intrinsic to its study, is one that has long interested Hartley: “The 1960s and 70s was the last time we had a clear utopic vision. Maybe with what we’re pushing against now a movement will build up, but there doesn’t seem to have been the energy for it.” He describes After You Left as having “a nostalgic romance” to it: “But it’s not entirely without optimism for our time. I have a definite sense of ‘this moment can come again’. We’re still searching for the form it’ll take, and the impetus to make it happen; but it’s in periods of disenfranchisement that people coalesce and you start to get an idea of what’s possible.”

November, 2016

All text originally published by AnOthermag.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.


Design Duo Soft Baroque on Materiality and Making Miniatures

Soft Baroque, a studio for furniture that serves and surpasses its function, was founded in 2013 after co-founders Saša Štucin and Nicholas Gardner graduated from London’s Royal College of Art, in Visual Communication and Furniture Design respectively…

Armchair, by Soft Baroque
Soft Baroque, a studio for furniture that serves and surpasses its function, was founded in 2013 after co-founders Saša Štucin and Nicholas Gardner graduated from London’s Royal College of Art, in Visual Communication and Furniture Design respectively. They describe their work as “future practical… sort of a contradiction. We are interested in modern luxury and inflated versions of reality, but without abandoning consumer logic or pragmatism”. The pair have previously shown at London, Milan and New York design weeks, the Swiss Institute in New York and Christies in London, as well as being designers in residence at Villa Lena in Tuscany, and they are currently developing a commission from Bloomberg, as well as preparing for an upcoming exhibition at Design Miami/Basel. In short, they have a lot going on.


Soft Baroque’s first collaboration took the form of a miniature of Villa Malaparte, the peach, staircase-dominated house on the island of Capri which played a prominent role in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film Le Mépris. “Our friend was getting married, and we knew she loved the film, and I was really obsessed with the building,” Štucin says, recalling the decision to create a miniature of it as a wedding gift to her. “Nicholas had a studio at the time, and I’d always been obsessed with architecture, but thought it would be too big for me to do. This idea of miniaturisation was so convenient, and [the model] still served a function in the domestic environment – we made it with a marble top and our friend now uses it as a coffee table in her house.”

The idea of recreating buildings or architectural details in miniature has been around since the 1800s, when craftsmen would use the practice to show off their skills in processes such as marquetry. It continues to play a part in Soft Baroque’s work. “We have a few buildings on our list, but we just need to find a purpose,” says Gardner. “We always try to connect the materials with how we produce it, the idea behind it and the function – all of these things need to align. The Villa Malaparte was less aligned because it was just building and furniture, we almost needed another play to make it more of a story that made sense.” But the Villa Malaparte miniature was the project that triggered their working together, and on which they began working out how their backgrounds in graphic design and photography, furniture and architecture could be applied collectively.

Creative Process

Soft Baroque’s work combines materials and forms that already exist, which are then reapplied for more conceptual purposes. “We try to find materials, processes and shapes to fit the idea,” Gardner says. “We like the idea of our objects participating under the same capitalist rules that govern everything else; people buy something because they need the function of it, but they also want to appreciate the aesthetic. Even though our work mostly goes into galleries, we still think about these consumer paradigms as a fake set of rules, in a way. Like designers rather than artists.” This position the pair occupies between art and design, which in itself has become more of a recognised place in recent years, sets up questions about the limitations of each discipline. “In some ways you can get away with so much more in design because the critical level is not as vigorous. But on the other hand, to make something hold together and function can be so much more complex.”

The pair’s focus on a level playing field between form and function, process and outcome means that work that they consider to be too indulgent –whether through overwhelming focus on process, or an excess of images – doesn’t really stand up. “I had this problem with graphic design and photography too”, says Štucin, “where I thought, ‘guys, we have too many images anyway, let’s stop. Let’s try to find a way to re-appropriate what already exists, because what’s the point of making more?’ It could be seen as negative and non-progressive but I was looking at things and thinking, ‘why can’t we find new ways to use what we have?’”

Design Miami/Basel

Soft Baroque’s exhibition at Design Miami/Basel this year is unfurling in collaboration with Copenhagen-based gallery Etage Projects, in its Curio booth. The focus of Curio is on immersive experiences, in which the artist takes care of the whole shape of the space, and Soft Baroque are developing something that will do exactly that. They have been looking into ways to blend the definitions of soft and hard materials. “The materiality of the objects and textiles will be the same. The point is to merge the two,” says Štucin. They will produce a series of furniture and wall pieces made of rosewood veneer, granite and stainless steel – objects that “play with digitising the decorative aspect of a material, and divorcing it a little from its function,” Gardner says. “They will be formal, high-quality pieces of furniture, but distorted, no longer working entirely with the constraints of the physical realm.”

