Limbo Accra

The spatial design studio infuses architecture with art to transform unfinished structures in West Africa

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

“We all need each other” is a phrase that suitably defines both the output and ethos of spatial design studio Limbo Accra. Founded by Dominique Petit-Frère and Emil Grip in 2018, the work of Limbo Accra is cyclical and non-wasteful as it operates amongst unfinished structures in West African cities; it puts the planet and its people first. By doing so, decaying buildings are given new narratives, while public spaces are provided for the local communities. Below, I chat to Dominique and Emil to find out more about their impactful work.

Can you begin by telling me a little about your backgrounds?

Our backgrounds are within urban development and education – so our approach to design and architecture has always been from an intuitive and autodidact perspective. The whole process for us has always been informed by the multicultural essence in our relation to each other, since we are constantly moving between Accra, Copenhagen and New York. We met in Ghana in 2014, but we didn’t form Limbo until 2018. In that sense Limbo is a culmination of all the experiences and ideas we had over those four year. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

When we started Limbo Accra it was out of pure curiosity to transform and investigate the architectural and built conditions of modernising West African cities as we were keen on exploring the intersection between art, architecture and sustainability within this new-age context. The studio’s name is a nod to the many incomplete and since-abandoned buildings in Accra and other West African cities. 2018 was a truly transformative period in Accra and we both felt compelled to take action in that transformation. For us it was very evident that this large scale of uncompleted property developments littered around the city of Accra held a vast amount of opportunities for activations and conversation among the growing creative community and city at large. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

What’s your ethos as a studio, what types of projects do you usually like to work on? 

It’s not like we have a stiff value set at the studio, but more a set of current observations from society in general and the spaces we navigate in, that we choose to act and react to. Our practice exists in this fluid space between juxtapositions, because we never allow ourselves to be stagnant; Limbo is constantly evolving, morphing and growing. Essentially, we are simply here to question and investigate the reality of the world we see, and how we can be more intentional about our role within in it as spatial practitioners. 

We are quite selective about the projects we engage in. At the core of any of our projects is a story. We honestly see Limbo as a way of communicating stories through architecture. The fascinating thing about telling stories using architecture is the opportunity to materialise an idea in a simultaneously expressive and material way. That impact on society is immaculate. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

You operate within unfinished buildings in Ghana and beyond, which is super interesting. Can you tell me more about this? 

So the Limbo sites are interesting for us in an African context because it poses the opportunity to bridge two societal issues within the urban landscape: extensive voided structures and lack of public space. Essentially we are experimenting with the idea of using these sites as soft activations for people to question the neighbourhoods and cities, asking “how are we being intentional in the way we design and create spaces for people?” 

How important is sustainability to your practice, and what does this mean in terms of how you approach a brief and the design process? 

Sustainability is important. We try to think of our approach to a project as regenerative. Our logic from the very beginning has always been to work with what already exists – to maximise the re-usage of what we already have, simply re-adapting what already is into a new meaning. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku 

Can you talk me through a recent project of yours?

We just wrapped up an amazing exhibition titled WET by Ghanaian-American artist Araba Ankuma. As an artist working internationally, Ankuma’s stories focus on the importance of perception and the need to shift it in order to illuminate the invisible narratives that bind us as human beings. Composing narrative through photography and collage, Ankuma acts as a tour guide, transporting viewers from existing perspectives to new perceptual ground. Our studio is always about collaborations and working together. The whole logic is that we all need each other, and that we all need a space. This is what we offer as Limbo. Everyone has something to gain by working together. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

Do you think the design industry is currently doing enough in terms of sustainability and the environment? Are you hopeful about the future? 

I mean, how can we define that? The world is such a big place with so many different spaces each within their own context. It’s obviously a part of the current discourse within the industry, which is positive, but the question of how intentional the movement is remains. The interesting thing about the environment and sustainability within architecture and design is the fact that it’s hard to see how anyone can ignore addressing those issues. People are starting to feel some of the consequences of the world changing, so the simple need for change will only increase. In that sense I’m hopeful. 

What’s next for you, any upcoming plans or projects that you can share?

Right now we are doing a few things with the Brooklyn Museum that will come out this summer. So stay tuned! 

Photography by Anthony Combder Badu

Photography by Anthony Combder Badu

Photography by Anthony Combder Badu

 

Oriente Italiano

Ginori 1735 fuses Italian craftsmanship with floral embellishments in its latest porcelain collection 

For over 280 years, Ginori 1735 has been at the forefront of Italian design and craftsmanship. A company rich in heritage, its design legacy is a lengthy and pronounced one; its name, for example, refers to the 18th century origins of the company when Marquis Carlo Andrea Ginori launched the Manifattura de Doccia in Doccia, which is located in the family estate nearby Florence. He opened a porcelain factory fuelled by his interests in white gold, which soon became an icon in its own right and the Ginori 1735 brand we know it as today.

A few years down the line and Ginori 1735 evolved with a modernised direction, still remaining true to its core values and essence as a brand. In the 20th century, Giò Ponti was named creative director and the manufacturing expanded through Europe, causing an artistic revolution and the development of new innovations. The Ginori 1735 tableware sets, for instance, made their debut in the 1950s and were celebrated for their elegant, minimalist aesthetic. Collaborations, too, played high importance in the 80s, with Italian designers such as Franco Albini, Franca Held, Antonio Piva, Sergio Asti and Achille Catiglioni breathing new life into the manufacturing. In 2013, Manifattura Ginori was acquired by Gucci and placed under the direction of Alessandro Michele, before being untrusted under the Kering Group and a team of designers formed by Alessandro. 

