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September design news: arty toilets, London Craft Week, ‘metal giraffes’

·8-min read

Artist Isamu Noguchi travelled the world and found inspiration pretty much everywhere. Consequentially, his worldview was pretty open and philosophical. He has said: “We are a landscape of all we have seen.” He’s also said: “Art should become as one with its surroundings.” His most pertinent quote for design news is: “Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.”

Looking at the cutting-edge technology used in London Craft Week, the skill and thought in the design of an incubator for sub-Saharan Africa and the vibrant humour and beauty used to turn a toilet into a work of art, Noguchi’s sentiment feels very much alive. Design, art and sculpture is everywhere.

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Celebrating Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi was one of the most versatile and prolific artists of the 20th century. Though he’s probably best known for his coffee table – pretty constantly in production since the 1940s – he worked tirelessly and creatively across a dizzying number of disciplines. Set design, architecture, furniture, lighting, sculpture and playground design, Noguchi created them all, working in wood, ceramics, metal and stone.

This month the Barbican holds the first European retrospective of Noguchi’s work in 20 years, a show which not only highlights the creative and commercial success of his catalogue, but how he used art to interrogate environmental and social issues.

Noguchi’s personal history was nomadic and the diverse cultures and influences make his work unique.

The son of a Japanese poet and his American editor, he lived in both of his parents’ countries as a child before heading to Europe where he worked for Brancusi in Paris in the 1920s, and met artists Alex Calder and Arno Breker. When he returned to the US, futurist Buckminster Fuller became a great friend and Frida Kahlo was his lover and the pair remained close until she died in 1954. During the second world war, Noguchi willingly went to a Japanese internment camp to advise on facilities and create routines for inmates; but then he wasn’t allowed to leave and had trouble reclaiming his possessions after the experience. Like many Japanese Americans, time in the camp left a long impression on Noguchi. Nothing could dim the brightness of his creativity, though.

Jane Alison, head of visual arts at the Barbican says: “Noguchi constantly pushed the limits of art. He saw sculpture as a means of creating harmony between humans, industry and nature, as a way to improve how we live, as invention, as play, as art.’

Noguchi is at The Barbican from 30 September 2021 – 9 January 2022

The safe space of Robust Nest

Salone del Mobile, the Milan furniture fair, was back this September after an 18-month, Covid-induced hiatus. Milan is the biggest event on the design calendar and this year’s fair – dubbed Supersalone – had some beautiful, sustainable and social projects alongside the super-luxe furniture range launches. British ethical design brand Nature Squared debuted some naturally dyed tiles made of egg shell, Italian fabric company Giovanardi showcased a recycled acrylic yarn created from waste from the awning industry. This year Salone held an exhibition called The Lost Graduation Show to promote work by graduates affected or overlooked due to the pandemic and awards were given to those judged Best of Class.

One of the many thoughtful graduate designs to capture the judging panel’s attention was the Robust Nest by Swiss architect Fabien Roy, graduate of École cantonale d’art de Lausanne. This small-scale incubator, created for medical care in sub-Saharan Africa, continues to work during power cuts. It runs on a thermal battery, also developed in Lausanne, and can keep babies warm for up to four hours – hopefully long enough to maintain a child’s temperature during the many blackouts in local countries, preventing hypothermia.

The incubator also has a clever metal external bumper that makes it easy to carry, protects it from knocks and even means it can be strapped into a car seatbelt. What did the judges love about it? “Portability, energy autonomy, robustness and lightness which combine to make this a crucial tool for saving the lives of the most fragile newborns.” The sort of work that put the Super into Supersalone.

Transforming a toilet into a work of art

There’s nothing like having a captive audience, so it’s good to see the newly renovated Studio Voltaire premises using their toilets as an artist’s canvas as well as a convenience. Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan are the artists behind the piece, called The Institute For The Magical Effect Of Actually Giving A Shit (a note to our future self). The Glasgow-based duo have worked together since 1995 and represented Scotland at the 51st Venice Biennale.

This piece is installed across three public toilets in Studio Voltaire’s south London building and is made from hand–glazed ceramic tiles which reference motifs in Tatham and O’Sullivan’s work. The duo worked with Craven Dunnill Jackfield to produce the bespoke tiles. Founded in 1872, Craven Dunnill is the oldest surviving purpose-built tile factory in the world.