April, 2016

All text originally published by AnOthermag.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

An Exercise in Style: Interviewing John Morgan

As we ascend the stairs from his subterranean studio, our conversation turns to the subject of design writers. “Are there any? And if there are, why?” A point of contention is, if they do exist, “can [they] write about a subject other than design in an interesting way…

By Jack Davison
As we ascend the stairs from his subterranean studio, our conversation turns to the subject of design writers. “Are there any? And if there are, why?” A point of contention is, if they do exist, “can [they] write about a subject other than design in an interesting way, and is there not someone else who could do it better?” This emphasis on quality is an important one, and something that defines the often indefinable work of John Morgan Studio.

Founded in 2000, the studio has and continues to work with renowned artists, architects and cultural institutions including Four Corners Books, David Chipperfield Architects, Art Review and Tate Britain. A recent project is Pierre’s, the inaugural issue of New York’s The Artist’s Institute magazine. The principle of The Magazine is to take each season at the institute as a point of departure for journalism, fiction, interviews and visual projects to be developed around the work of the exhibiting artist. This season it’s Pierre Huyghe and the issue features topics including science fiction and philosophy, alongside fake adverts designed by John’s newly formed and slightly fictitious London/New York agency Vault Six. Another recent project was their review of the signage and way-finding at Tate Britain. The studio designed a new display typeface; a scheme for the templates of maps, menus, banners and posters; captions, maps and threshold dates cast in metal and sign-painted onto the walls and floor. In the synopsis of the project the process was described as “reducing the presence of signs and promotional material to an ‘essential only’ state… the requirements for a gallery like this [mean] the signage could be less present and more dignified”.

As well as his design practice, John has run projects at a number of design schools over the last 15 years, and the recent history of art education is something of a concern. “It shouldn’t be a transactional relationship” he says, “it’s an issue for tutors and students, and the worst educational model. Survival of the fittest is fine, but not in an education environment. Those who will do well, the people who have the confidence to reach out, will thrive, but they always will. It’s people who come to London, go into college once a week and then back off to bedsit land god knows where, what’s their experience?”

We’ve crossed the street from the studio and sat for lunch at a brasserie close-by. “It’s a nice way to eat, although it’s a faux interior, the element of nostalgia tricks you” John says. “They did certain things very well at the turn of the century – the theatre of it all, the settings and the tablecloths.” In a way, such details are a visualisation of the references and intentions of the people who run the brasserie, and how they want to communicate with their audience. On that subject John says “My real audience is the author or artist I’m working with, and myself. To try to second guess anything else often ends in tears. Like the focus group for a film, a real auteur wouldn’t care and has a focus group ever improved a film? Unlikely.”

“Anyway, books aren’t products, it’s a different territory.” Describing his work with Four Corners Books he says: “sometimes you’re a cinematographer, sometimes a director and then all that falls in between. For most of the Familiars series the artist has chosen the book, so it means something to them and that can be conveyed very subtly or in a more overt way. Sometimes we make a fully integrated object and in other instances the artist will produce photographic or illustrative plates.” Although they don’t often commission illustration, “I think I have a phobia of it because there is such a specific voice”, John says. “When you get something back you have to work with that and it can be far from what you had in mind. I love the illustrations in The New Yorker, there they work perfectly well. With photography you can direct a lot more, and the evidence of the hand is a little less present.”

The question of style is an important one, and in his work John aims more for a sense of atmosphere, for want of a better word. In a conversation with eye magazine’s editor John Walters he described it as “a problematic and woolly word, but it’s the best description of what I aim for in my work. It’s the sensation you find when you walk into a building or space and it changes the way you feel… It’s hard to define what gives a book atmosphere, because it can be found in unexpected places, and many books by attentive designers lack it, but you know it when you see it or feel it.”

At this point our conversation shifts, “without being too self-reflective” John says, “I like the idea of you writing this under the construct of this situation, it’s more fun. Ideally just do the whole thing without even mentioning graphic design directly. Do the whole thing about food – who wants to read about graphic design anyway? I’d rather be reading a novel or something, the more literary this can be the better.” So I ask him what he is reading, “Michel Houellebecq, everything by him. People say he’s a misogynist but I don’t see it that way, a misanthrope maybe – but not that either. In Submission the character is an academic who takes on religion as more of a lifestyle choice than one of faith, like people who send their kids to a Church of England school because it’s the better option, this professor works in a Muslim school because the pay and lifestyle is better for him. Houellebecq is so brutally honest, it’s horrific. I’m also reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, best described as a love story. The author records her life, falling for a transgender artist, her pregnancy and the shifts in their own bodies as well as the relationship itself. Both Nelson and Houellebecq are equally uncompromising in their own way.”

