Monthly Archives: September 2008

Let’s be truly global

I have just come across a piece that William Drenttel wrote for Design Observer earlier this month. It was in response to an all-male, all-white, all-Anglo jury panel put together by Adbusters magazine for the One Flag graphic design competition. I copy some excerpts below, you can read the whole piece here.

This is a competition for a flag to represent global citizenship — in this, the year of Barack Obama; the year of the 45th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech; and the year we celebrate the 88th anniversary of the U.S. 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. While the examples are rooted in American cultural experience, the principle — and the conclusion — remains the same: this is not the time for such limited vision. What winner would be proud of such an achievement, cast in these harsh terms?

[…] I’m writing this here not to further abuse Adbusters, but to forcefully argue that this should not happen again. It is time for organizations to encourage diversity as a part of developing new ideas, excellence and a richness in the future of design — an increased focus on multiculturalism, gender equality and globalism is more than appropriate in these times. Designers should take a personal pledge that they will not participate in events or initiatives that do not include participation by others, whether of sex, color or language. It’s a simple step, but it’s time.

Adbusters has acknowledged the problem and is reportedly working on selecting a more diverse panel.


The Ballad of the Styrofoam Cup

Recycling and re-using ordinary everyday things to turn them into exquisite glamour-infused objects of art and design is a practice that has become increasingly mainstream, ever since it was showcased almost a decade ago now at the ICA’s Stealing Beauty exhibition in London, curated by Claire Catteral. I have been following the trend with great interest as it has seeped into the recesses of contemporary culture, as an easy conceptual shortcut to comment on the evils of our throwaway society, the excesses of consumerism, the beauty of anonymous objects and the need for sustainable practices.

This now hegemonic trend is about to be enshrined for good in the inaugural exhibition of New York’s new Museum of Arts and Design, Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary.  (Sept 27, 2008 – Feb 15, 2009). Here’s the blurb:

The exhibition features work by 50 international established and emerging artists from all five continents who create objects and installations comprised of ordinary and everyday manufactured articles, most originally made for another functional purpose. The exhibition includes works by well known designers, Ingo Maurer, Tejo Remy, and the Campana Brothers as well as internationally acclaimed artists, such as Tara Donovan, Xu Bing, El Anatsui, and Do Ho Suh.

Highlights from the show include American artist Tara Donovan’s Bluffs, a group stalagmite shaped structures made of clear plastic buttons delicately placed one on top of the other. Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist creates a jacket made of military dog tags, portraying the way a solider is part of a larger troop.

Paul Villinski, an American, creates beautiful butterflies out of his old record collection, producing a “soundtrack” of his life. English artist Susie MacMurray used yellow rubber washing gloves, turned them inside out and stitched onto a calico form to create an imposing out-sized dress.

Other featured works are made from buttons, spools of thread, artificial hair, used high-heeled shoes, plastic spoons and forks, shopping bags, and 25-cent coins to mention only a few.

The exhibition surveys the rich artistic landscape of much contemporary art, in which hierarchies among art, craft, and design are disregarded. In addition, the exhibition examines the ways in which artists transform our world, respond to contemporary cultural paradigms, and comment on global consumerism.

I offer today for your entertainment, a few snapshots of the humble styrofoam cup on its journey of reincarnation as a lamp, which of course hasn’t made it any more sustainable, but is nevertheless turning it into an A-list celebrity of the creative re-use gang.

If you have come across other interesting examples of this, please send me a picture! bcnd [at]

Styrene Lamp. Paul Cocksedge, 2003

"Styrene Lamp". Paul Cocksedge, 2003

“Untitled (Styrofoam Cups)” Tara Donovan, 2008.

“Untitled (Styrofoam Cups)” Tara Donovan, 2008.

Styrolight from (Issue 4)

"Styrolight" from (Issue 4)

Self-made Styrofoam cups chandelier posted on Apartment Therapy, 2005.

Self-made Styrofoam cups chandelier posted on Apartment Therapy, 2005.

Garbage Lamp, Peter Castellucci, 2008.

"Garbage Lamp", Peter Castellucci, 2008.

Ikea copies Spanish design

Kodama series, by Damaris y Marc Design

Kodama series, by Damaris y Marc Design, 2006.

It is often said that plagiarism is the best form of compliment. Having been on the receiving end of that kind of behaviour, I can say that even if that were true, it’s a small consolation.

Designboom reported yesterday that Swedish furniture giant Ikea has copied a table design by Barcelona based team Damaris y Marc, who designed the Kodama collection of tables and storage units in 2006, combining a simple minimalist square box with Louis XV style ‘pied de biche’ legs. Ikea now offers various pieces based on that formal model, and credits Ola Wihlborg and Wiebke Braasch as the designers of the collection and of the virtually identical Trollsta side table.

There is probably little the Spanish design duo can do about this, given the labyrinthine nature of intellectual property law. But we can perhaps fall back on the small consolation prize, and realise that if anything proves that Spanish design has come of age, this might be it.

IKEA Trollsta side table

IKEA Trollsta side table

Disechos ’08 – Design and Creative Recycling

Disechos 08. Meeting about design and creative recycling, Valencia.

Disechos 08 is kicking off in Valencia today, a week-long exploration of low-tech sustainable design, through exhibitions, workshops and panel discussions. Disechos 08 incorporates the work developed by design studio Flou Flou through their ongoing MAKEA project, which explores recycling ideas by co-ordinating the contribution of outsider or non-professional design.

