See me! Believe me!
Von Martina Metzner | Apr 16, 2014

As if by way of guarantee that one knows one’s stuff, there is at almost every other booth: a chair. The chair as the premier achievement of design expertise, as the proof of one’s excellence, of crafts and technology inputs, and not least of a mindset underpinning the designs. We’re at the Salone Satellite in Hall 13/15, where the young ones of design gather (this year 650 talented young people at about 120 booths), each hoping that they’re about to launch on a career like Stefan Diez or Sebastian Herkner, both of whom were discovered at the “small” Salone.

The opportunities don’t come free. The booth fee is about 2,700 euros and just under half the participants are here for the second time, none of them are aged over 35 and they’ve all just graduated, or are still busy studying. The path into self-employment as a designer calls for endurance and tenacity. The German duo Geckeler Michels (i.e., David Geckeler and Frank Michels from Berlin) have landed their first win along the way: It stands silently in the rearmost niche, their “Nerd Chair” for Muuto – as something to sit on, not as an exhibit, as you are only allowed to display things here that are not yet being marketed or that are not more than two years old. In order not to rest on the laurels of their first chair, Geckeler Michels have immediately followed through, with a bright blue seating shell chair which thrones on refined steel skids. The plan is to make it from plastic, but at the moment it is all foam, which is why a small discussion ensues with a visitor who wants to handle the chair, with Frank Michels immediately intervening to stop him. After all, the foam is fragile, and the chair is a prototype.

Just round the corner, Guglielmo Poletti, a bright North Italian who first studied art history before being tempted into design, awaits clients. He wants to persuade them to sit only just above floor level, namely with a lounger that consists of a three times bent and leather-covered metal panel. The seat itself thus slopes slightly forward and the backrest is decidedly low. You can indeed sit on the chic set, but is it comfortable? Will we really, with globalization, end up like the Japanese and the Indians sitting on the floor to eat? Be that as it may, many are fascinated by Poletti’s idea.

How different the chairs seem that are reminiscent of the solid wooden furniture of our childhood, but thankfully are more intelligent. For example, the chair by Italo-Portuguese-German designer trio From, which stands firm on two legs that are in turn fastened to skids to guarantee stability. But you can achieve the same without legs, as shown by the wooden chair by Hungarian Andras Kerekgyarto, which with its organic shapes seems to have been cut from a tree trunk and offers a convincing mix of folds and surfaces.

Even if chairs are the absolute stars at the Satellites, all the things flocking round them like so many groupies definitely have the means to be the stars of tomorrow: tables, side tables, shelves, storage compartments, vases, wardrobes, etc. etc. They’re all extremely flexible in how they can be used and often offer several different functions. Furniture as flexible as are we, furniture for the tiniest of spaces that will perhaps later grow or shrink again, each time we relocate, change jobs or income brackets. Small tables, for example, that, as in the case of Leko, even provide storage space through a cunning folding mechanism, or, as with Kaschkasch, folds such as to stand flat against the wall. Hanna Emelie Ernsting is also out to deliver combined multifunctional furniture, such as an armchair which uses a blanket as a cover – an old faithful among students since time immemorial.

At the Salone Satellite you can easily discern the major currents en miniature. Here, you’ll again encounter the wish for simplicity, for the handmade beyond our technological world. For example, most impressively in the case of the large luminaire by the designer tandem Miriam Aust and Sebastian Amelung, or Aust + Amelung for short. The luminaire follows the DIY principle of being banged together from simple slats, and looks like a large crane, which you can tilt and set using a sand sack as a counterpoint. Miriam Aust says how surprising it always is the way people respond to the luminaire with such astonishment. And yet it is simply the age-old principle of the scales applied once again.

Needless to say, the new thirst for gardening is also in evidence, and a young Italian who hides behind the Dossofiorito label presents plant containers that come with magnifying glasses and mirrors to draw attention to the “tender”, indeed “human” sides of plants. A sweet and fun idea, bringing a smile to visitors’ faces, but is it really worth an entire booth?

At the Salone Satellite there are of course LEDs and occasionally even OLEDs to spark inventors’ imagination. For example at From, who came tops in the Satellite Awards with their LED rod pendant luminaire. In lighting design, not only rods but also circles are all the rage, as demonstrated for example by Britain’s Vera & Kyte, by Kaschkasch or Joa Herrenknecht, both from Germany. Last but not least, there are versions of Tom Dixon’s super-selling “Beat” lamp, on show here in all sorts of different materials and made in all sorts of different ways.

Evil minds claim there is a new category in design. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it “Facebook design”. Anyone often using social media will perhaps intuit: There are objects with a certain “see me, believe me” effect. Here, the pack is led by Naoki Ono and Yuki Yamamoto from Yoy in Japan. And they bagged the Satellite Special Award for balancing tablet PCs on table edges in Milan. It’s debatable whether this is design or simply tomfoolery. But it’s great fun. And very social-media friendly. So thumbs up on the fun scale.

Above all the proportion of young designers from Asia seems to have clearly increased this year. And many are presenting refined ideas, many infused with a poetic feel. At Mooi Design from Japan, for example, there are negative molds of plates and cutlery made from bread wrap. While the Chinese designers at Pengzhong have created fragile little ceramic tiles shaped to form objects, amusingly entitled “Xin’s Ceramic Surgery”. By contrast, young Nordic designers such as Caroline Olsson, who was already here last year, or Lovisa Hansson, tempt us with quite different things. They are displaying fanned, gold-plated candleholders and a futurist chaise-longue, although their designs are clearly steeped in a certain trend. At times you do find yourself wondering about who is still exhibiting at the Salone Satellite. And without wishing to articulate the design narcissistically in national categories, the German participants with up-and-coming talents like Alexander Rehn, Karoline Fesser, Konstantin Landuris, Mathias Hahn, Tobias Nitsche of From, Sarah Böttger, Hanna Emelie Ernsting, Joa Herrenknecht, Thomas Schnur or Siren Elise Wilhelmsen can stand any comparison. All their designs attest to a well-conceived and precise approach to the discipline.

Then there are the colleges: With all their different projects and students, they of course have a difficult time of highlighting their qualities at the fair – be it in the halls in Rho or at Ventura Lambrate.

Of the colleges at hand, only Lausanne’s ECAL and London’s Royal College of Art table clear concepts and designs beyond any Facebook design and swishness. For ECAL, Joséphine Choquet and Virgile Thévoz are displaying their works in acetate (as a substitute for horn or tortoiseshell) a year after graduation (“One Year later”). Even the posters announcing the exhibits are brilliantly enjoyable. And then we come across possibly the strangest object at the Satellites: a stool with a seat that looks like a chemistry lab accident. Some strange toxic mass is stuck to the wooden legs... and maybe later to our butts. Worrying? James Shaw is the inventor of the “Well-Proven” chair and explains that the strange mass is the result of experimenting with materials: wood shavings mixed with a resin made of soy protein. The mixture spawned a voluminous material that feels natural and hard, but is lightweight. Will such a chair made of shavings, soy resin and foam conquer our living rooms, possibly ousting classics made of wood, plastic or metal? We, too, are endurance experts and will be around to report if it does.

The Salone Satellite-Awards 2014 go to:

1. ”Volta“ Lamp, From (Italia) – 10'000 Euro
2. ”Atmos”, Arturo Erbsman (France) – 5'000 Euro
3. ”Steptool”, Avandi (USA) – 2'500 Euro

Special honours

”Chamotte”, Ruxi Sacalis (Romania)
”Clip Tray”, Yoy (Japan)

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