Under the Covers (Monocle 24)

In September 2019, Katie Treggiden was invited into the Monocle24 studio to run through the latest craft and design magazines catching her eye. She and Josh Fehnert discussed stories from the Parisian magazine Profane celebrating amateurs from the creative realm. Also covered are stories featuring in Franklin Till’s Viewpoint magazine, the Crafts Council magazine Crafts, and Eye on Design, published by AIGA, the oldest and largest not-for-profit design organisation in the United States.

You can listen to the show here.

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Right to Repair: exploring mending and restoration (Skinflint)

In May 2019, Katie Treggiden was commissioned by Skinflint to put together and chair a panel discussion at Clerkenwell Design Week entitled ‘Right to Repair: exploring mending and restoration. Following a lively debate, Katie wrote a blog post for Skinflint sharing some of the most salient points raised. All copy as provided to the client.

Right to Repair: exploring mending and restoration

Design journalist Katie Treggiden chaired a panel comprising V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser Bridget Harvey, Restoration Station volunteer Justin South, textiles artist Celia Pym, and our very own Chris Miller during Clerkenwell Design Week. Here are some of the key insights…

‘By extending the lifespan of the product, we are reducing its environmental impact. The lights we reclaim are extremely well designed and engineered. They have fallen out of use, not because they have failed, but because the buildings around them have failed’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

‘The people who come to Hackney Fixers either bring things they really, really love and have a deep emotional connection to, or things they really, really need.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘Repair is not really about consuming or not consuming – it’s about keeping the things that make your life more pleasant in use.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘Clients often can’t believe that we have genuinely salvaged our lights – that they are original – so we purposefully leave the imperfections in and celebrate the history of the pieces.’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

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‘Restoring furniture with Restoration Station, and celebrating the life stories of those objects, has been an important part of my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It says that you don’t have to forget where you came from, that even as you move past an area of your life, it is still part of your recovery, part of your story.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘There is a heap of evidence that shows that working with your hands is good for your wellbeing. I love how time feels different when I am repairing something – just that rhythm of being in it.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘You can go too far with a repair. But what I have grown to love is the powerful feeling that even if I break something or take it too far, I still have the capacity to do something else, because it was broken and damaged in the first place – there’s a real freedom in that.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘I have mended some things and been extremely moved to discover previous repairs – there’s a wonderful layering of stories in mended objects.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘Whether you are a maker or a mender; you put something of yourself into the objects because you care.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘In museum conservation, there is now more care for the narrative of the object, rather than just the object as it was when it was made – for example, museums might not staple broken ceramics together anymore, but neither do they remove historic staples, because they want to keep those stories – the staples help us understand the history of the piece.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

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‘In ten years, we have salvaged and restored about 50,000 lights and we now only take lights from the 1920s until about the 1970s, because after that value engineering and planned obsolescence had come into play, and we are physically unable to restore these pieces. That is a real shame and something I feel very strongly against.’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

‘It’s the same with midcentury furniture – any earlier and it’s very complex and intricate and would require specialist skills to restore, and any later you start getting veneers and if a veneer is too thin, you can’t really sand it and it becomes very difficult to repair – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘I think the notion of visible mending is quite a catchy idea, but I don’t fully trust it – it feels too obvious. The point isn’t the visibility for me. Creatively, it’s exciting to play with colour, but not everybody is not comfortable with a mend being visible and I would never push someone to use contrasting yarns.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

Visible mending can be a really good statement of intent, or of the environmentalism or politics of mending…but if you are mending someone’s work clothes, for example, they might not want bright yellow yarn on their smart black suit jacket. It’s an aesthetic choice. I have a lot of visibly mended coats, and there are days I don’t even want to wear them myself, days when I just want to blend into the background.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘As a charity that aesthetic of visible mending is less of a concern – it’s more often about making use of what we have and making a feature of things that don’t match.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘I am a little cautious about trends – there is a danger that people only buy into the aesthetic and not the purpose and start mending things that aren’t damaged, or purposefully ageing new products and that seems wrong somehow.’ – Chris Miller, Skinflint.

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‘People can be scared to attempt their first repair, but most of the things we restore don’t require any specialist skills. I would say, “just have a go. If something is already broken, you are not going to make it worse”.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘The trend for visible mending is in danger of romanticising repair, but a lot of mending is not romantic at all – it is often more to do with austerity; purely pragmatic.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘I love that Bridget said a big part of her job at Hackey Fixers is getting big crumbs out of toasters, because the thing is, if you’re stuck, you’re stuck! There is something lovely about showing someone else your problem – sometimes people show me things they don’t want mended, they just want to share them with me.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

‘There is no point in mending something you never liked in the first place because you won’t like it anymore after it is fixed. So, don’t worry about getting rid of things you don’t love – and it’s okay to buy new things too, just try to only buy things you really love or need.’ – Celia Pym, textiles artist.

Getting started with mending is about confidence and having access to support – our events are highly social and are often just as much about the cup of tea and the chat as they are about fixing things’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

‘People just need to try and understand that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to fail and if you do fail, it’s not the end of the world – you can get past failure. That was something that I had to learn in my recovery, that something might have gone wrong that I needed to address, but I also needed to move forward.’ – Justin South, Restoration Station.