And now, with a plethora of table wear, decor and fragrances housed in its collections, Ginori 1735 has launched a new line, the Oriente Italiano. Blending floral embellishments with Italian craft, the pieces are distinctive in their own right – from tea sets to table objects. Annalisa Tani, brand and product designer at Ginori 1735, tells me more about the collection. 

This collection is a fusion of Italian and Far Eastern charm. What does this mean exactly, and how is this represented in the design?

The combination between exotic beauty and Italian style of the Oriente Italiano collection is represented by decoration, which is the result of a successful dialogue between different techniques and the traditional craftsmanship that distinguishes Ginori 1735.

Florals are a key feature running throughout the collection. Did you reference any existing materials – such as real life plants or photographs – when designing the patterns? Or are they drawn from your own imagination? 

The flower that characterises the decoration of Oriente Italiano is a stylised carnation, an iconic decoration of the Florentine majolica since the mid-1700s. The flower, reinterpreted by Gio Ponti, takes shape in a rapid stroke that reminds water colours in which the gradient dissolves in the background colour.

The colour palette is calmingly earthy, with mossy greens, blues and pinks. How did you decide on these specific tones, what do they evoke? 

The Oriente Italiano palette, composed by ten shades – azalea, iris, purple, periwinkle, cipria, vermilion, citrine, barium, malachite, albus – creates surprising and unexpected combinations. These soft and sensual colours express the charm of a journey in distant lands with a perfect chromatic balance.

Can you tell me a bit more about how the collection was made?

The Oriente Italiano collection is very complicated to produce and has many several steps. First of all, the colour is nebulised on the whole surface of the piece through the airbrush technique. This technique also enhances the shapes because the colour becomes more intense on the embossments, creating chiaroscuro effects. It’s a very elaborate technique because it’s very difficult to maintain the same and the homogeneous tone of colour on all pieces and in every production. 

Then, the colour is hand-applied with a precise direction to respect the plate’s supporting beams and make each piece perfectly the same to the other. Finally, the piece is hand-treated with “ritrovature”, tiny embellishments created by small brushstrokes, realised, for example, on the mug handles. Moreover, there are many firing processes with different temperatures depending on the colours created. 

Where do you see the collection being used? 

Oriente Italiano is a collection that suits perfectly in domestic environments as well as in hotel spaces thanks to its wide range of pieces that includes tableware and interior decor objects. The tableware proposal, thanks to its vast array of colours, creates a perfect mix and match allowing everyone to express their own creativity. 

How does this collection fit in with the brand’s rich history and design legacy – have you incorporated any characteristics or elements that nod to the past? 

All of our collections tell a story of excellence, savoir-faire, tradition and craftsmanship. Elements that have distinguished Ginori 1735 brand for over 280 years. The stylist signature of Oriente Italiano brings together craftsmanship, tradition as well as the artistic and the cultural values of the Manifattura. As one our best selling collections, Oriente Italiano allows us to export and make our heritage known all over the world.

How important is craftsmanship and traditional techniques to the making of this Ginori collection?

Craftsmanship and traditional techniques are very important for us. Tradition stands for the respect of a sense of continuity; it means transmitting. Through its tradition, Ginori 1735 creates products that express beauty, artisanship, design and style, typically made in Italy.

What’s next for Ginori?

In June, during the Milano Design Week, we will present a new home fragrance collection and two other exclusive collaborations with two well-known brands in fashion and design sectors. Furthermore, we will present the new fragrances of La Compagnia Di Caterina, the LCDC collection, created in collaboration with the designer Luca Nichetto. 

 

Triple Stitch Sneaker

Zegna reimagines the iconic shoe for SS22, placing versatility and flexibility at the core of its refreshed design

So long are the days where sneakers are reserved only for athletes. Thanks to modernised updates to the typically sports-centred footwear, comfort, ease and style now go hand-in-hand to its practical counterparts. In the latest announcement from global luxury menswear brand ZegnaZegna, the Triple Stitch Sneaker is proving just that with its versatile approach to aesthetic and design.

Reimagined by artistic director Alessandro Sartori, the Triple Stitch Sneaker returns each season and has consequently solidified itself as an iconic staple within the contemporary menswear capsule wardrobe – especially in the cupboard of Zegna, an enduring influence in the luxury leisurewear industry for 112 years. This new iteration, then, features a revamped silhouette that sees elegance merge with high design and a multitude of wearable colours. A smooth and classic structure means the sneaker can be worn in an array of different settings, from the humdrum of daily life to work, travel and the more leisurely. Coupled with a refreshed take on its materiality, the sneaker sees a rich grained leather paired with canvas and suede, topped off with elastic straps for the wearer to conveniently slip on and off with ease and mobility. 

Comfort is indeed of high importance to the design of the Triple Stitch, which is further elevated by its lightweight rubber sole and flexible construction. By emphasising the need for accessibility and comfort, this shows just how much the needs of the modern wearer has changed. The shoe can quite literally be worn with anything, whether it’s the more formal attire to the more casual – a suited trouser to a sporty jogger, for instance. 