Maggie Nelson also wrote the text for Carolee’s, the forthcoming issue of the magazine of The Artist’s Institute (with Carolee Schneemann and published later this year), designed by John Morgan studio. I ask him whether he sees himself continuing to focus on publishing, or to look more to expanding on projects such as the branding of the city of Llubijana: “working with architects, they have a much greater control of space and influence than we do, but still not the impact you’d imagine, for that you probably need to get into politics or government. And as a designer you can only make a very slight imprint, I think I will continue to work with small gestures” Although, whether he’ll stick to that is another matter: “I have this relationship with fashion where sometimes I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world and sometimes I think it’s ridiculous. And it’s totally okay to think the opposite one day to the next, we are made up of compound sensibilities.”

July, 2016

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

The Legacy of War: Giles Duley Photographs the Lives and the Horrors of Conflict

“Wars don’t end when a treaty is signed, for the people affected, the legacy continues” Giles says. “Whether that be through contamination of land mines, lasting physical injuries, the psychological damage; or in the case of refugees, the loss of homes, livelihoods and culture, war leaves a legacy decades after the last shot was fired…

By Giles Duley
For the past decade Giles Duley has been photographing the impact of war on civilians, and since starting the project Legacy of War, which is in part a collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, he has worked in Lebanon, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Northern Ireland and Gaza; and most recently in Jordan, Greece, Macedonia, Germany and Finland. “Wars don’t end when a treaty is signed, for the people affected, the legacy continues” Giles says. “Whether that be through contamination of land mines, lasting physical injuries, the psychological damage; or in the case of refugees, the loss of homes, livelihoods and culture, war leaves a legacy decades after the last shot was fired.”

Ironically, after years of planning and having secured funding, Legacy of War had to be put on hold when Giles was injured in Afghanistan. The accident left him a triple amputee and doubtful that he’d be able to continue with the project. Four years later, the project is well under way and coming at a time when the impact of war is in acute visibility. He hopes to shift the way that war is talked about: “The figures are staggering and hard to comprehend, likewise the scenes of boats and crowds of refugees at borders can be overwhelming. Of course that side has to be shown, we have to understand the scale of this crisis, but we must also humanise.”

Giles describes the lasting impression on visiting different countries as being one of commonality; that a land mine survivor in Angola will speak of their experience in the same terms as a survivor in Cambodia, highlighting the importance of “focussing on the themes that are universal”. Giles records the everyday moments known by us all such as “cooking, a mother brushing her child’s hair, a father holding his daughter’s hand.” He says: “In situations that we find hard to comprehend, these simple moments can help us relate.”

Legacy of War began with Giles travelling to Lesvos, where he witnessed boat after boat of traumatised refugees and migrants reaching the Greek island’s beaches. In his first week over 40,000 people arrived, “It’s really hard to explain or comprehend what I saw there,” he says, “The phrase I heard time after time was ‘Shefna el mot bi oyouna’ – ‘We saw death with our own eyes’ – and you could see that, the shock of that journey.”

As well as his photographs, Giles is keeping a diary of his experiences which he publishes on the Legacy of War site. Unlike much of the reporting on events in Lesvos, and more broadly, Giles’ writing isn’t focussed on abstract facts and statistics but on the lives of those he is meeting. One story in particular is that of Ammar and Wafaa, a couple from Hama, Syria on the frontline of the civil war. Giles writes: “The war had put an end to their studies, [in economics and marketing respectively] it had put an end to normal life. Ammar attempted to open a small grocery store, Wafaa volunteered with a local charity helping the many displaced Syrians within the country. They had wanted to stay, but the situation was growing worse by the day.”

Ammar and Wafaa left first via a mini bus to Beirut from where they flew to Turkey. “From this point their lives were in the hands of the smugglers,” Giles described. “‘The smugglers treated us like animals,’ Wafaa recalled, ‘They referred to people as goods. They beat people and forced them onto overcrowded boats. They forced people to blow up the boats and push them out to sea. It was like slavery and you could not say or do anything.’ On arriving Wafaa and Ammar’s boat was greeted by a team of volunteers… There [were] screams, tears; the panic and shock in the faces of those arriving [was] palpable. Many collapse, babies blue from hypothermia, others in shock.”

Giles goes on to tell of what happened for Wafaa and Ammar after they landed, in a moment of respite and hope a room was found for the couple and the next morning they continued their journey – their goal being Germany. They have since arrived safely, and described their hope that in the future their children will grow up in a safe place, “with no violence. We don’t want them to grow up with the smell of blood in the air,” explained Ammar.

In Legacy of War, Giles has established a much-needed platform for understanding the ongoing refugee crisis in terms of the lives of individuals, what they are fleeing and why. The sense of scale is very much there, but from the perspective of lived experience rather than via statistics or newspaper chatter. Giles says: “I know my work won’t change the world, but I hope I can at least act as a witness and share the stories of those I meet – at a time when there is a lot of fear, misunderstanding and misinformation; empathy has never felt more vital.”

