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RISD Meets Milan 2013

04/09/2013

HUMPBACK CHAIR by Tanya Aguiñiga is among the work by Furniture Design alumni featured this spring in Milan and NYC.

This week the 2013 Ventura Lembrate furniture exhibition in Milan, Italy, is featuring cutting-edge work by 21 talented designers who studied at RISD. Ventura Lambrate is the more experimental component of the larger Salone Internazionale del Mobile  [Milan Furniture Fair], the global benchmark for furniture designers and design companies since 1961. This year’s fair runs from April 9–14.

Curated by President John Maeda, Risk and Certainty in Uncertain Times demonstrates how RISD alumni have transformed their educational experience into successful professional practices. The diverse objects on view are either batch- or mass-produced by established manufacturers or made by each designer as a one-of-a-kind work of art. As is typical of the work produced in RISD’s Furniture Design department, the exhibition features furniture, lighting, expressionistic pieces and household products in a wide range of materials. The same show will travel back to the US and be on view at WantedDesign next month (May 17–20) during the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York.  

“This work epitomizes what critical making – concurrent thinking and making – can achieve for design in this century,” says Maeda. “It reenergizes the importance of making and thinking. Consider Ian Stell’s Femten  chair. Using a radially oriented origami approach, he takes something that looks like a squid when flattened and unfolds it into a surprisingly standard chair. It shows how something extraordinary can be made ordinary – how what is organic and sensual can become geometric and dry. In essence, Stell achieves the opposite of Modernism by manipulating material and form.” 

Some of the other mind-bending takes on the humble chair come from Tanya Aguiniga MFA 05 FD, Vivian Chiu 11 FD and Daniel Michalik MFA 04 FD. Aguiniga’s abstract Humpback Chair was inspired by small wool animals made by Mayan women in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, where she grew up. The animal form was handcarved and upholstered with contrasting fabrics to accentuate its two halves. To create her Pixel Chair, Chiu used laminated cubes of maple to transform the archetype of a chair into seemingly digital pixels, creating a trompe l’oeil effect. And Michalik’s beautifully simple 3/1 Chair – which is now part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery – is made from a cast block of recycled cork.

The exhibition also features several pleasing pieces designed by Josh Owen MFA 97 FD, who partners with high-quality production companies to mass produce his functional objects. His WC Line washroom accessories earned him the Chicago Good Design Award in 2012, and his cast iron Menorah was recently added to the permanent collection of the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Terra Cotta Vessels by Hyun Yoo MFA 06 FD were inspired by simple, utilitarian herb pots. Yet, with their streamlined design, delicate walls and contrasting interior and exterior surface finishes, they are anything but ordinary. XStitch Stool by Debra Folz MFA 10 FD similarly blurs the line between the mass produced and one of a kind. Folz invested more than 40 hours of hand embroidery in creating her stunning piece, which is yet another example of how RISD alumni successfully navigate the challenges posed by ongoing changes in technology and materials to create art that is timeless.

Simone Solondz

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tags: alumni, Furniture Design, graduate, global, innovation

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At RISD there's nothing unusual about suddenly finding a doorknob on a tree trunk, shown here across from Carr House,
the charming home of Student Life offices and the student-run Carr Haus Café.