Formerly making its name in the early 1830s, the sports shoe was first created by The Liverpool Rubber Company, founded by John Boyd Dunlop. At the time, the sneaker made headway for its innovative method of bonding canvas to rubber roles, making it the perfect shoe for trips to the beach. Further down the line, the sneaker steered more in the way of athletics and was therefore dominated by sporting pursuits, moulded by a more athletic function and design. And now, the Zegna Tripe Stitch Sneaker comes at a time of universality; it’s a melting pot of style and form, past and present; it’s to be worn with flexibility at the hand (or foot) of the wearer.

Zegna was founded by Ermenegildo Zegna over 110 years ago in the Piedmont mountains of Northern Italy. Now part of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, the company has long been committed to preserving and leveraging its heritage – and the Triple Stitch Sneaker update is pinnacle of that.

Hair of the Future

Zhou Xue Ming explores otherworldly structures and techniques in his crafty hair designs

Land on the Instagram account of Zhou Xue Ming and you’ll be instantaneously enamoured, scrolling and pausing – with curious hesitation – as you start to question the process behind each of his creations. A hair designer by title, Shanghai-based Xue Ming is more of an artist-stroke-wizard as he expels his craft on the artful placement of a do, from the decoratively lavished to the perfectly coiffed. Proving that there’s more to hair than hair itself, Xue Ming has been working in the industry for almost 10 years now. And ever since his first hairdo, he’s since been published on the covers of Nylon China and Modern Weekly Style, and has collaborated with an abundance of makeup artists, from Shuo Yang at Jonathan Makeuplab to Yooyo Keong Ming. 

Xue Ming’s impact is mammoth, not least in the creative application of colour but also in the use of materials. It’s not just hair that’s incorporated into these designs, for there’s also the unexpected addition of metallics, wires, peacock-like feathers, spikes or a material that appears like the cracks in a frosted lake. With a vast “enthusiasm for artificial hair”, he tells me, it’s no surprise that his portfolio succeeds in pushing the boundaries as to what can be worn on the top of a head. Sadly, we’re not going to be getting any answers as to how he makes his pieces – “this is my little secret” – so instead, we invite you to marvel and leave the methodology to the imagination.

One of the most recurring motifs of Xue Ming’s is the periwig, known as a highly styled wig worn on formal occasions, often sported by judges or barristers as part of their professional attire. Explicitly artificial, these wigs usually tend to have unmissable height and weight to them, placed atop a head in a composed and careful manner. The periwig was most popular from the 17th to the early 19th century, typically composed from long hair with curls on the sides. The colours are usually dyed in more realistic hues, whereas Xue Ming’s are quite the opposite. 

In fact, Xue Ming’s take on the periwig is widely juxtaposed with the more traditional concept of the wig. In one design, the hair appears like an explosion of fireworks with its vibrant yellow tones and splaying textures – the type that makes you want to reach out and touch, even though it looks like it could burn you. Others are more multi-toned and soft, displaying a palette of blush pink, sky blue, purple and sunshine yellow; while some – with pointy edges similar to a sea urchin – look completely unwearable. Or so you’d think. Not too long ago, the designer worked with a “young lady called ‘Princess’”, wherein he was “pasting posters with ‘princess’ cartoon images to prepare the periwig”. He ended up covering the entire periwig with these posters; “I was really interested to see the result”.

The work is a wonderful merging of old and new, where traditional headgear has been transformed, warped and lavished in the modern style and technique of Xue Ming. You can easily see some of the silhouettes being worn in the past, most likely the Regency era, while others are drawn from a far-reaching trend found in the future. Perhaps he’s ahead of his time, and world of hair might become little more creative in the years to come.

Mario Tsai Studio

The Hangzhou-based research studio on conscious craft, manual processes and why most sustainable design is “pseudo and gimmicky”

Origin Collection by Xu Xiaodong

2019 was an especially prominent year for Mario Tsai, a furniture designer born in Hubei and currently based in the western suburbs of Hangzhou, China. It was the year that he and his design team of four held their first solo exhibition in Milan Design Week, presenting his “masterpiece” Mazha Lighting System that caught the eye of international media and brands. This led to two solo exhibitions the following year called Poetic Light, and in 2021, he set up his brand Mario Tsai. Under guise of this new title, Mario Tsai now sells lighting and installations designed and developed by the design team of Mario Tsai Studio. 

But it’s not just the tight-knit team and eye for structure, composition and materiality that paved the way for such large success in his business. Mario Tsai is a keen advocate for sustainability – and not the green-washing kind that’s only surface deep. “I believe that sustainability should no longer be just a concept or a gimmick in our work life,” he tells me, “I personally want it to be in my works as a guideline and a responsibility that binds me.” For Mario, sustainable design must be timeless, and designers – himself included – have a responsibility in thinking about the life cycle of a product. “But also if it can be easily recycled or repaired at the end of its life cycle,” he continues. “Whether the production process, packaging and exhibition presentation related to the work can be sustainable should be our concern as designers.”

Origin Collection by Mario Tsai

Sustainability therefore guides all that Mario Tsai Studio puts its mind towards, whether it’s a product, installation, strategy or exhibition. To achieve as such, the studio is driven by research, innovative thinking and, of course, eco-design processes, which resultantly forms a poetic depiction of what a  product should ultimately be, do and look like. “Personally,” adds Mario, “I prefer projects that can fully present the ins and outs and clear logic, and can deeply explore the essence. I hope the projects we are pushing can bring new thinking, design methods or social responsibility guidance to the public. Often such projects require a lot of effort, but the income will be relatively small.” On the business side of things, the studio prefers companies that share the same ethos, goals and ideals, “whether they are well-known, big or small”.