January, 2016

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.


An Interview with Brita Fernandez-Schmidt

When Brita Fernandez Schmidt first got the call from Women for Women, she had read founder Zainab Salbi’s autobiography a couple of years prior and hoped that she’d at least get to meet the author she so admired…

Brita Fernandez-Schmidt, by Holly Whittaker
When Brita Fernandez-Schmidt first got the call from Women for Women, she had read founder Zainab Salbi’s autobiography a couple of years prior and hoped that she’d at least get to meet the author she so admired. Now, having been with the charity for close to a decade, Brita is thriving as Executive Director, inspiring and energising the women around her – from the women the charity works so hard to support, to her team and her two daughters.

Here, Brita speaks with us about leadership, independence and inspiring change.

Q: Tell me about Women for Women?

It’s an organisation that was set up about 23 years ago, by Zainab Salbi. She’s Iraqi, and when she was 19 she moved to America, where she learnt about the Holocaust and the Never Again movement, which had been censored in Iraq. At the same time, she was reading about and watching coverage of the genocide in Bosnia.

She knew what it was like to grow up in a country impacted by conflict, and how you feel like the world has forgotten you. She thought that women in Bosnia must feel abandoned, and she wanted to do something, to go and tell them “the world has not forgotten you”.

She went to Sarajevo, travelling with a press pass because it was under siege and you could only enter on a special plane. Zainab told women there that when she returned to America, she would find women who would write to them and support them. She would create human connections, across divides and across borders. And she did, she went back to America and found 30 American women to sponsor 30 Bosnian women. They wrote letters and gave money, and she went back to Bosnia to deliver them, and that’s really how Women for Women was created.

As the war ended, it was clear that in order to help women rebuild their lives and allow them to be part of the rebuilding of the country, they needed support. That’s when, and how, we developed what is now called the Life Skills Training Programme, which is a year long programme with four key outcomes. The first is that women are well, we teach them about health and give them practical information about how to look after themselves; the second is that they know their rights, we encourage them to be decision makers and have their voices heard; the third is that they need and can form safety nets and networks, which we achieve through bringing women together in classes of 25, breaking their isolation and creating a space to form lifelong friendships; and the fourth is about finding and sustaining an income. We teach practical skills that enable them to set up a business, join or establish associations or co-ops, find a job or a placement. For example, in Rwanda—where I’m going with my daughters and a group of our donors in July—we are working with the Marriott Hotel, who have employed women from our programme who have trained to work in the hospitality sector.

We don’t talk about what we do as charity, it’s about creating human connections and solidarity, it’s an investment. We want to make sure that the women we work with aren’t dependent on the help they receive from Women for Women, and that our achievement is providing them with knowledge.

Q: That’s what’s so interesting about Women for Women, often charitable infrastructures can lead to a state of dependency, but Women for Women focusses on giving women agency.

That’s exactly right, and it’s not an easy thing to do, it’s not easy for any of us. I fundamentally believe that you can’t empower someone else, you can only empower yourself, but what you can do is provide a support network.

I have all sorts of things that help me to constantly develop myself, and with knowledge you have the opportunity to stretch your boundaries, to empower yourself. And that’s really what Women for Women does, we require commitment from the women who enrol on our programme, they have to attend regular sessions and be engaged. We even make them sign a social contract, of course it’s not legally binding but it’s a way of encouraging them to commit.

Q: Requiring that level of commitment, it shows respect for the women involved.

Exactly, we all have agency. Our approach is:“It’s your decision, if you want to do this, this is what we can offer you, this is our goal.” I think that’s really important.

In return, we ensure that we respond to their needs and achievements. We offer additional business training and mentoring for women who are particularly entrepreneurial, and they will often go on to employ lots of other women from their community. We also have focus groups of women who have graduated from our programme, who speak with us about what they are coming up against, and how we can help.

Q: Tell me about the #sheinspiresme movement?

We came up with it because so many of the stories we hear are so hard and so upsetting, and yet these women are so positive and inspiring. It’s always been about how they move from being victims to surviving and being active citizens, that positivity is key for us.
It opens up the potential for change, if you’re always downtrodden it can seem impossible; and it gives us the opportunity to celebrate women all over the world.

Q: You have an MA in women’s studies from Sussex University, when was it that you knew that this is the work you wanted to do?

I’m actually writing a book at the moment, which is really exciting. I’ve been thinking about this, looking back and reflecting on how when you look back, you rewrite your own history to make sense of where you are now and where you want to go.

My version of my history is this: When I was 13, we moved to Venezuela from Germany, where it had never occurred to me that I had any disadvantages as a girl. Both my parents are teachers, we are a middle class family, very academic, and moving to Venezuela was a total shock. I’d never seen poverty in that way, and I continued to see how women are disproportionately affected by that poverty, I didn’t have the language for it at that time but I just knew that there was a problem. I think I must have been born with a strong sense of justice, I didn’t see the same level of outrage in other people.

