Cologne Revolving or how to turn a knife and still stay put
von Thomas Wagner | Jan 26, 2010

Glancing at the marble bust of Julius Caesar at the stand of a producer of tasteful yesteryear objets, you almost feared this year's imm cologne had actually plumped for the "all or nothing" option. Fortunately, however, the fair went for compromise and avoided having to choose between the two extremes. Even in year one after the major crisis, triumph or defeat is not the question. Consolidation is the order of the day. After all, as regards the immune system of the home, at least, the sector is not actually doing that badly, even if in the first ten months of 2009 sales in the German furniture industry fell by 12.7 percent to EUR 11.3 billion.

Revolving Realities

Significantly, a quite different warning sign, which will supposedly take concrete shape in the coming years, emerged on the other side of the Rhine. To be more precise: in the covered, hangar-like interior courtyard of Meiré und Meiré's factory in Ehrenfeld, in the lobby of which there was a high-end set of deSede sofas, Vorwerk had new textile tile concepts by Hadi Teherani on display, and Siedle presented itself as the "guardian of the threshold" to the feel-good zone. In collaboration with the composer Marcus Schmickler the media artists in the "Interpalazzo" group had created an "auto-reactive" installation entitled Revolving Realities in the transformed industrial park which, for all its ambivalence, could certainly be the shape of things to come. What has been achieved under the patronage of Mike Meiré as part of the Dornbracht Culture Projects, combines design with media art and marketing in an effective way.

Based on a monumental model of a Dornbracht fitting, a sort of "hyper-cubist" sculpture, by means of various feedback loops between billowing projections, illuminated cords extending across several levels and hearing ranges that moved through the room, a dialog between the media in the room emerged. The powers of sight and vision were permanently subjected to changing influences, creating an artificial space in which each element had its own territory while at the same time interacting. This was a real room, yet one that was never tangible, in which there were flashes and bangs, which seemed to light up and darken of its own accord - and which for precisely this reason in its empty self-reference seemed to be a projection of the future into the present. The media circle around themselves, providing their own illumination.

Optimized space management

One can makes things easy and assign Revolving Realities to the field of media art. This does not alter the fact, however, that in comparison with this generative, revolving and self-reflecting reality, everything on display in the trade fair halls in Deutz as well as the remaining "Passagen" program inevitably came across as conservative and stale. This is even the case if one recognizes the fact that this year's space management in the trade air halls was far more successful than 12 months ago, when Joep van Lieshout's giant "Environments" filled the empty spaces. The mood among the producers was also better this year, after all, the fair had endeavored to embark on a clear consolidation course, something that could certainly be sensed. It has finally dawned that the "Passagen" by no means represent competition for the fair, but that in order to survive in the future Cologne actually needs both tangents. What also became clear, however, was that a without a corresponding curating concept the "Passagen" will degenerate more and more into generality that in many respects is of little attraction.

Pure Village

That's the thing about this "revolving". You have to get the spin of it. Which also applies to the "Pure Village in Hall 3.2. This was intended to be an attempt to break free of the grid of trade air stands and bring together furniture, luminaires, kitchens, bathroom fittings and accessories in abstract architecture. However, exhibition architecture alone that is basically arbitrary and indeed unexciting does not determine content; not to mention the fact that the whole thing was if anything reminiscent of a village rather than the exciting atmosphere of a big city.

Instead of actually creating different contexts, in which various manufacturers' products are combined to create a new type of room in which they can compete with each other aesthetically or economically, there was merely an all too colorful mixture of heterogeneous products. In this particular village there were simply too many rabbits on the tabletops, there were too many amusing tables and too many decorative flames for the attempt to be taken seriously. What is missing here as well is proper organization in terms of theme and content, so as to be able to stage an exhibition in which more is recognizable than the hodgepodge of present-day diversity. The work by young talent and universities on Level 3.1 seemed simply fresher and bolder, even though here as well the process of further obscuring the difference between art and design produced just as few surprises.

Classics promise stability

Apart from a few exceptions Hall 11 continued to bank on stability and the classic Modernism repertoire. The prominent manufacturers that were absent were made up for with in some cases giant stands. This is not what is meant by diversity. Nonetheless Interlübke's "reef" represented a multi-faceted, convincing reinterpretation of the wall cabinet system in which - in elements of different depth and height - crockery can be stored just as easily as suits and books. Other new products such as "cube", "algo" and the "faenum" bed range rounded out the company's appearance. Under the name "Black Series" Walter Knoll assembled not high-power sports cars but a black, high-end and cool edition of the "369", "Vostra", "Turtle" and "Mychair" armchairs. The reinterpretation of the classic "FK", whose outer shell is now shiny, setting it off more clearly from the leather cover and giving the chair a more slender middle, also fits in well. Which goes to prove that proven success stories and familiar faces can certainly stomach a makeover.

