Vienna Design Week 2013

Two days before it closes, Domus has “trawled” through the best of Vienna Design Week, curated by Tulga Beyerle and Lilli Hollein. From “Passionswege”, which pairs long-established local companies with international designers, to a bizarre souvenir transformation machine.

The great thing about Vienna Design Week – especially for the denigrators who accuse Milan’s event of being incompatible and corpuscular – is that, in just 48 hours, you can get a fairly rewarding idea of its most worthy contents, without having to clock up kilometres and munch through press releases.
Vienna Design Week 2013
Top and above: Passionswege 2013: Bertille&Mathieu bei "J.&L.Lobmeyr". Photo © Kramar /
This is the plus side of a fundamental, well-ordered and, to be perfectly honest, not particularly explosive programme. It is not hard to draw up a top five without fear of being over hasty or developing headaches over the choice of who goes in and who stays out (errors and omissions excepted).
Vienna Design Week 2013
Souvenir Transformation Center / Kunstuniversität Linz @ VIENNA DESIGN WEEK Festival Headquarters. Photo © Florian Rainer /
What is difficult and trickier is the ranking of candidates whose research presents very different substance and results (products, exhibitions, installations). This has prompted me to place them all on an equal footing – simply the best of my two days in Vienna. All of them are “summarising” and “concise” projects, in which the creator or group have selected and developed a specific theme – in most cases linked to the host venue or the past – and excluded all others. Design and its worth are reflected in the quality of this choice. Lectures and workshops have been omitted, as for obvious reasons they required more active participation and a more prolonged presence.
Vienna Design Week 2013
Souvenir Transformation Center / Kunstuniversität Linz @ Festivalzentrale. Photo © Kramar /

Starting from the beginning, the most complex appraisal must go to the “Nomadic Furniture 3.0” exhibition at the MAK, for which the curators astutely found a smokescreen title behind which to place their interpretation of the contemporary DIY phenomenon. Instead of choosing to hold an exhibition intentionally focused on the subject and its actual large-scale implications, Sebastian Hackenschmidt, Thomas Geisler and Martina Fineder conduct visitors through an extraordinary inventory of alternative possibilities that correspond to the motto “have more, own less”, which in their view - and via a spiritual chain that starts from Victor Papanek and James Hennessey - characterises the attitude of the new contemporary nomad: impermanence is the new living freedom?

At the same time, this exhibition – tinged with deep critical issues such as the unsolvable link between mainstream experiences and the alternative subcultures, between social criticism and individual affirmation – offers an infrequently experienced opportunity to run through the most interesting DIY tools and results, restricted to the sphere of furniture and the home in the last 50 years, this justifying some troublesome absentees.

Vienna Design Week 2013
MAK Nite: chmara.rosinke. Photo © Florian Rainer /
A completely different aesthetic emerges in what is perhaps the most silent and maverick exhibition, that hosted in the Viennese premises of the Křehký gallery, where five Czech designers pit themselves against Biedermeier style. In an era of skeletal, mechanical and masculine forms, it is the triumph of a romantic decorativism that is also joyful, carefree and naturalistic, one that – the gallery’s curators hope – will also excite - the wealthy bourgeois collector as too the cultured public in search of distractions, we would add.
Vienna Design Week 2013
Galerie Krehký: The New Biedermeier Collection. Photo © Christine Wurnig /
Although significant works by the Viennese school of design are lacking, the Linz University of Arts and Industrial Design exhibits a bizarre souvenir transformation machine. Basically, it is a conveyor belt, like those seen at airport security checks, inside which an industrious student manipulates, cuts and converts the cherished souvenirs that visitors give to the experiment and that a staring colleague catalogues and labels with botanical precision. This fun happening –  intentionally or not – shifts the reflection to hugely contemporary themes such as consumption, conservation and, last but not least, the parody of a certain ceremonial of the process so popular in today’s schools.
Vienna Design Week 2013
Passionswege 2013: Zur Schwäbischen Jungfrau. Photo © Kramar /
Speaking of this, the adjacent room deserves a visit for the display of some of the latest works by Switzerland’s ECAL, chosen by their director Alexis Georgacopoulos and remarkable both for the attention paid to the research phase, in technical but also anthropological terms, and for their equally exemplary presentation. Standing out for sheer beauty is the “Bike tie” collection of bicycle accessories, already presented by Renaud Defrancesco at the last Milan Furniture Fair.
Vienna Design Week 2013
MAK Design Salon #02: Studio Formafantasma. "The Stranger Within". Photo © Florian Rainer /
Closing the circle of the “trail” we embarked on is an initiative that we should replicate with, if possible, the same freedom, imagination and freshness as shown by some of the works much admired here in Vienna. Called “Passionswege”, it is a Design Week project whereby, four months beforehand, the Festival’s organisers propose pairings between long-established local companies (including the glorious Lobmeyer which this year offers a duo comprising a Bertille & Mathieu performance and the brilliant new collection developed by Formafantasma) and international designers.
Vienna Design Week 2013
Passionswege 2013: Sebastian Herkner bei "Zur schwäbischen Jungfrau"). Photo © Kramar /
Although not exactly a novice designer – and that is obvious! – the first place among the various proposals scattered around the city’s shops is secured by Sebastian Herkner, who tackled the far from easy theme of the personalisation of the hugely expensive Zur Schwabischen Jungfrau textile products, traditionally embroidered with the owner’s initials in an indelible mark of their prestige. How to adapt this old custom to new habits and contemporary wallets – although Austria is one of Europe’s top five richest countries? The designer succeeded with a simple and radical action – 3D monograms that can be stamped on and erased with a wipe of a sponge (or a cycle in the washing machine).
Vienna Design Week 2013
Passionswege 2013: Sebastian Herkner bei "Zur schwedischen Jungfrau". Photo © Kramar /

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