My parents wanted me to study in Europe, which I did but I enrolled in Latin American studies. It didn’t work out very well, many of the teachers couldn’t speak Spanish and the way it was taught felt kind of imperialistic. I changed to literature and in my second year I met an amazing professor—you know how there are people in your life who have just influenced you so much—Elaine Jordan, she is incredible. She was teaching a feminist literary criticism course and I remember thinking “This is it!” I took the course and I suddenly felt like I had a language for all these things I’d been observing, thinking and feeling. I loved it so much, so I went on to do an MA in women’s studies and then I just found my way.

It had always been my passion, my drive, to work in women’s equality in countries where it’s even more challenging, because you also have poverty. Gender inequality affects us all, but when it’s interlaced with poverty and war it has another dimension.

Q: How have you approached writing the book?

I don’t think that having the confidence to write a book is something that just comes to you, it’s a journey. There’ll be a lot of stories from my life, but it’s not an autobiography. It’s focussed on my work, the power of inspiration, how we can follow that and find our authentic selves. I’m interested in leadership, questioning our contemporary understanding of it, and considering innovative ways of running teams that embrace the standards of an organisation. The way we’ve grown reflects what we stand for, we work on partnerships rather than marketing, people come to us with ideas and we say yes to them.

I think the current approach to leadership is quite masculine, it’s restrictive to everyone and not very inspiring. It’s not sustainable, and the more I become aware of it, the more I want to say “Stop! Let’s see if this actually works for us, because if it doesn’t, let’s change it.”

June, 2017

All text originally published by margueritelondon.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

“I Always Try to Have Some Logic to the Job, to the Work”: An Interview with Letterpress Legend Alan Kitching

In Alan Kitching’s hands, “the typography workshop is a complex and subtle instrument: his brushes, paint and easel; his film set; his orchestra,” according to John Walters, who interviewed the designer about his life and letterpress for a beautiful new book…

Spread from Alan Kitching – A Life in Letterpress, by John Walters
In Alan Kitching’s hands, “the typography workshop is a complex and subtle instrument: his brushes, paint and easel; his film set; his orchestra,” according to John Walters, the author of Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress

Alan Kitching was born in Darlington, County Durham in 1940. He had acquired a love of printing, drawing and painting whilst at school and by the mid-1950s when he started looking for work, knew that the heavy industry dominating Darlington wasn’t for him. The local employment office told Kitching about a local jobbing printer, so he went with his art teacher and a small portfolio and on the day after his 15th birthday started a six-year apprenticeship as a compositor. It was there that he first encountered modern design through magazines such as Printing Review and British Printer, and became aware of figures such as Jan Tschichold, who influenced his early experiments. But it was while teaching at Watford College of Technology, where Kitching worked with graphic designer Anthony Froshaug, that he developed and found form for his interest in the art and meaning of typographic work.

The book, Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress came about when Kitching’s late wife Celia Stothard – a designer, writer and singer at the Chelsea Arts Club – wrote a piece on their work for John Randle’s Matrix, a chronicle of fine printing and the book arts, in 2004. “We were tampering around, thinking of doing this book ourselves and it never got anywhere, and then she got ill,” Kitching says. “When Celia died I asked my assistant Jon Kielty if he’d help me do a book on her life, Celia Sings, and we put it together in about six months. Simon Esterson came in as art director, and Jon did the day to day. When that came out, I think Laurence [King] saw it, he got in touch and the book that we’ve got now was kind of resurrected.”

Kitching wanted to keep the team who had worked on Celia Sings, and brought in John Walters as author, who started interviewing Kitching in 2012. “He would come over every week in the morning, we’d have coffee and the machine on and I’d just talk to him about the history of the whole thing.”

Kitching started Omnific studio with Martin Lee and Derek Birdsall, who he had met through Anthony Froshaug, in the late 1970s. They worked from a studio in Covent Garden, then still surrounded by typesetters and other service people, until rents shot up and they moved out to a toy factory in Islington. By this time some foundries were starting to sell off their type, and Omnific bought up a press and installed it at their new studio: “All this type was selling off cheap, cheap-ish, and it was the last chance to get this stuff. So we bought it all and I continued printing there for around three years until I decided I wanted to leave. I didn’t really know what I was going to do but I wanted to buy the press and the type and go and print somewhere”, Kitching says. “I didn’t want to be a jobbing printer but I wanted to start out on my own. It was a very precarious thing to do because we were successful, well-established, and I was taking a backwards step, it was a bit of a leap in the dark.”

