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Sunday March 9, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday March 9, 2014 MYT 8:27:31 AM
by leong siok hui
Sampling Sehnsucht, Daniel Juric: Juric 'combines his own ideas with a respectful reminiscence of the petit-bourgeois milieu', as newoldsblog.ifa.de explains. What looks like conventional pieces of furniture are given a contemporary edge as interrelated building blocks joined by Velcro. - Photos NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star
A design exhibition from Germany showcases thought-provoking products that straddle
the divide between tradition and innovation.
IS it possible to ferret out “new” or “original” design in this day or age? Or, are “new” products a mere reinterpretation of traditional forms, materials or processes? And how imperative is it to look back into our past in order to look forward?
These are some pertinent questions raised at the New Olds: Design Between Tradition And Innovation exhibition currently ongoing at Galeri Petronas, Suria KLCC.
Curated by German architect and product designer Volker Albus, New Olds showcases 60 objects that delve into the link between the old and new in contemporary design. Supported by Germany’s Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen/IFA), the exhibition has toured Israel, India, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia to date.
Forty-five designers and design teams from across Europe and the United States present their various approaches: from using innovative materials for “old” iconic designs to breathing new life into dilapidated everyday objects and redefining furniture typology.
Take the Carbon Chair by award-winning Dutch designers Bertjan Pot and Marcel Wanders. The duo paid homage to design legends Charles and Ray Eames by updating the Eameses’ moulded fibreglass chair (designed in 1950) using carbon fibre and epoxy resin. The chair’s original Eiffel base proved unstable for these new materials so Pot and Wanders redesigned the chair with a more stable leg configuration. Manufactured by Dutch design brand Moooi, the chair is in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
German product designer Cordula Kehrer’s pretty Bow Bins provides a clever solution for green living. She digs up dilapidated plastic buckets, baskets and tubs, cleans them and injects new life into these discarded objects. The damaged sections are hand-woven with rattan, bamboo, reeds or other natural materials to create a “new” attractive basket or bin.
On a more experimental note, German product designer Laura Bernhardt’s AFRODITI challenges the convention of a seating object. At first look you may wonder, “Is it a sack? A sculpture?” Thick, rounded strips of polyurethane foam are knitted into a single piece or knot that is open to different interpretations.
“Afroditi is a piece of furniture. It looks like an oversized pullover randomly lying on the floor, like a dress for the living room,” explains Bernhardt, 33, via e-mail.
Bernhardt and fellow German designer Daniel Juric were in Kuala Lumpur to conduct workshops with design students during the launch of New Olds late last month.
“I had the idea to create a piece of furniture that is made from one material, in a single piece, and that I can hand-make on demand,” adds Bernhardt, who runs her own design studio in Stuttgart.
The inspiration for Juric’s Sampling Sehnsucht shelves and tables came from a simple question: “Why do I feel comfortable in my parents’ living room, although it doesn’t match my aesthetic standards?”
That led Juric to think about the material, form and embellishment, and how furniture is used as an expression of his parents’ lifestyle.
“Confronting the question helped me use the exact materials and decor but in a new context and a contemporary way,” says Juric, 39, who runs his own design studio in Stuttgart. In place of nails and screws, Velcro is used as fasteners to assemble the shelves and coffee tables.
Melding old and new
More than just a display of quirky designs that solve problems in everyday life, the New Olds exhibition offers designers room to explore experimental and conceptual work.
“I must confess some of the shown items might look quite strange to the public,” says Albus in an e-mail interview. “That’s why we added detailed information on each exhibit in the exhibition.
“In general, this exhibition is dedicated to young designers. We would like to show the many ways European designers transform traditional elements (like traditional materials, crafts, configurations) into a contemporary expression,” says the senior professor at Karlsruhe State Academy of Design.
“Just as with Indonesia, our last stop, Malaysia has a rich design tradition. However, tradition in design is often not fully appreciated. Many of the designs sold as ‘new’ actually derive from a historical context, and are self-contained products of one country or culture, representing a new interpretation of traditional forms.”
New Olds also highlights the prevalent “handmade” culture and the melding of traditional craftsmanship and modern design.
“I’m absolutely excited about this development. But we have to be cautious and specific by taking a very close look at the techniques and materials that we are transforming,” says Albus whose Pixel Persian carpet is one of the exhibits in New Olds.
“Not every challenge in contemporary design can be managed by using something ‘old’. It would be crazy to manufacture a smartphone by hand, for example,” he points out. “On the other hand, there are many areas – such as the ‘domestic landscape’ – where it makes sense to use know-how that our local culture provides.”
Back to our roots
Tradition is the inspiration for New Olds, Albus reiterates. In Europe, people are generally more aware of their cultural heritage and tend to look into traditions when designing something “new”.
“What concerned me when travelling in South-East Asia was that young designers here focus very much on what is going on in Europe and in America. They try to be more European than the Europeans themselves,” says Albus.
“Just visit the shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur, everything seems to be dominated by American and European brands. And these brands are cultivating a design that has very little to do with the materials, crafts or habits of Malaysia (or other neighbouring countries),” he says.
“I want to remind people to look first at, and to start with, their own culture. I want to remind them that when they start thinking of design they should think of what is happening in their own country.”
“(Through this exhibition) we would like to motivate Malaysian designers to take a look at their own Malaysian know-how,” says Albus.
During their lecture and workshop sessions here, Juric and Bernhardt had the opportunity to interact with Malaysian design students and professionals.
“We think the design approach here is very much solution driven, which is good and is a very conventional practice,” they both say. “But we think that there is a big potential to develop a distinct ‘Malaysian design’ since there are so many cultural influences in Malaysian lifestyles.
“For example, craftsmanship is underrated, though not only in Malaysia, of course. But it gives added value to contemporary design, and Malaysia offers so many possibilities in the fields of craftsmanship,” they attest.
Whether you are a designer, student, design aficionado or just a passer-by, New Olds is an intriguing exhibition that offers plenty of food for thought.
The New Olds exhibition is on at Galeri Petronas, Suria KLCC, until March 30. The gallery’s opening hours are 10am to 8pm daily, including public holidays; it is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 03-2051 7770, go to www.galeripetronas.com.my or connect on Facebook at GALERIPETRONAS.
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