In July 2008, participants of Makea Tu Vida (Makea your life) spent two days roaming through the streets of the Raval and Eixample districts of Barcelona. They re-arranged and marked all the discarded furniture and assorted objects they could find with the MAKEA ‘brand’, as a sign of the need to recycle and re-use objects and make the consumption cycle more sustainable. Check out some great pictures of their street installations here.

Dr Jeckyll Mr Hyde Barcelona

Woody Allen’s film Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which was filmed here last year and premiered in the city a few days ago, has generated a lot of controversy along the road. The hot topic was the rumour that it received considerable financial support from local public institutions such as the Generalitat (Catalan regional government), the Spanish Ministry of Culture, and the Barcelona Municipality (the latter to the tune of one million euros or so). Others insisted Allen’s film had been no exception and had benefited from the usual range of institutional support offered to filmmakers in Spain.

There has been much bad feeling buzzing around Barcelona for the last few years as the locals have felt increasingly overwhelmed by the sell-out success of the Barcelona Brand, which has transformed the city almost beyond recognition, not always for the best. Many complain that they now live in a theme-park, and that the entrance ticket is beyond their means. And Allen’s film will only make things worse in that respect – Javier Bardem, the film’s male lead, commented in a recent interview that he felt sorry for the Barcelonese: ‘Where are you going to put all the people that will now flock to the city, in ever greater numbers?’ he wondered.

Woody Allen has said that the Barcelona of his film is the one seen by two young American tourists. I will happily report on exactly what kind of Barcelona that is, but I expect to see a lot of Gaudi architecture and possibly (incongruously) a bit of flamenco. More on that in a later post.

In the meantime, while the official Barcelona Brand cannot but be strengthed by the film, another branding battle is taking place around the city’s image, this time centered on a violent new computer game that uses the Catalan capital’s streets as its playground. The Wheelman, starring Vin Diesel, has a violent storyline of gang warfare, corruption and chaos. The game’s webpage explains that it is

Set in the exotic location of Barcelona, Spain. This classic European city is densely populated with traffic and pedestrians that react intelligently to your actions as you roam around realistic environments filled with massively destructible objects.

That all sounds pretty realistic to me, except for the intelligent reaction bit. And I love the idea of ‘massively destructible objects’ as an actual category of things. But as you can well imagine, the Barcelona Municipality was not pleased. Its lawyers have spent all summer trying to find a legal base to ban Midway, the game’s producer, from using Barcelona as a location.

Unfortunately the press reported yesterday that they had been unsuccessful, and the game will be released in a few weeks. Vin Diesel will be free to roam the exotic Catalan streets massively destroying every single destructible object (and individual) in his path. Montserrat Ballarin, the town Councillor in charge of the proceedings, has explained that Barcelona can’t sue Midway for tainting its image, because cities don’t actually seem to legally own their image:

No se puede reclamar a los creadores que resarzan por los daños que pueden provocar a la imagen de Barcelona, porque las ciudades no tienen recogido ese derecho“, ha explicado la concejal. [source]

Hector Serrano at 100% Design, London

Hector Serrano‘s project Waterdrop, developed in collaboration with Javier Esteban for Spanish bathroom company Roca, is currently on show at 100% design in London. The installation is presented as a tribute to water, and aims to capture its movement and beauty. Watch the animation here.

Serrano, originally from Valencia, studied Design Products at the Royal College of Art and is now based in London. His studio works on commercial designs with Spanish and international companies, but has also developed a strong experimental side with projects such as their Reduced Carbon Footprint Souvenirs, that can be sent by e-mail and then manufactured on demand using stereolithography rapid prototyping.

Art and design – or is it just food?

Ferran Adria. Photograph: Sophia Evans

Adrian Searle has been art critic for the UK’s The Guardian newspaper for over a decade. Last week, he was trying to come to grips with the notion of food as art, and the result is a fascinating and engaging article about his dining experience at El Bulli, celebrity chef Ferran Adria’s mega-famous restaurant on the Costa Brava, North of Barcelona. Ever since he was invited to participate at last year’s Documenta 12 art show in Kassel, Germany, Adria has been at the epicenter of a heated global discussion about art, food, gastronomy, creativity, value, taste, and the meaning of life.

I have been lucky enough to eat at El Bulli. It was a very long time ago (early 90s), when waiting lists there were only a couple of months long, rather than a couple of years. The food was excentric, surprising, inspired, endlessly varied and delicious. I’m not queasy when it comes to eating – bone marrow, frog’s legs, snails, pig’s trotters and shiokara (fermented calamari intestines) are all on my top ten list. So I enjoyed the slightly awkward ingredient combinations and the beautiful presentation of the long list of dishes served.

What surprises me about the current debate, however, is that with all the discussion about whether Adria’s food is art and whether chefs are artists and so on, the possibility that his cooking might actually be closer to design than to art has never been mentioned. I realise it makes it all far less transcendent – apologies for that. But quite frankly, it seems pretty obvious when you think of it. Food has an essential practical side to it, a driving functionality behind its making. There is a complex planning strategy involved at the outset (menu, ingredients, processes, tools, etc.),  a sophisticated manufacturing process that has become increasingly technological in Adria’s case (molecular gastronomy!), an exquisite aesthetic input to round things off, a serial production of model dishes and specific instructions for the appropriate use and consumption of the resulting food. Furthermore, Adria spends his winters doing research and development at his Barcelona Lab, El Taller (‘The Workshop’) and then produces the selected new menus during the summer months at El Bulli. You can even visit El Bulli’s website and browse their complete online General Catalogue, listing all their products ‘manufactured’ between 1983 and 2005.

So my vote goes to Ferran Adria as one of Barcelona’s greatest designers.