In the late 1980s the atmosphere around printing “didn’t really exist”, but Birdsall had started as a professor of graphics at the Royal College of Art and convinced Kitching to teach in the letterpress studio one day a week. “I didn’t want to do it, but eventually I gave in so we went. In a way it was great, because they had all the printing gear. It soon came under threat from the rector though, who wanted to get rid of it all – take the college into the 21st Century. But the students saved it.”

Alongside technician Mick Perry, Kitching had started a series of workshops: “I didn’t tell anybody about it, just printed the posters and went round all the departments. Come the following Thursday I go in and there are students waiting and that’s how it started. It got talked about, we kept it high profile, got a piece in Baseline and Creative Review. If the students hadn’t turned up and kept it going, it would have died. Now we can see that letterpress and computers can sit well together.” While the workshops were gaining notoriety, Kitching’s name and that of the letterpress process got around, “other people got interested and now it’s the buzz word,” he says. Kitching maintained a relationship with the college until 2006, and while there he had also been running his own workshop, The Typographic Workshop in Clerkenwell. “And I was never interested in printing, the first thing I’d say when I came into the studio in the morning was ‘I’m not interested in letterpress printing, I’m interested in what you can do with this stuff.’ All this obsolete technology, what can we do new with it now.”

This had been a consideration in Kitching’s commercial work, for clients such as The Guardian for whom he did typographic work that crossed over between the limitations of text and image. “When we were at Omnific the type was very much separate and not treated as one with the image, as it was in the work at The Guardian and for the Dazed & Confused cover from around 2000. I’d always been interested in the imagery of things but it has taken quite a few years to establish that.”

Now based between two studios in Kennington, where he moved with Celia Stothard in the 1990s, Kitching continues both his commercial and personal practice. An example of his poster work includes the poster Rainforest: “It’s written in Portuguese, because they speak Portuguese in Brazil and it has the word running through the forest. Descending from the sky, through the trees, the rain and the earth, all melding together. I always try to have some logic to the job, to the work. That is really what I find interesting.”

March, 2016

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

Somesuch Stories

The Garden of Celestial Delights

The Galactic Expressway Resort had been in development for just short of a decade when they celebrated their soft launch ‘Leave to Remain’ on that fateful Friday of June 24th, 2016…

by Stéphane Guisard, for the European Southern Observatory
No matter humanity’s advancements, an intergalactic excursion never fails to thrill. A sojourn to the stars. A promenade among the planets. The pace of life measured in light years, makes one feel light as a feather, instantly. Indeed, whatever earthbound scales might read prior to departure, soon you really will be, effortlessly, as there’s no need for spin class when zero gravity does the legwork for you – leaving you free to feast on the finest freeze-dried fare without counting a single calorie.

The Galactic Expressway Resort had been in development for just short of a decade when they celebrated their soft launch ‘Leave to Remain’ on that fateful Friday of June 24th, 2016. The intention had been to establish a viable competitor for Dick Pickle’s Coitus Galactic, a flight service offering unencumbered views of our Earth to its ordinary citizens. But the commendable group behind the Galactic Expressway Resort weren’t satisfied with offering mere moments of weightlessness, and a quick selfie before plummeting friends and fuck-buddies back to reality. They facilitated, instead, a home-from-home, a glorious escape from this torrid planet for anything from a long weekend to a lifetime stay.

The resort, built in the Future-Elizabethan style, currently offers accommodation for 255,700 people, the population of Milton Keynes. And in a shrewd move from their PR representation, the purveyors of the resort have announced that they intend to expand their portion of outer space to offer rooms to all who voted to remain in the European Union – aiming to open at full capacity in time for the triggering of Article 50.

In its current form, the Galactic Expressway Resort’s rooms circle a central island that holds covered parklands, entertainment hubs, wellness facilities, learning lounges and a food village. On entry, opulent, threaded ropes lead guests through a bustling conservatory, planted with genetically modified trees designed to thrive in these bizarre circumstances, and past a grand exhibition of portraits representing stars of the Remain campaign including David Beckham, June Sarpong and Brian Blessed. Due to the lack of gravitational pull, to access your room friends have to glide up the conservatory ropes and along through the complex of residences; each decorated in tasteful, muted tones with contemporary European furnishings complete with tie-down detailing.

The food village recalls peak-Las Vegan simulation, and on the same vast scale, with each Rue, Strasse, calle and ulica offering up a glut of continental culinary highlights so guests can devour everything from l’escargot to Sachertorte; goulash to Pastéis de Nata in enviably authentic settings. And of course, there is also much scope for creative self-catering, popular with committed residents who can purchase nutritionally beneficial and psychologically satisfying Fresch© fruits and vegetables, as well as sterilized beef steak, or perhaps scones, from the spacious hypermarkets which boast designated aisles for items from each member state.