When beginning any given project, the team will first begin by using the “brain”.  Second of all, they will decipher the best techniques and technologies needed for the project – those that are more “advanced and difficult”. This means it will modernise the product they’re designing, and equally it will “build up technical and production barriers,” explains Mario. Before diving in with the pieces, though, the team will set up production, a mass production method and cost consideration. “We only use computers and simple models to test the new designs in the studio,” he says. “After many years of development, and also thanks to a strong supply chain in China, our studio was able to find suppliers for the production of any material and technology.”

Mazha Lighting System by Xu Xiaodong

Because of the studio’s detailed and research-guided approach, this means the team are able to test their hands at a plethora of different pieces; the portfolio is diverse as anything. One example can be seen in its Mazha Lighting System, in what Mario deems as the “most representative work” of the studio’s. Designing for eternity, the system has been made to last. “Low voltages can be transmitted electrically through the structure of the lamp, allowing the lamp to be free of wires and to build diverse and endlessly changing systems as a free unit,” explains Mario. The first iteration of the modular lighting system was inspired by traditional Chinese seating apparatus, composed to give a “more diverse expression” and renew its circularity; it’s how the Mazha Lighting System was borne. 

Each generation thereon consists of tube lights, a metal pole or metal connector, plus the wire ends. “Without the slightest intention to hide the structure, each component is extremely delicate and independent,” says Mario. “When a part of the product is faulty and needs to be replaced, only the point of filature news to be replaced, not the whole lighting.”

Mazha Lighting System by Xu Xiaodong

Origin Collection is a comparatively different project yet one that succinctly aligns with the Mario Tsai ethos entirely. A design performance piece, Origin Collection reflects on the idea of using modern technology and tools to make life and work more convenient. But on the other side, according to Mario, “they also gradually hinder our human instincts and sensitivities”. In response,  Mario hired a carpenter from the Hangzhou countryside to structure the furniture through manually processes like log-cutting and fire burning – the antitheses to digital methodologies and one that equated to a refreshing design experiment to inspire people to rethink their footsteps. “All the processes used to complete The Origin are based on instinctive human wisdom. The process of creating tools to carry out the project, using native materials and existing conditions, was also the best way of expressing the idea of locality in contemporary design.”

Clearly, Mario Tsai and the team go beyond the expected when diving into a project, be it a more critical or conceptual piece or one that’s more functional. Shying away from the wishy washy displays of ‘sustainable’ design, Mario Tsai Studio strives to be honest, functional and long-lasting. Speaking of whether the design industry is currently doing enough in terms of combatting climate change, Mario says: “I think it’s far from enough. A lot of sustainable design is pseudo and gimmicky, and many people use the concept of sustainable design with the ultimate goal of business and personal fame. I hope that sustainability can be incorporated as a norm in the way people live and work.”

Mazha Lighting System by Mario Tsai

Mazha Lighting System by Mario Tsai

Mazha Lighting System by Mario Tsai

Mazha Lighting System by Mario Tsai

Mazha Lighting System by Mario Tsai

Origin Collection by Mario Tsai

Acid Coral Template

Tuomas A. Laitinen addresses important questions of ecology and climate change through a series of glass-made structures and installations

A Proposal for an Octopus, series, 2019. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

The octopus has earned a spot as perhaps one of the most visited subject matters in art. From 19th century Japanese erotica through to modern painting classics, the eight-armed sea creature has drawn many artistic practitioners in with its alluring symbology and anthropomorphic influences. Mysterious, intelligent, adaptable and fluid; the tentacled and unpredictable animal represents both wisdom and strategy. For instance, in the recent documentary My Octopus Teacher, we saw the ocean protagonist cover herself with shells to hide from impeding prey, outsmarting the sharks in an instant as she continued to poke her many legs into its gills. So it’s no wonder the octopus has caught the attention of artists and designers over the years, with Tuomas A. Laitinen being the most recent – an artist who works across video, sound, glass, algorithms, plus chemical and microbial processes.

In his most recent body of work Tuomas merges the line between art and science, weaponising materiality and craft to take a crystallised view at the world of ecology – that which is done so through octopus-shaped glass structures and compositions. The work, named Acid coral template, has been presented at the inaugural Helsinki Biennial this year, and he’s also recently been commissioned by Daata to create an AR artwork for the launch of the platform’s AR app – a continuation of what was first commissioned by Daata in 2020. “I had been researching protein crystallography for a few years and started to think about how I could translate this data in my work,” he tells me. “In that video work, I used the protein models to create these very baroque body augmentations for the animated characters in the video.” Simultaneously, at the time of making, Tuomas was working on coral growth simulations and eventually these two worlds collided. “The protein model for this particular coral is based on the Yersinia Pestis (plague) bacterium. So there is a weird fictional metamorphosis woven into the fabric of the work. A bacterium becomes a speculative coral. It’s not really about representing the data as such but making an interpretation, a translation, or a transmutation of it and consequently placing it into new environments through AR.”

