Blog: A tactile future at Milan2011

Li Edelkoort presents the future of textiles in a student exhibition at Ventura Lambrate and a professional exhibition at Gianfranco Ferre.

Today the Design Indaba Milan 2011 team, Ruairi Abrahams and myself, did another cross-city “amazing marathon”. We started off bright and early at 9am in Ventura Lambrate just to discover that the shutters only roll open at 10am. First up was an interview with Tord Boontje, head of the Design Products department at the Royal College of Arts, after which we headed across the road to hear about how Miriam van der Lubbe and Niels van Eijk evolved their designs for the Muziekgebouw Eindhoven into a product range.

In between we air-kissed Jurgen Bey and Yves Behar, before dashing across town to the Spazio Rosanna Orlandi to meet the lovely, if somewhat shy, ladies from Front - Sofia Lagerkvist, Charlotte von der Lancken and Anna Lindgren – to hear about their Story Vases project with South Africa’s own Siyazama Project. The Rosanna Orlandi Gallery is a wonderful haven of alternative creativity. A labyrinth of interlocking exhibitions left us quite lost and agape, while the gorgeous gift shop left us drooling. A jovial courtyard with open-air kitchen played heart to this engaging space. We also bumped into Maarten Baas, Christien Miendertsma and Jasper Morrison there.

Then it was a quick gallop halfway back across town to the Spazio Gianfranco Ferre, to talk to Li Edelkoort about her Talking Textiles exhibition. A two-part exhibition, with students in Ventura Lambrate and professionals at Gianfranco Ferre, “textiles” in this context goes well beyond the two-dimensional, also including rugs, curtains, lighting, accessories and furniture.

Edelkoort told us that the project actually started as a personal concern for the fact that textiles are becoming extinct, and that more and more textile design departments at schools were closing. As such, the Talking Textiles exhibition was initially just an exhibition of student work, the one that is now on show at Ventura Lambrate.

I’m increasingly coming to think that the really exciting work at Milan 2011 is being done by the students. Elaine Ng Yan Ling, for example, has used “incorporated memory shape alloys and polymers into botanic motifs that mimic the movements in nature when reacting to electromagnetic energy” – translated into English she has made a layered textile that moves and responds to various external factors, creating a magical animated effect. Ng Yan Ling is a student of the innovative textile Masters programme at Central St Martins, of which I wrote yesterday.

Other personal favourites include Collette Patterson’s latex-wool fusion of flexible organic shapes; Ella Robinson’s embroidered driftwood; Nigerian-British designer Banke Kuku’s collection of optical weaves; and Lynn Tandler’s malleable blacksmith-inspired weaves incorporating copper and tin.

Of course a special shout-out must go to South Africa’s very own Laduma Ngxokolo, whose Xhosa-inspired sweaters were also on show. Another proudly South African shout-out goes to Ardmore Design whose Qalakabusha Couch is included in the professional exhibition. Both the couch and the sweaters were first spotted by Edelkoort at the 2011 Design Indaba Expo 2011, where they were Most Beautiful Object in South Africa finalists.

The professional exhibition is less experimental and abstract, comprising tangible commercial objects. Of course, that’s not to say that they’re not absolutely gorgeous and desirable. The catalogue is studded with star designers including Baas, The Campanas, Nacho Carbonell, Studio Job, Hella Jongerius, David Lynch, Miendertsma, Inga Sempé, Paul Smith and others.

Edelkoort also explained to us that since leaving Eindhoven in 2008 that she has found herself doing more and more exhibitions, for which she has now established Edelkoort Exhibitions with Philip Fimmano. She sees these exhibitions as “three-dimensional trend forecasts”. As such, she explains Talking Textiles as a “reaction to the increasingly digital landscape of our lives”, resulting in “a craving for tactility and dimensions that has led several designers to reconsider the role of fabrics once more”.

The future, she says, “will see the overwhelming revival of textiles in our interiors, covering floors, walls and furniture in an expansive and personal manner. These textiles will speak loud and clear, and become the fabrics of life, narrating stories, designing patterns, promoting well-being and reviving the act of creative weaving.”

Finally I dragged the last bit of energy out of my aching feet to get to the Zaha Hadid lecture at the Politecnico Milano, only to find that not only was it too packed for a church mouse, but delivered by her associate Patrick Schumacher in Italian! The surprise end-of-day rain was a godsend.