The entertainment hubs comprise shopping centres to entice all guests whether budgets accommodate Acne or Chanel, Balenciaga or Zara, whilst regular resupply missions mean your style stays light years ahead, whatever the season down below. Naturally, there are also multiple cinemas, galleries, museums and theatres with programming at each institution bespoke to the resort, and carefully edited to remain on-message. By curating entertainment in this way, friends stay unencumbered by the stresses of divergent opinions, triggering imagery of post-Brexit Britain and those who propagated the unfortunate result. The Galactic Expressway Resort really does seem to be heaven off Earth for Remainers, or rather those who would have remained, had Britain!

Fittingly, the on-board currency is the Euro (<3), which when you’ve grown sick of retail therapy and gloriously high culture, can be utilised at the wellness facilities. There are spas, saunas, gyms, yoga and meditation studios as well as complimentary counsellors, and educational playgrounds for the little ones. The learning lounges, which host classes as well as housing a huge array of books, films and periodicals, are elegantly arranged with contents floating rhythmically behind glass shutters.

Life on the Galactic Expressway Resort can be likened to a spell on one of Earth’s most luxurious cruises, one similarity being that due to the intricacies of the Outer Space Treaty, the shuttle cannot moor for longer than 14 sidereal days in any spot, so one’s view is ever-changing. A curious outcome being the ‘Overview Effect’, something often experienced by astronauts from a time prior to commercial flights, where the view of Earth from space would transform their perspective on the planet and mankind’s place upon it. On returning to earth, they would often describe a new-found appreciation for the interconnectedness of life, the lack of real boundaries between nations and the importance of caring for our environment.

Joyfully, the whole place is climate controlled to a moderate 23C. Our proximity to the sun makes every day seem like a Finnish summer, 20 hours of sunlight at just the right temperature to play swingball without breaking a sweat. The swimming pool is the only location with its own gravity supply, allowing friends to hone their butterfly or just bob about during a morning chat. For moments when the blackness of space gets a bit too much, guests can also project familiar landscapes from Earth across their windows. There’s everything from the Seven Wonders, through to noisy streets, beach scenes and brick walls; as well as the option to upload your own views from home. This seems to be one of few features that entertains nostalgia, the general consensus being that it is best to leave the specifics of one’s recent past on terra firma. Immersion, and all that.

The pervasive air of superiority on the Galactic Expressway Resort is also appealing. Founded in shared opinions and values it appears there is little to dispute except whose turn it is purchase the next bottle of fair trade Bordeaux! However, one issue that seems to arise, quite literally, is that the lack of gravity causes pages from, or entire books to disappear. This also occurs with film reels, and even paintings. According to Alex – who founded the resort but prefers to not invoke traditional hierarchies of profession or gender, so is simply known by their first name – items are occasionally discovered floating through space, having disappeared through a gap in the system. (And in my experience these gaps may well be floating into peoples memories too – there have been multiple occasions during my stay where the mention of the Tory leadership battle, Stranger Things and even Bake Off has been met with bemusement. It’s as if the population has been brainwashed! In fact, on one evening, a long term resident of a certain age grew positively upset by my conversation, and thus I was informed that I must briskly return up the rope to my suite.)


I was unable to complete my stay, or my review, as the next day while floating the aisles of the library I was informed that “Due to unforeseen circumstances, [they] were terribly sorry, but the resort would no longer be able to host me.” I was dispatched home via the return leg of a fruit and vegetable resupply mission, an associate having done my packing, and the whole event was treated with a strange and uncomfortable urgency.

On reflection, it seems that I may have hit a nerve, repeatedly. For the last few months life had been ticking along nicely on the Galactic Expressway Resort, their soft launch had been a roaring success, and in the way that returning to everyday life can cause you to entirely forget a holiday, the friends of the resort seemed to be entirely forgetting their earthly lives.

I was soon contacted by a woman that I had met at one of the evening salons – which had bizarrely been held via a chat service, with each of us sat alone in our rooms while we discussed current affairs – and she informed me she had also been escorted from the resort. It turns out my presence had prompted a shift in the consciousness of the resort, until then they had rather successfully immersed the friends in the culture of life on board, but I had brought along a few too many reminders of life on Earth. A group of dissidents had emerged, challenging Alex and the fellow good friends of the Galactic Expressway Resort on the location of the missing literature, asking probing questions about the development of expansive residences for Alex’s best friends and challenging the long-term safety of the resort’s safe spaces.

It would seem that in all their efforts to create a home-from-home in the heavens for all of us who longed for anything but upheaval, the friends behind the Galactic Expressway Resort had gone and dashed our hopes for moral superiority. What had sounded like absolute heaven turned out to be a rather questionable purgatory; where quality of life was dependent on the degree to which you were willing to fall in line. And soon it transpired that, those unwilling to accept the terms, and adopt every intricacy of the pro-Remain stance of the resort, were informed that they were not Europhile enough, and they would regrettably be advised to leave.