PsiZone, 2021. Installation view, Helsinki Biennial

Tuomas grew up in a small Finnish town, a place known the centre point for glass production in Finland and in the 20th century. He started working on his installations as a teenager using junkyard materials and scraps, “so that was my fist touch to art, even though there were no such categories in my mind then,” he says. After a stint in music, Tuomas decided to attend art school and pursued his studies at Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, which is where his love of sound, moving image, 3D animation, light and installation first bloomed; his debut glassworks were created around 10 years ago and “were basically custom lenses for a camera”, while his first augmented reality piece was borne in 2016. Now living in Helsinki, he often works with various artists and researchers to question the role of ecology and production, often employing a profound mix of translucent materials such as glass and chemicals, as well las microbial processes and algorithms. 

For the last five years, Tuomas has turned his focus onto the eight-legged creature and its home: the coral reef. “I’ve been making glass sculptures for octopuses as an attempt to find ways to think with these extraordinary lifeforms and, on a larger scale, ocean ecosystems. The octopus started to feel like a relevant conductor for opening up various ecological questions, providing a tentacular and modular model for organising ideas and artworks: ‘nine minds’ in one body. There is always a core brain there, but the structure allows a certain decentralisation to happen.” In a wider context, Tuomas strives to question ecology but also to touch upon the various mythologies that are attached to it, “and ideas coming from processes of knowledge production.” He adds: “And in some way, an element of cli-fi and sci-fi is present in the entanglements of my work – especially climate fiction, where the weather or the ecosystem is often seen as a protagonist. The current path in my work started in 2010 when I discovered some key texts from feminist new materialist theorists. That moment presented a major shift in perspective, and it is still affecting a lot of my work.”

Haemocyanin, 2019. Still from the video

And now, when thinking about the relationship between ecology and sustainability, it’s universally thought of as a delicate and necessary relationship. Conserving the earth’s waters, soil and ecosystem is vital in order to remain harmonious with the environment and the incoming – or better yet the present – affects of climate change. Tuomas’ work not only proves the impact of art when it comes to raising awareness of climate change, but that it’s a an aesthetic reminder of how fragile the natural world can be, where with just a shudder, slap or bash it can break it into tiny fragments. 

“For me, the idea of ecology is something that emerges from being sensitive to processes of mutual coexistence,” he explains. “When I think of ecology, I often come back to the notion of overlapping symbiotic processes and questions of biodiversity. At the level of making art, it means that individual works (like this coral reef) emerge out of an extensive world building or thought process rather than clearly defined project boundaries. A certain bundle of actions and reactions allows a specific outcome or a life form to appear, and I think that this is a sort of a parable of an ecological process. Feminist theorist Deboleena Roy talks about this notion of ‘feeling around for the organism’ in her book Molecular Feminism, and it’s been one of the important reminders on how to look for kinship with other-than-human lifeforms. And then, on another scale, as a citizen concerned with environmental issues, I am trying to find ways to support youth climate actions, but on an artistic level, it’s all about these subtle differences and tentative approaches.

It seems to me that understanding different scales and the resulting perspective shifts are quite crucial tools in relation to thinking about ecological transformations.”

A Proposal for an Octopus, series, 2019. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Protean Sap, 2020. Stills from the video

Rafael Kouto

The designer and label founder uses upcycling as a sustainable alternative to the current fashion system

What will the future hold for sustainable fashion? With Glasgow’s COP26 prompting goals and recommendations for a more environmentally conscious world, now has never been more crucial to reassess our relationship with the planet – and our clothing. When it comes to the fashion industry, there’s much to be learnt and adopted in order to reduce the impact it has on the environment. This includes net-zero emissions by 2050 latest, to waste elimination and erasing the global supply chains – not to mention increasing education of how to better address the climate emergency through manufacturing and more conscious and sustainable business models.

The anticipation for change is heartfelt across the globe, but now, perhaps it’s time to shine light on the industry folk who are already doing their bit. Like Rafael Kouto, a fashion designer who launched his own avant-garde fashion label with the environment in mind. Conceived with upcycling at its core, the label of the same name aims to tackle textile waste, dead stock and other materials in the creative and production lifecycle. “The goal since the beginning has been about cultivating an uncompromised approach to sustainability as it exclusively uses the technique of pre and post-consumer upcycling to create new clothes and accessories,” he tells me.

Rafael grew up on the Italian side of Switzerland in Ticino to a Togolese father and Swiss mother. He studied fashion design at FHNW-HGK in Basel, followed by an MA in fashion matters from the Sandberg Institut in Amsterdam. From working at Alexander McQueen to Maison Martin Margiela, Carven and Ethical Fashion Initiative, he garnered the necessary experience to excel in his profession. Equally, these past roles enlightened an alternative fashion system and proved that a more sustainable and viable option was possible; this is the moment he decided to focus his practice on upcycling and sustainable strategies, “with a particular focus on open source and craftsmanship,” he says. 

In 2017, Rafael therefore decided to launch is own fashion brand, which has now gone on to win numerous awards such as the Swiss Design Awards in the Fashion & Textile category for both 2018 and 2019 (he was also the finalist in 2020), plus the Gerbert Ambiente Design Preis 2020 and 2021. To date, he’s also been published in the pages of magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Dazed. He also applies his knowledge and know-how to a series of upcycling workshops in collaboration with various institutions, alongside teaching as an associate professor in Fashion Design at the IUAV in Venice. 

