Salone del mobile and Fuorisalone 2019

Alex Chinneck unzips the façade at Opificio 31

In an illusion created by the British artist for tobacco brand Philip Morris, the stained façade of a Tortona building peels away at one corner to reveal a clean white wall. 

Alex Chinneck facciata

International tobacco giant Philip Morris has teamed up with British artist Alex Chinneck to present a conceptual project based on the brand’s future vision as part of Milan Design Week. Visitors to Zona Tortona will encounter what appears to be a typical local building with a giant zipper that has been unfastened to expose a corner of the facade. The architectural illusion dominates the courtyard at Spazio Quattrocento, and will likely be one of the most Instagrammed installations of the week.

The collaboration with Chinneck, who is known for surreal public sculptures that combine art, architecture and theatre, is intended to reflect the firm’s new direction and the creative effort required to completely overhaul a business which is undergoing radical changes as it seeks to facilitate a “smoke-free” future. “We’re making the move from big tobacco to what you might call big science or big technology,” claims Frederic de Wilde, president of EU Region at Philip Morris International. With sales of cigarettes in steady decline in most established markets, the company has spent the past 15 years and around $6 billion developing its IQOS (I quit original smoking) range of smoke-free devices that heat tobacco instead of burning in effort to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals produced. “We’ve tried to unzip conventional thinking to come up with a transformative vision for our company and our industry that gives smokers a better alternative,” de Wilde adds.

This is the third year that Philip Morris has participated in Milan Design Week, but its installation this year is by far its most ambitious. Chinneck has produced an immersive and engaging experience that gives tangible form to the “unzipping” metaphor de Wilde describes. The artist previously developed a similar installation at a derelict office building near to his studio in Kent, England, but says this iteration in Milan provided an opportunity to explore a new approach that uses technology to promote interaction. “We were encouraged to take the work in a new direction, which informed the illumination and the colour,” says Chinneck, sitting on a bench in front of the building. “The work we produce is usually embedded in reality and we then distort it, but here that concept has been translated into something that’s also more abstract and futuristic.”

 “IQOS World Revealed” by Alex Chinneck
“IQOS World Revealed” by Alex Chinneck

The false facade is an amalgam of references drawn from the surrounding streets and is rendered with impressive accuracy, down to the graffitied shutters and aged plasterwork. The illusory experience continues inside, where further zippers are integrated into the walls and floor of the minimal exhibition space. Visitors can pass behind the illuminated wall to have their photograph taken inside the artwork, and each room features a dedicated soundscape that adds to the futuristic feel.

Like many global brands who have chosen to exhibit at Milan Design Week in recent years, Philip Morris wants to communicate its creative vision and brand philosophy to a discerning and influential international audience. The collaboration with Chinneck therefore offers a unique and memorable experience that will be talked about and shared on social media. For Chinneck, however, the objective was simply to facilitate a positive experience for the thousands of people who will visit the installation this week. “I just want to make people smile and create something that is surreal and memorable,” he points out. “I hope we’ve provided a spectacle that has a playful and uplifting effect.”

IQOS World Revealed
Alex Chinneck
Philip Morris International
Spazio Quattrocento, Opificio 31, Tortona District, Milan
Opening dates:
9th-14th April 2019

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