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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Li Edelkoort's Post Fossil Exhibition: Breaking with the past. Is this the first major design movement of the 21st century?


When top trends forecaster Li Edelkoort curates a design exhibition, you know it’s time to sit up and pay attention. She’s named the show Post Fossil after the post-fossil fuel age we must inevitably face and she describes it as ‘a break with the last century’ and ‘a new idiom of design’. 

Peter Marigold, Split Box Shelves, 2007
Chance and performance play their parts in this site-specific piece where logs are randomly split into four parts and turned into boxes whose angles always add up to 360 degrees, regardless of their irregular shapes. 
Opening at Ron Arad’s stunning new Design Museum Holon on January 27th 2011, it is not to be confused with the Switzerland-based collective, (as seen in Milan’s 2010 Salone Satellite) who are unrelated to Edelkoort’s exhibition but espouse many of the same ideas. This Post Fossil is an expanded version of the show curated by Edelkoort in Spring 2010 for Tokyo’s 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, conceived at the request of Edelkoort’s friend, fashion designer Issey Miyake, who wanted an antidote to the sleek, minimal design styles so prevalent in Japan (and the wider world) today.

The Fred and Wilma of Post Fossil BCXSY (Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto) 

Having attended the London press conference on Thursday, my first impressions of the works on show, by over sixty designers, were of anarchy, chaos and dare I say it… a certain brutal ugliness. Hopefully quite natural reactions as this budding aesthetic is such a break with the styles of recent times, after a couple of decades spent endlessly looking backwards with the whole retro obsession and innumerable witty re-workings on objects of the past, such as Starck’s Louis Ghost chair. These pieces are harking back, in an indirect fashion, but to a time almost before history (a huge subject for me and one which I’ll no doubt be talking about many times in this blog). So here we have the primitive, handcrafted and earthbound, as opposed to glamorous, glossy and space age. Rustic materials and ancient techniques are put to entirely different and novel uses and various designers explore the links between objects made entirely by one individual and the world of mass manufacturing.

Atelier NL Lonny van Ryswyck, Drawn from Clay Tableware, 2006
van Ryswyck achieves her colour variations by using clay from different parts of the Netherlands, to explore notions of origin and identity. 
One word used a lot by Edelkoort in her talk was ‘humble’ and, for me, it was crucial. This is a brash age of colossal yet fragile egos (think of the hip hop stars worshipped by millions) and the ‘because I’m worth it’ sense of entitlement pushed by advertisers to a mushrooming global middle-class. I think we could all use a little humility – it’s an attractive and underrated quality and this show has it in spades. 

Marijn van der Poll, Do hit Chair, 1999, Photo by Droog
This chair is hammered into shape from its original cube form. The catalogue describes this an a metaphor for breaking with the past in order to break into a new period.

And while many of the pieces in this show have been around for a few years now, the ever heightening global crisis (surely no need to go over the myriad issues again here), means that the time feels right for this movement to step from obscurity towards the mainstream as we are obliged to sever our ties with the past and look towards what must necessarily be a radically different future. Interestingly, online design magazine, Dezeen compared the Tokyo show to the Arte Povera movement of 1960s Italy, which attacked the values of the established institutions of government, industry and culture. All of which, God knows, need a shake up today. These pieces may not be easy on the eye at first but they are, for the most part, engaging and compelling and feel very right for the times we live in and face ahead. I am learning to love them. 

Shir Atar, Elevation, Pile & Stump, 2009-10, Photo by Michael Fisch

And if you’re thinking, ‘yes, all very valid, but will it work in my lounge?’ and struggling to imagine the real home in which this movement could play a part, Edelkoort sees it mixing in with pieces that have an industrial feel. I myself would also throw in a lot of rough-hewn wood, coarse yarned textiles and some ultra-simple traditional African or Indian furniture. And in such a setting, I imagine these pieces could be very successful. In fact, all things considered, I think that Post Fossil could be the nugget of the world’s next big design movement, heading steadily towards its tipping point.

Pieke Bergmans, Crystal Virus, 2005-8
Bergmans is interested in the blurred dimension at which art and design meet.

From the Post Fossil catalogue:
"Time has come for extreme change.
Society is ready to break away from last century for good.
To break with creative conventions,
theoretic rules and stigmas that now are questioned,
challenged and broken.
To break with a materialistic mentality replacing
it with the crafted materialisation of modest
earth-bound and recomposed matter.
In the aftermath of the worst financial crisis
in decades, a period of glamorous and streamlined
design for design's sake comes to an end.
A new generation of designers retrace their roots,
refine their earth and research their history,
sometimes going back to the beginning of time.
In this process, they form and formulate design around
natural and sustainable materials, favoring timber,
hide, pulp, fibre, earth and fire.
Like contemporary cavemen, they reinvent shelter,
redesign tools and manmade machines, and
conceptualize archaic rituals for a more modest,
content and contained lifestyle.
Like a Fred Flintstone of the future."

Lidewij Edelkoort, Exhibition Director

LINK: Design Museum Holon
LINK: Li Edelkoort

Guus van Leeuwen, Domestic Animals Radiator, 2008, Photo by Renee van der Hulst
Designed to remind consumers of a time when people lived above their livestock to profit from their heat.