Robert Stadler: “Future of design? Objects could be entirely designed by algorithms”

During Milan Design Week 2018 at La Pelota, Vitra organized an exhibition curated by Stadler with the aim of answering the question of how furniture represents humanity.

Typecasting, Vitra Milano Design Week 2018

“Furniture has always had a representational function,” according to Robert Stadler, curator of the exhibition Typecasting, on at La Pelota during Milan Design Week 2018. It means that we can divide humanity or society by types of chair. An irony too far perhaps. By presenting objects as characters, Typecasting reflects contemporary modes of self-staging as well as strategies of collecting friends and likes on social media. Two hundred items and examples of furnishing are grouped into nine communities: the Communals; the Compulsive Organisers; the Slashers; the Dreamers; the Beauty Contestants; the Dating Site Encounters; the Spartans; the Athletes; and the Restless. In the middle of this there is a “Communal Sofa”, a project by the curator. Intrigued, we asked him some questions.

Why the title “Typecasting?”
The term "typecasting" is used in the film business – but also in theatre – when an actor is repeatedly cast for similar stereotypical roles, such as the villain, the vamp, the action hero or the beauty. In the installation Typecasting I have applied this process to furniture. I have viewed the pieces as characters with a set of personality traits and – just as in the movies – cast the object for a particular role. Thus, each of the pieces of furniture inside this large panorama is categorized into one of nine stereotypes, or “communities”.

How has society changed and how have these changes been reflected in furniture?
All forms of artistic disciplines are related to societal changes. Some set the tone, some are reacting to it. In the Biedermeier period, for example, the term Wohninseln – “living islands” – was created. Not having a fixed position anymore, furniture got simpler and lighter so that it could easily move around the domestic space. Later in the 1960s many informal pieces of furniture with low seating heights reflected the relaxed ambiance of the hippie era.

Typecasting, Vitra Milano Design Week 2018
Typecasting, Vitra Milano Design Week 2018

How do you balance the need to be collective or social and to show – or "self-stage" – individuality?
I feel that changes are by definition a dynamic process and those apparent opposites you are quoting are deeply connected. It appears to me that the slicker industrial products become, the more we long for the crafts and the handmade. The more collective or social we become, the more we also feel the need to affirm our individuality. Doesn’t it seem like in the endless flow of friends and communities in digital media, this has become almost a question of survival?

Can you tell us about your project "Communal Sofa"?
With my piece I aimed to combine both individual communal seating within one single piece of furniture. Four swivelling and reclining backrests are fixed onto an upholstered platform. When turned outwards, together with the platform they form a chair where the user’s feet are touching the floor – a classical seating position for individual working. When turned inwards they stimulate a communal situation where the users are facing each other in a more relaxed position. The platform’s centre is equipped with plugs for recharging mobile devices.

Typecasting, Vitra Milano Design Week 2018
Typecasting, Vitra Milano Design Week 2018

You have divided society in nine communities: which one do you belong to? Does everyone belong to everything?
With my piece, I aimed to combine both individual communal seating within one single piece of furniture. Four swivelling and reclining backrests are fixed onto an upholstered platform. When turned outwards, together with the platform they form a chair where the user’s feet are touching the floor – a classical seating position for individual working. When turned inwards they stimulate a communal situation where the users are facing each other in a more relaxed position. The platform’s centre is equipped with plugs for recharging mobile devices.

Are these nine communities a representation of society or a marketing tool?
My choice of the nine communities is a subjective one describing our sometimes odd attitudes when defining our social profiles. So they are a social representation, which certainly serve as a fertile ground for marketing strategies.

Video interview with Robert Stadler

Do you think the ideas of privacy, intimacy and individuality will always be essential in Western society?
I personally have a hard time predicting how far this trend will go but as I mentioned before people always also counter-react to trends. A strange, but maybe not so utopian idea could be that we will satisfy our need for intimacy through virtual personal spaces as opposed to bricks and stones.

What is your vision of the future of design, in terms of society and human beings?
As a non-digital native, I am personally attached to material and form and I want to believe that design will always have to deal with those notions. Designers increasingly have access to sophisticated production technologies but the singular form seems to lose its importance. Many of the products that deal with social issues have a generic, interchangeable form. It seems as if today a designer has to choose between attitude and form. Pushing this idea further, this could just be the first step before objects are entirely designed by algorithms. I want to believe that it is possible to engage with important contemporary social issues and yet come up with singular, carefully designed objects.

Secretary Prototype, Ettore Sottsass, Vitra Design Museum Collection 1991, Compulsive Organizers
Secretary Prototype, Ettore Sottsass, Vitra Design Museum Collection 1991, Compulsive Organizers
Title:
Typecasting
Curator:
Robert Stadler
Opening Dates:
17-22 Aprile 2018
Location:
La Pelota
Address:
via Palermo, 10

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