On returning to Earth I took a time out to gather my thoughts and booked a week in Lanzarote, where if you haven’t heard there is a wonderful BBQ restaurant powered by volcanic ash! Anyway, while there I saw what I thought was a shooting star, but transpired to be the Galactic Expressway Resort. A fight had ignited over who would be kind enough to lend an organic match to light a ‘Mindfulness’ candle, and in a truly shocking turn of events the whole place had burst into flames.

October, 2016

All text originally published by Somesuchstories.co. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

AIGA Eye on Design

What Happens When We Reach Peak Magazine?

Issue 01 of Beige, the modern lifestyle magazine for discerning independent thinkers and makers, was released today to a rapt audience of creative influencers the quarterly considers the entire scope of everyday life for the contemporary connoisseur…

Dear Editors, 

Below is a list of the most exciting modern lifestyle magazines set for release this week. I am sure they would all be a perfect fit for your creative platform. Feel free to share the news with your communities on your vlog, Snapchat, or heavily-filtered Instagram, etc!

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you need any more info, pics, or would like to interview one of the esteemed editors, who are all available via FaceTime.

Issue 01 of Beige, the modern lifestyle magazine for discerning independent thinkers and makers, was released today to a rapt audience of creative influencers. Delving deeply into l’estétique beige, the quarterly considers the entire scope of everyday life for the contemporary connoisseur; from cerebral photo stories depicting fulfilling domestic life, to details of accomplished creative work, revered high culture, and the cultivation of a capsule uniform that reflects your irreproachable ethics, subtle intellect, and economic acumen. Beige promotes quality of life through studied, curated takes on life, style, lifestyle, and the means of achieving that lifestyle through a tasteful, ‘Elephant’s Breath’ filter. It makes for a brilliant addition to the newsstand, and although its scope may seem niche, as with all great lifestyle publications, it is really made for anyone with access to a coffee table. “Against a backdrop of beige,” says publisher, editor, art director, and interior designer, Rosalie Verbleken, “everything is illuminated.”

Another exciting release is Louse, the modern lifestyle magazine that explores the life and times of the modern metropolitan woodlouse. The editors take a poetic view on this oft-ignored species, with personal essays, inspired editorials, and woodlouse-themed sonnets, as well as brand collaborations with independent jewellers and clothing designers who draw inspiration from the form and features of the urban woodlouse, a nocturnal crustacean who feeds off of dead plant material. Not unlike us – pass the kale crisps!

Before I go on, I’d like to draw your attention to a podcast series that I think your readers would love. The Dinner Game will focus on one modern food lifestyle magazine each week, diving into the harsh business realities of making a modern lifestyle magazine, and food. After all, isn’t food the one thing we all share? The first season is already slated to include Caesar Salad, the modern lifestyle magazine for political influencers, where every interview takes place over a tax-payer-subsidised lunch; Bro-yo, the modern lifestyle magazine for bros who LOVE frozen yogurt; and Kimchi, the modern lifestyle magazine for women who are equally interested in knowing what’s going on in the world of Korean fermentation, as they are getting the hottest gossip and fashion tips from Kim Kardashian, Kim Gordon, and tyrannical despot Kim Jong-un.

The second series is already set to explore magazines about hair—not just hair, but dyed hair. It’s incredible how much editorial inspiration and advertorial innovation can be mined from even the most prohibitively specific briefs. One of the early stars of the nascent genre is Brunette?, the modern lifestyle magazine for creatives with dyed (is it dyed?) brown hair. What exactly is the life experience of the dark-haired, jet-setting elite? Brunette? intends to find out.

Also fresh to the newsstand is Haven, the modern lifestyle magazine for creative influencers keen to stash their cash offshore. There’s always been a lot of negative press about tax avoidance, but Haven tells a different story—one focusing on the beautiful landscapes, architecture, and pleasure yachts that embezzling billions can afford. Issue 01 heads to Andorra, a stunning principality nestled between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains rumoured to be the hot tip for laundering Russian currency in 2017. And the skiing is to DIE for.

Dérive is the modern lifestyle magazine for creative influencers and thought leaders that takes a look at derivative art and design through the lens of the dérive, a practice made popular by the Situationist International. A dérive involves running around, quite aimlessly, and at pace, and in Dérive the interviews are held in this heightened context of breathlessness to deliver maximum authenticity—making even the most mundane interaction seem relevant.

That’s all for this week, but stay tuned for next week’s magazine update, when we’ll be profiling Drip, the modern lifestyle magazine for shy coffee drinkers; Estatic, the modern lifestyle and interiors magazine for creatives living in on-trend housing estates; and Femilist, the modern lifestyle magazine for feminist creative influencers who enjoy listicles. 

And they said print was dead!

April, 2017

All text originally published by eyeondesign.aiga.org. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

by Sophy Hollington