Visiting the Milan Design Week is like going to the front. You need a strategy, an itinerary, an attack plan and a guard unit. Time is always too short and waiting lines always too long. This year, like every year, I started scanning articles, reviews and advises about “all the best things you cannot miss in 2017 edition”.
However, at some point I changed my mind. This year I wanted to try a new strategy focusing on a clear and accurate goal saving time, resources, and energy. The mission: looking for Asia at Milan Design Week 2017 in one day. And it worked! This time I experienced Fuorisalone not like a struggle for survival, but like an old school East India Company’s exploring expedition. I saw a lot of things, but I fell in love only few times. This is my personal and sentimental top five of all those design works which better moved Milan in the far East for a while.
#1 Like a Bai Juyi’s poem
In the heart of Tortona District, inside Officine della Torneria in via Novi, an incredible vision calls to mind the West Lake. Wistful, dreamy and elegant, like a Bai Juyi’s poem, the The Lake Installation and Paper Garden [by Zhang Lei, Jovana Zhang, Christoph John from Pinwu Design Studio] cast a spell from which nobody wants to escape. Both the installations are the most spectacular and scenographic elements of Ròng Bamboo, silk, mud, chopper, paper, the exhibition curated by Zhang Lei. Ròng tells the story of five elements of the Chinese tradition mixed and deconstructed by 16 designers for a big five years exhibition.
Walking through paper weeping willows and suspended metal binds -similar to lotus leaves on the edge of the water- was like walking around the West Lake described by Chinese artists of Tang period. There, inside that post-industrial open space in Milan, I found that magic and spiritual poetry that I didn’t find few years ago crossing the bridge towards a fluorescent Leifeng Pagoda just beyond the Lake, the real one.
#2 In the diorama
James Law explains his idea of Smart City using a tridimensional storyboard. Halfway between a hobby modeling addicted and a modern demiurge, Law creates little pastel colored worlds that come to life only in a big, crowded and tropical Hong Kong. Each pod is like a little diorama where time does not exist, a place where there’s no before and no after.
Part of the exhibition Hong Kong Design Centre Confluence 20+ at Triennale about designers from Hong Kong, Smart City in Pod shows little worlds in capsules hung in a big wall. Each pod seems a scene of a long shot of a 90s movie in Kowloon. But Law never wanted to be a demiurge. He just tells the future using pastel colors and designing mobile houses and buildings made by aluminium, staying true to his style and to his idea of cyber architecture.
#3 Overseas Chinese
Do you know when via Paolo Sarpi became the heart of Chinatown in Milan? Who were these people coming from the Chinese Empire about more than one century ago? Some of these questions -about the Chinese community in Italy- were already answered reading Primavere e Autunni, (Spring and Autumns), a beautiful graphic novel by Ciaj Rocchi and Matteo Demonte. It tells the story of Matteo’s grandfather traveling from China to Milan at the beginning of ‘900. But Ciaj and Matteo wanted to do something more.
Trying to go deep about Chinese migration in Milan, Chinamen. Un secolo di cinesi a Milano (Chiname. A century of Chinese people in Milan) came to life. The project includes a new graphic novel, a documentary, many events around Italy, and an exhibition at MUDEC curated by Daniele Brigadoi Cologna. The exhibition was far from Fuorisalone’s traditional routes, but at the center of my personal exploring expedition. Thus, I discovered articles about the first visit of the Chinese Ministry of Rites in Milan, Chinese street vendors’ smuggled pearl necklaces, and pictures of brave multicultural families made of Chinese men and Italian women who decided to stay together even though it was against the rules under fascism. There was even the door of the first Chinese restaurant opened in Milan, perfectly conserved.
#4 Tea Time
A tea praise cannot be missed. If it could be possible put in only one sentence the soul of the far East, it will be something about tea for sure. The art of tea is something deeply alive in the collective imagination and identity. It is one of those few things that people want to preserve against a Western-led modernity. Green Brewing: Hand-grip green tea by Satoshi Aoyagi and Mikito Tanimoto [from Lucy Atelier Design], and Tea Brewing! by Lee Chi Wing, make this thousand-year old habit contemporary, transforming tradition into high-quality design object.
Aoyagi e Mikito were two of Japanese artists inside the exhibition Able and Partners Japan Design Week a Milano 2017 at Triennale. Green Brewing: Hand-grip green tea is a real kit to make the perfect cup of tea revisiting the idea of the Italian coffee lab and making it handcrafted, minimal, and elegant: the perfect place to experiment different flavors. Lee Chi Wing is one of the designers of Hong Kong Design Centre Confluence 20+ and with his Tea Brewing! proposes a new way to experience the ritual of tea. He goes further traditional technical rigidity made by austerity and religious silence. A modern minimal counter becomes a sharing place where to drink a hot cup chatting with friends.
#5 Ceramics beyond the showcase
Ceramics are most of time boring. Ceramics let me think about those big old archaeological museums in which each find is collected inside a locked showcase. However, sometimes there are ceramics both ideally and concretely beyond the showcase. Both The Collection of Growing-colors by Luo Daishi and Tan Zhipeng, and Fragment(s) by Julie Progin and Jesse McLin [designers of Latitude 22N] collected vases definitely beyond the showcase.
Actually the series of vases of The Collection of Growing-colors are not ceramics. They are colorful bronzed vases and part of the exhibition Ròng. The mix between metals and colors makes these objects alive. Behind indigo shades there is a burning soul which reveals itself between welding and dream. The ceramics of Fragment(s) are quite the opposite, instead: white and candid but with a colorful explosion. They are like a broken silence. A reinterpretation of the famous Jingdezhen porcelains which speaks for itself.