There has to be nature

If one wants to talk about trends at all, these can be distilled from everything that comes together at a fair. Deciding on them in advance and arranging them under titles such as "Trickery - Staging" or "Discipline - No Jokes, No Fakes" is just what it always was: a marketing desire that compiles things together, something that could be completely different. The fact there are also dustpans and brushes in the disciplined room nonetheless revealed a sense of humor.

The stronger presence of wood - preferably light and friendly - as a material was hard to miss. With it, liberal mass culture is discovering a lifestyle that assiduously tends to its own clear conscience. What ten year ago e15 started as a combination of advanced design and natural materials is now mainstream, only now the innumerable tree stumps have become more bulky and the whole thing comes across as being ostentatiously in too close touch with nature. As world order and lifestyles have diverged, simply displaying a coffee-table book about the wildness of the forests does not create a natural environment. As little as covering chests of drawers in cowhide or confusing the use of artisan techniques with a license for nostalgia.

As early as last year in Milan the three Swedish designers from "Front", whom the magazine "A&W" recently named "Designers of the "Year", demonstrated in full media gaze and furthermore in a clever, tongue-in-cheek way, how to deal with topics such as wood and nature. Their solid wooden bench is not even made of wood but of foam: Nature as its own image.


And something else is noticeable. Almost everywhere modules were stacked on top of and over each other, to demonstrate variability and achieve longevity. Nowadays the boxes' and cases' neo-cubism furnishing style is available in all categories of price and quality, making us tend to forget that for the modern nomad DIY stores are still the actual source when it comes to furnishing one's space oneself. Anybody with a preference for something particularly robust will have found what they were looking for, for example, at "Team by wellis", where in "Giro" Kurt Erni has designed a range consisting of 17 cubic parts, which can be linked together, pushed against each other and positioned at angles to one another. The "Diverso" table, the width of which can be adjusted by means of a crank handle, with the tabletop and veneer moving apart and forming a corresponding pattern, also proves to be highly ingenious.

Arts and crafts instead of design?

In general in Cologne hand-made goods and arts and crafts would appear to be surfacing again. It is indeed amazing how quickly the void left behind in Cologne by absent designer manufacturers has been filled by handicraft beginnings or, in other words, the term design has been loosened from its industrial anchoring. One reason for this may well be thc fact that design is currently experiencing a hype similar to that of contemporary art, though designers often want to be nothing more than artists, i.e., producers of originals. On top of which, on the back of a close link with ecology - the disguise term "sustainability" as a marketing language code is still being bandied about everywhere - suddenly those people who if anything come from the make-the-world-a-better-place fraction regard themselves as designers.

As such, imm cologne is still in danger of stabilizing economically but in doing so developing into a respectable furniture fair with a considerable proportion of handicraft and flea market elements. The, at the best of times diffuse, term design could well take a back seat - or like gravy that homogenizes everything and conceals all the contradictions, be poured over everything referred to as shaping. Cologne would then be what it was for some time and at which it did not do too badly: a respectable and important trade fair with affiliated annual design event. That's the thing about "revolving". Sometimes you revolve too far and spin off in the direction of the past.

New products of imm cologne 2010, Frankfurt

Pure Village; Discipline curated by Cecilie Manz
Pure Village; Discipline curated by Cecilie Manz
Wodden carpet by Elisa Strozyk / Design talents
Knitted room by Chae Young Kim, South Korea / Design talents
Knitted room by Chae Young Kim, South Korea / Design talents
Booth of University of Design, Karlsruhe / Design talents
Love by Klara Sumova, Czech Republic / Design talents
Booth of e15
Booth of e15
Schellmann Furniture, Munich
Plurima by Charlotte Perriand for Cassina
Booth by Cassina
Booth by Voice
Ruche by Inga Sempé for Ligne Roset
Lighting by Tunto
Revolving Realities by Interpalazzo, Meiré and Meiré for Dornbracht Edges / Passagen Programm
Revolving Realities by Interpalazzo, Meiré and Meiré for Dornbracht Edges / Passagen Program
Siedle by Meiré and Meiré / Passagen Program
Seven Light von Ilja Oelschlägel, Graduate; Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle / Design talents
Juuri by Sarah Böttger, University of Design, Offenbach / Design talents
Booth of University of Design, Offenbach / Design talents
Love by Klara Sumova, Czech Republic / Design talents
Under-Koffer by Robert Haslbeck, Germany / Design talents
Booth of e15
Schellmann Furniture, Munich
Richard Lampert
Booth by Jan Kath
Booth by Jan Kath
Jalis by Jehs+Laub for COR
Arlequin by Jean Francois d'or for Ligne Roset
Lantern by Mathias Hahn for Ligne Roset
La Plic wall light by Nathalie Dewez for Ligne Roset