Throughout all of Rafael Kouto’s output, garments are construed with utmost credibility to materiality, source and process. Amassing in timeless collections abound with pattern and colour, everything is created in Switzerland through the upcycling of existing dead stock garments or fabrics, “with different traditional couture techniques as crochet, screen printing and knitting,” he says. The result of which is a consciously designed label replete with bespoke clothings for the wearer, bound in a post-modern blend of tie-dye, 70s swirls and traditional African prints. “The collections have a hybrid aesthetic between African and the West, therefore I envision the Afro descendants community embodying those values and all the loves of the aesthetic of course.”

Rafael’s approach to fashion design and manufacturing is commendable. The industry – and our planet – is so awash with garments that they’re bursting at the seams of landfills and our wardrobes. There’s simply too much in the world and, along with more sustainable business practices, our consumer habits need to adapt. “With the brand, we are contributing on a small scale, but I think that the most important part is about proving that a sustainable alternative to the current system is possible and to engage the users through upcycling workshops and other activities into the creative and production process,” explains Rafael.

So what does Rafael aspire for the future? “My hope is that fashion will head into a more sustainable, local, social, ethical and community direction,” he says. “I think that idea of expanding as the biggest fashion houses and bands will be replaced by small scale and niche businesses. In this case, I think the mind set of the industry still needs to change and not be based on a constant need to consume compulsively. But, it’s something that has to change also from the brands’ perspective.”

A Flower in Bloom

Melda Auditia’s structural, hand-crafted graduate collection seeks to examine the notion of femininity

Growing up in Indonesia, Melda Auditia was surrounded by craft. From pottery and textiles to jewellery and ceramics – plus the rich, natural fibres used to build them – needless to say that this exposure would steer the work of Melda, affecting both the composition and themes addressed in her own creations.

The designer, who’s now living in Tokyo, learnt to appreciate the process of handcrafting from a young age. “That’s what made me fall in love with fashion in the first place,” she tells me. The skill of making a quality garment or object from hand takes mastery, time and patience, which is a welcomed contradiction to the constant hum-drum of city life in Tokyo. “Life in Tokyo is incredibly fast-paced, so it’s super easy to forget that there are so many beautiful little details in my surroundings. But one thing I’ve learnt to do is to carve out the time to slow down and take in the little details, because when I let myself absorb everything, that’s when I get inspired.”

While pursuing a degree in fashion design at Bunka Fashion Collage in Japan, Melda began to employ the use of textiles and fabrics as a way of exuding her love of handcrafted processes. But, equally, it was also perceived as a way of discussing cultural and social issues that were greatly affecting the world. And this is exactly how Bloom was borne; a collection comprising large-scale flower dresses that seek to examine the subject of femininity.

Shrouded in soft pastel tones and textual wefts hanging from the shoulder, the artfully delicate compositions found in Bloom are paired with structural elements, like the panels that hang from arm to hip, cinched in corsets, sashes and, most characteristically, the structural – almost sculptural – addition of flowers and petals. Construed from subtle silhouettes and an “explosion” of colours, Melda’s use of materiality is just as important as the meaning attached to it. From sturdy high pressure laminate (HPL) to soft organdy, she toys with different processes and marries them into her own unique vision: using hand-painting, silkscreen, hand-cut petals to form the blooming flowers to achieve her goals.

Not just a beautiful foray into nature and form, the collection also turns a sharp eye onto the concept of femininity and how this is perceived throughout daily life. “Growing up, I realised that society has all these gender boxes and its own definition of what it means to be a woman or a man,” she says. “Since we were little, we have grown accustomed to suppressing our feminine sides: ‘stop crying like a little girl’. That is what they would say to us women when we show the slightest emotion, or to men when they express themselves outside the box of gender we are all put in. But we often forget that, regardless of our gender, we all have a feminine side inside us.”

The symbol of the flower, then, has great importance in Bloom as well as in the wider context of gender and identity. By merging the natural form with a floral petal, for instance, the collection sings as a reminder that “no matter what gender we identify with, or how we look, there is that feminine side that lies within ourselves and there is no right or wrong way to express it,” says Melda. The flower is widely interpreted as a feminine form, varying between cultures, place and time. “Throughout our lives, flowers have always been the symbol of femininity. Even as a kid, it was one of the first few things we came across that’s immediately associated with femininity – no matter the colour and form.” Rich in context and history, it makes for the ideal symbol to spread her messaging within this collection.

“But,” she continues, “this collection is also about the journey of discovering out feminine sides, embracing them and letting them bloom. I want every piece to embody that journey as well, and the process of growth is very much similar to how flowers come to bloom.” 

So who can we envision wearing these pieces, which are artistic and bold to the typical fashion barer? “There are some pieces that you can definitely wear on a day out, but there are also some pieces where I just went all out and let my creative freedom flow,” she says. “But they’re all very personal pieces, not just to me, but it can also be for whoever is wearing them. There is no one single person that I’ve made these pieces for. I feel like everyone has their own story, so I want these pieces to give whoever wears them the freedom to tell their personal story and experience it too.”

Omer Arbel

The Vancouver-based artist and designer publishes his first monograph, replete with experiments in lighting, sculpture, design and architecture

86.3. Fahim Kassam

Spherical glass as fierce as molten lava; an angular furniture set cocooned amongst a cave-like canopy; a nest of elongated, spindly arms attached to a series of bronzed bulbs; these are all but a few elements making up the portfolio of Omer Arbel, a Vancouver-based artist and designer known for his experimental approach to processes and materiality. Reaching acclaim for his work across sculpture, industrial design and lighting – and let’s not forget his co-founding of design and manufacturing company Bocci – his lengthy tenure has now been dissected in form of his first monograph, aptly named Omer Arbel, and published by Phaidon.