Two of the installation toilets are fairly sedate, but we’d recommend giving the third the swerve if you’ve got a funny tummy. Some bathroom visits don’t need to be viewed by a sink with eyes or involve a toilet decorated as a throne. You can read the work’s hand-painted title on the wall opposite the cubicles.

Studio Voltaire not-for-profit arts organisation has been supporting experimental and adventurous artists since 1995. It’s good to see that even a toilet break can be a chance for inspiration.

Sustainability at London Craft Week

While craft is typically a slower, more eco-friendly making process, this year’s London Craft Week (LCW) also focuses on how it can sit on the cutting edge of sustainability. The Mills Fabrica is a new tech startup style organisation for experimental makers using new technologies and materials to shake up the food and fashion sectors. Its King’s Cross base will be open for workshops and demonstrations during LCW to showcase the innovations in social and sustainable projects.

Participants include Helen Kirkum, a footwear designer who makes trainers from deadstock fabrics, Bolt Threads which makes patented mushroom leather and Modern Synthesis which grows zero-waste materials in a lab.

Showing elsewhere during LCW are London-based Tasmanian design firm Brodie Neill with furniture made from Hydrowood, reclaimed logs from the island’s lakes. Finally, Sarah Myerscough Gallery shows Outside In, work by a group of international makers who only use organic, sustainable materials. A fascinating vision of the future of interiors created using ancient materials such as wood and willow.

Also look out for makers using recycled materials in their art, such as Shipra Chandran, a fashion designer using ocean waste to make recyclable sandals, Musgo Design, a studio which makes furniture from reclaimed housing materials, and Santa Paciência, a Portuguese homeware brand made from industrial waste.

London Craft Weeks runs 4-10 October. Visit the website for more information about exhibitions and workshops

Young, Gifted and Black in American art

Chicago’s Gallery 400 currently hosts the show Young, Gifted and Black: The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art. It’s the first standalone public exhibition curated from this unique private collection of art which is a fantastic archive of works by artists of African descent.

Bernard Lumpkin and his husband, Carmine Boccuzzi, purposefully set about acquiring work by emerging names in Black art but also looked to previous generations of artists to create a collection that builds a comprehensive picture of Black American art.

Their collection started in 2016, mainly from personal interest (Lumpkin’s African-American father grew up in the Watts neighbourhood in Los Angeles), but after recent Black Lives Matter protests, they realised this archive could have wider appeal and start more important conversations.

Young, Gifted and Black tries to look at what it means to be Black in America today. The exhibition includes Sadie Barnette, Rashid Johnson, Kerry James Marshall and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones. A mix of artists using a range of approaches, materials and techniques, providing a rich, creative take on Black life.

The show is co-curated by Antwaun Sargent, director of the Gagosian gallery, art critic and author of The New Black Vanguard. Sargent has edited a new book – including interviews with curators, artists and creatives – to accompany the show.

The exhibition will travel the US to different educational institutions (in an effort to engage students) and each location is encouraged to set up talks and events around the show to appeal to the local community.

Young, Gifted and Black is at Gallery 400, University of Illinois, Chicago, until December 11 2021. More venues across America to be announced

The enduring appeal of the Anglepoise

Though everyone agrees the Anglepoise is a classic, a national treasure, it’s nice to be reminded exactly why. Spring Light by architecture critic Jonathan Glancey is a book which does just that.

This history of the little metal lamp explains why it feels like an extension of the human body. It details the fan club that includes everyone from Pablo Picasso to the Queen and Roald Dahl. Photographer David Bailey says that when he first bought himself a “mechanical giraffe”, it was the first time he’d thought about design.

The Anglepoise’s debut coincided with a public demand for the industrial and the modern (1934 was also the year that Meccano released Dinky Toys, Ekco released its first car radio and the Lubetkin Penguin Pool opened at London Zoo), and the Anglepoise has been fulfilling that need ever since.

From the vision of inventor George Carwardine to the Terence Conran Effect in the 1960s and the deification of the workwear aesthetic by fashion designer Margaret Howell in the 1990s, this book explains how the light from humble beginnings in Redditch became an international design icon.

Spring Light: The Anglepoise Story by Jonathan Glancey is published 26 October

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