I'm republishing today a piece about Belgium is Design's exhibition "Perspectives" at Milan's Triennale that I recently did for another publication.
Creativity does not mean improvising with no method at all, Italian artist and designer Bruno Munari often claimed in his works. Creating is indeed the result of a series of operations involving precise objective values that turn into vitally important tools in the hands of talented designers. If that's what the act of creation implies, you can bet that Munari would be intrigued by the way the contemporary Belgian designers reunited in the “Perspectives” exhibition at Milan’s Triennale have been using these tools.
Organised under the Belgium is Design moniker and curated by Giovanna Massoni, “Perspectives” looks at the current landscape of Belgian design and features 25 Belgian established and emerging designers and a few companies as well.
The showcase presents functional solutions such as Bram Boo's “Overdose” desk, that attempts to put order into disorder, next to more conceptual projects such as 51N4E, Chevalier-Masson and Julie Vandenbroucke’s “Lichtbed”, an oversized macro foam structure emphasising social relations, or to modern designs like Maarten de Ceulaer’s bulbous chairs, sofas and stools from the “Mutation Series”.
Traditional materials, such as solid wood for coffee tables (Kaspar Hamacher) and natural tanned leather for slippers delivered in 2D that the wearer can customise into a 3D object (Linde Hermans), are juxtaposed to the latest technology employed in Xavier Lust’s "Algue”, an ornamental lamp using a LED light source and 3D stereolithography printing, or in Unfold’s series of porcelain pieces designed for a ceramic 3D printer, each characterised by its own source code that refers to the number of facets from which the object is constructed.
Eco-friendly products include rugs made with bicycle inner tubes (Papilio/Prado Rugs Nv) and portable solar lamps (Alain Gilles), but the most interesting thing about this showcase is the fact that next to industrial products, self-produced designs, one-off pieces and prototypes, there are also ideas for multi-disciplinary co-creative platforms and open work projects (Openstructures’ “OS Waterboiler”, available as a DIY kit), all developed to improve the quality of our lives.
What's new in this edition of Belgium is Design compared to last year’s?
Giovanna Massoni: We decided to take a “broader step” rather than just a step forward, presenting a much wider vision of modern design that also reflects the present situation in Belgium and in the rest of the world. This year we tried to give relevance to the concept of perspective. We are indeed designing for today, but we are thinking about the future, a necessity required also by our responsibilities towards our planet. Besides, when I talk about taking a broader step, I refer to the fact that, apart from product design, this year we also feature a series of applications of designer’s projects and ideas to other things, so we look at co-design, social design and open source, a new methodology focused on the process of sharing the design of an object or a service through a network of ideas and contributions.
What’s the keyword to this year’s showcase?
Giovanna Massoni: With this edition of the event we will be reconsidering pluri-disciplinariety. “Perspectives” features indeed unique pieces, designs produced in series and designers offering not products but services. I find this aspects particularly interesting as designers are finally entering some aspects of the public administration using their methodology, creativity and research skills to suggest solutions that can be functional, ethical and innovative.
Where does the pluri-disciplinary approach of Belgian designers derive from?
Giovanna Massoni: The pluri-disciplinary trend derives from Belgian architect and teacher Henri van de Velde, the precursor of the Bauhaus. This trend has always been embedded in the creative DNA of the country, and that’s why designers often push themselves to explore more fields, disciplines or materials, avoiding to specialise in just one sector, but opening up to others as well.
In your opinion, what’s the role of the designer nowadays?
Giovanna Massoni: The designer is not an entity at the service of the industry, but can offer a fundamental contribution to the development of our society. A designer can take part also in the management of the public administration: “Perspectives” features for example a design agency working as consultant for the application of the Agenda 21 at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Strategic Design Scenarios is taking care of verifying if the agendas are respected and offers advice on local systems and tools that can enable the transition towards sustainability and towards offering more functional and accessible services to citizens.
In your opinion, what's the main difference between designers based in Belgium and designers based in other countries such as Italy?
Giovanna Massoni: We have two communities and three regions - Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia - so Belgium is smaller than Italy and it’s therefore simpler to reach those aims and objectives that often find obstacles in Italy because of local bureaucracy. Yet there is also another important point that somehow justifies the creativity of Belgian designers: the industry in Belgium has a much more limited power, therefore designers are more free and less influenced by the marketing apparatuses. This sort of distance between the designers and the industry is important, because it creates time between the idea and the project being developed, and designers often look for a company that can produce their work in another country at the end of this process. In Belgium there is still a lot of time to dedicate to the development of an idea. Time is a vitally important aspect as our society does not seem to have any time to invest in the research aspect since investing in the research is obviously a question of time and money, and this is a shame. Italy has a very interesting environment, but, while in the ‘50s-'60s Italian designers were into creating things just for the sake of it, nowadays the time to develop an idea is shorter. This gap between the idea and its development has also got its negative sides, though, because Belgian designers also suffer when there is no immediate answer from the industry and their works end up remaining confined at prototype level. But this is also the main reason why Belgian designers are less commercial: they do not feel the need to answer to any strict marketing rules established by large companies.
Perspectives is at the Triennale di Milano until 22nd April. Other Belgium is Design events: “10 Young Designers from Wallonia and Brussels” (until 22nd April) at SaloneSatellite, Rho, Milan and Insalata Belga (Belgian Salad), Brussels food design aperitif at the Triennale di Milano (outdoor), everyday until 20th April from 6.30 to 8.00 p.m.
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