Omer himself has many titles: an architect, artist, inventor, designer and, perhaps the most unlikely, a competitive fencer. The latter a sport he enjoyed during this younger years, it was a close marriage of strategic play and discipline that enabled him to propel into more creative pursuits later on. “I always knew architecture and making things would be my path, and fencing was a cool side gig. There are lessons I carry with me from that era that come up almost everyday,” he says. “People describe fencing as ‘sprinting and playing chess at the same time’, but I think it is more like backgammon: intuition and willpower play an outsized role, with strategy, perhaps, secondary. Everything happens so fast, there is little time for analysis, so responses are intuitive and must be decisive. Maybe I’ve carried that method of decision making forward into my career, though its relevance is questionable given that projects take years to mature now, not seconds.”

23.2. Fahim Kassam

Even if Omer’s work currently adheres to a much slower pace, his decisive (and thoroughly disruptive) attitude shines through fully. This becomes clear within Omer Arbel, a publication housing his broad and experimental projects spanning lighting, industrial design, sculpture and architecture. Each of which is marked in a characteristic identity system of numbers – something he’s incorporated since the dawn of his practice. A “great tool for introspection”, the numbering also means he can skip over the menial and oftentimes tricky task of naming the projects.

Omer has now reached a “mid-career” point, so not only does he delegate more of the workload to his trusted team, but he’s started to reflect. “The nature of the monograph is to offer a survey that covers the entire output of the practice,” he explains, “to invite the reader into our ecosystem of ideas.” Designed by Derek Barnett, the book is constructed with transparent paper, allowing the viewer to identify texts and imagery through its layers – a kind of visual maze that gives a glimpse as to what’s coming next. “This felt true to our process, in which ideas are always infecting other ideas in the studio,” he notes. Meanwhile Stephanie Rebick edited and worked on the curatorial process, organising the chapters and content as well as a collection of excerpts. “Together these strategies offer a scrapbook quality,” says Omer, “at odds with the formality of the monograph trope, which I like.”

93. Fahim Kassam

Flick through the pages and you’ll notice the studio’s immense attention to detail and investigation, whether that’s in the literal sense of approaching a brief or through the use of materials, mechanics and applications of light. 64 is pinnacle to this, a project conducted over several experiments with hot beeswax and water set at different temperatures. Omer was inspired to work in this manner after reading Rudolf Steiner’s Nine Lectures on Bees – a philosopher who predicted the declining population of the honeybee. “It is a celebration of a long ritual of transformation, beginning with the bees making the wax and ending with lighting the candle,” says Omer. “Even the transportation of the object is part of the ritual.” The result is this metamorphic object, where twiggy formations of wax amount to a delicate candle structure. All previous associations of how a candle should look and behave are tossed away happily with this creation, and there are many of this kind.

75.9 Model. Fahim Kassam (22)

87, for example, is one of the first experiments the studio made with the folding glass technique, presenting the sheer durability of the material. The technique arose from a residency at Pilchuck Glass School in Washington: “Glassblowers there demonstrated what they called ‘a trick’, involving spinning hot glass rapidly on a concrete floor, which caused the glass to fold over itself many times while still malleable, yielding a pearlescent cast. Upon analysis, it became clear that small air pockets in the glass, folded and folded again numerous times, rapidly divided the glass matrix into numerous glass strings with a very small diameter. Each fold stretched and thus reduced the diameter of the air pocket and doubled the number of individual strands in an exponential relationship; thus, the more folds could be achieved, the most interesting the optical properties of the resulting object.”

The method involves a careful “vertical folding motion”, done so with just the right mount of glass for it to be well-handled by the glassblower, before filling it up with air bubbles with soda water, “increasing the intensity of the gossamer effect.” He adds: “The form of each loop is a direct result of the folding motion of the glassblowers. Introducing light on one end of the piece meant that it could travel within the glass filigree, creating a gradient across the length of the piece.”

Throughout the book, these more intricate structures are paired with more large-scale architectural pieces. But no matter the size, each protrude with the creators signature language: one of variety and skill. Omer is a designer who knows no boundaries. In fact, the term inventor might be better suited as his ultimate title. 

Omer Arbel is available to pre-order here and will be published at the end of the month

31.3. Fahim Kassam
Janaki Showroom, 87. Fahim Kassam
75.9 Work in Progress

X is Not a Small Country

What does a post-global world look like? MAAT show curator Aric Chen explains

Photography by Bruno Lopes

What does it mean to live in a “post-global” world? Posing this question – and also answering it – is a new exhibition presented by Lisbon’s MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology), named X is Not a Small Country – Unravelling the Post-Global Era. Curated by Aric Chen alongside designer, curator and educator Martina Muzi, the show compiles nine large-scale installations from international practitioners spanning design, architecture and art. All of which explore a post-global landscape, providing examples of how this new world might look and function. 

It’s a vast, detailed and oftentimes dizzying display of the current state of affairs. Previously, the rapid rise in globalisation had accelerated us into new and bountiful territories. Then after Brexit, trade wars, refugee crises and rising nationalism, we were faced with a new hurdle: a pandemic. Travel was disrupted and many switched to digital communications and exchanges; thus increasing the social and cultural gap between those with or without access to the internet. But, as Aric puts it, a “post-global” world isn’t the result of globalisation “unravelling”, and rather it’s a state of contradiction and fluctuation. With every door that shuts, another one is bound to open, so to speak. 

In this new exhibition, which was surprisingly conceived prior to the pandemic, MAAT opens up the “post-global” conversation with a series of site-specific installations. Beginning with Wolfgang Tillmans, who’s contributed his anti-Brexit campaign of EU posters, the show navigates through a plethora of international pieces, like that of architect and director Liam Young, who’s made a film titled Planet City – a fictional tale that calls for urgent examination of the environment. Others include the recreation of the recognisable Teeter-Totter Wall, a seesaw installed at the border fence between the USA and Mexico in July 2019, as well as the more speculative contributions such as the analysis of gambling in Macau.

Aric is a Shanghai-based curator, writer and professor, who’s been appointed general and artistic director of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. To paint a more concise picture, and to perhaps give a definition as to what “post-global” really means, I speak to Aric to find out more about the show.

Photography by Bruno Lopes

What inspired you to launch this exhibition, why tell this story now?

The world is clearly changing, and globalisation as we’ve known it since the 1990s is giving way to a new condition that’s developing right before our eyes. This is something I’ve felt acutely as an American living in China, given the transforming relationship between those two countries through trade wars and other signs of a growing “great power” competition. 

But we, of course, see how global networks and relationships are becoming increasingly convoluted everywhere. We see liberal democracies giving us Brexit and rising nationalism, while Saudi Arabia opens itself up in once inconceivable ways – just as Israel establishes diplomatic relations with Bahrain and the UAE, who until now didn’t even formally recognise Israel’s existence as a country. Doors are both opening and shutting in ways that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. And they’re doing so at the same time: right now, as China and the EU slap sanctions on each other over Xinjiang, they’re also trying to push through a new trade deal. There are multiple, overlapping and often contradictory logics operating simultaneously. We need to understand this in order to navigate it, and the implications of – and for – architecture and design as manifestations of these global processes. 

Photography by Bruno Lopes

Talk me through the works involved and how you’ve curated the show.

Designers, architects and artists have been investigating in “the global” for a long time. But our aim was to, as concisely as possible, capture the complexity of the “post-global” that we’re now observing through just nine projects. All of which address the forces of post-globalisation at scales ranging from objects and individuals to societies, species and the planet, from an array of geographical perspectives, and in both concrete and speculative ways. 

So for example, as you enter the show, you’ll see an installation by Wolfgang Tillmans of his pro-EU posters – something very immediate that most visitors will easily relate to – before confronting a re-creation of Rael San Fratello’s Teeter-Totter Wall, for which the American architects, in 2019, inserted see-saws through the US-Mexico border wall in order to allow children on both sides to play with each other.

From these very “real” installations, we get into more research-based and speculative projects ranging from Revital Cohen and Tuur van Balen’s examination of the links between gambling in Macau and the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank via a casino that mimics London, to Ibiye Camp’s augmented reality speculations about a post-petrol future in the Niger Delta, to Liam Young’s video about a planet in which the entire human population is concentrated in a single city. 

We also have Tactile Cinema, an installation by Jeddah-based Bricklab that evokes the evolution of cinema spaces in post-World War II Saudi Arabia – from informal to illicit to now being legal again – while hosting a film program of artists from across the Arab world organised by Art Jameel. 

Photography by Bruno Lopes

How exactly has globalisation been impacted by the pandemic, and how has this affected the design and architecture industries?

As many have said, the pandemic has accelerated processes that were already underway, be it the use of digital communication or the widening of social inequality. It has also accelerated “post-globalisation” and its impact on design and architecture. Not just through the reordering of supply chains, but also the flow of people and ideas, and the culture and meanings that are embedded in, and produced by, the designed world. In ways large and small, design and architecture will both be shaped by, and used to help shape, how this new world will look and operate.

Photography by Bruno Lopes

Do you think the pandemic has forced the world to re-think pre-existing structures?

I should emphasise that “post-global” is not the same as “de-globalisation.” It’s not that globalisation is ending or totally unravelling. It’s that the idea that we were inevitably heading towards ever-more openness and intertwinement has to be discarded for a future of more unpredictable fluctuations of both restriction and access. This means we not only have to be more nimble and flexible in order to navigate this, but we also perhaps need to rethink our approaches and world views if we are to constructively, and peacefully, function and coexist. 

To the extent that the pandemic has forced us to re-think pre-existing structures, these are things that we should have already been re-thinking: the social and economic systems that have caused such injustice, to say nothing of ecological disaster. 

 

The full list of contributors include Bard Studio (Rupali Gupte e Prasad Shetty), Bricklab (Abdulrahman Hisham Gazzaz and Turki Hisham Gazzaz), Ibiye Camp, Revital Cohen and Tuur van Balen, He Jing, Liam Young, Paulo Moreira, Rael San Fratello Studio (Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello) and Wolfgang Tillmans.

X is Not a Small Country – Unravelling the Post-Global Era is currently on show at Lisbon’s MAAT until 2 September 2021. Head here for more information, and tickets can be purchased here.

Photography by Bruno Lopes
Photography by Bruno Lopes
Photography by Bruno Lopes
Photography by Bruno Lopes