‘Repair is a craft and you do have to practice it, you can botch something with gaffer tape but the more you practice the more beautiful your mends get and the more choice you have in terms of visibility or invisibility. Just approach it in the same way you would approach learning to cook or to speak another language, the more you do it the better you get at it.’ – Bridget Harvey, V&A Artist in Residence and Hackney Fixers co-organiser.

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The blog post can be found here. Photography: Skinflint.

Design News with Katie Treggiden (Monocle 24)

In September 2019, Katie Treggiden was invited into the Monocle24 studio to share a round-up of craft and making news. She and Josh Fehnert discussed Labour & Wait’s pop-up shop at Lassco and the secret of their success ahead of their 20th anniversary next year, the rise and rise of weaving and why Secret Universe, Company’s solo show at Design Museum Helsinki, is a good example of how to stay on the right side of the inspiration/appropriation divide when it comes to craft and culture.

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You can listen to the show here.

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Nothing To See Here (KX Quarterly)

A nightclub has opened in London Design Festival’s newest district, but you won’t want to stay for long. Martino Gamper’s site-specific installation in Coal Drops Yard questions the permanence of design and the transience of the festival itself.

There’s a queue – that’s a good sign, right? You can hear the bass and can just make out the lights strobing inside. The bouncer looks like a jobsworth: arms folded, scowl on his face. You check your shoes – trainers, but smart trainers; you should be okay. You’ve put in a good day at the new King’s Cross Design District, explored all Coal Drops Yard has to offer, and now you’re ready to let your hair down. You spot someone you know at the front of the queue and cut in. The music is banging. You take in the club’s frontage. The bouncer lets in the couple ahead of you. It reminds you of the wooden shingles they use in the Alps, but it seems to be made of mismatched offcuts. You’re next. Maybe they’re upcycled. The bouncer stamps something illegible on the back of your hand and you step through the door into… nothing.

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Disco Carbonara, if the name weren’t enough to give it away, is nothing more than a façade, London-based Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper’s take on a ‘Potemkin village’, created especially for Coal Drops Yard. ‘I wanted to explore the temporary nature of design festivals,’ he says. ‘The inspiration came from the 1984 Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles. They used film sets and scaffolding to create a temporary effect, rather than building structures just to tear them down afterwards. A lot of these design events are similar, things are here for two weeks then taken down again. It seemed wasteful to build something, so I thought: why not embrace that idea and create a fake façade?’

The 1984 Summer Olympics in LA are generally regarded as the most financially successful Olympic Games in modern times and host cities have used them as a benchmark ever since, but they were far from the first attempt to use temporary structures to create the illusion of something more permanent. The term ‘Potemkin village’ comes from a mobile village Grigory Potemkin is reported to have built on the banks of the Dnieper River in the 18th century to impress his lover, Catherine the Great. The Crimea region, of which he was governor, had been decimated by war, and he had been given the task of rebuilding it. To give the impression of progress, Potemkin had his men dress as peasants to populate his fake village as Catherine passed in a barge, and then take it apart and reassemble it further upstream so she would pass it again and think it was yet another successfully restored settlement. The tale may be more myth than history, but the approach has inspired everything from Olympic villages and film sets to training grounds for driverless cars and urban warfare.

‘The brief was to make something big, visible and fun,’ says Gamper. ‘This area used to be known for its nightclubs and I liked the idea of playing with the anticipation of something before you realise it’s fake. It is clad with my take on traditional Alpine cladding – a sort of vertical parquet floor made from composite veneer offcuts, which are real wood as fake wood. They come from a tree but have been subverted and changed into something else. The offcuts have a texture to them and they’re quite colourful – and it was important to me not to create a lot of waste.’

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Gamper has a reputation for reusing and repurposing objects. His 100 Chairs in 100 Days in its 100 Ways project saw him create new seats from discarded chairs found on the streets of London. His revival of the Victorian tradition of stacking chairs into giant archways saw 120 Ercol chairs form two 10-foot high arches in the garden of the Victoria and Albert Museum. More recently, he designed a bench made of recycled plastic for Fiskars Village in Helsinki. ‘I have always liked to fix things.’ he says. ‘Trying to mend something is adding to it in a way. We live in such a fast world and don’t seem to have time to fix things or seek new value in old objects.’ In the midst of Milan Design Week in 2014, the heart of all things new and shiny, he set up shop as In A State of Repair in the windows of department store La Rinascente and asked members of the public to bring in broken objects, highlighting the skills that go into mending, not just conceiving and making. ‘With a bit more care and creativity, we don’t have to constantly reinvent the world,’ he explains. While Disco Carbonara’s entire frontage is made from waste composite veneer from the third-generation Italian Alpi factory, the panels at the back are sustainably sourced and can be re-used. ‘There are plenty of materials that can be re-used and given another cycle,’ he says. ‘By using waste wood, you get more creative licence, because the material is already un-precious. The expectations that come with precious materials can be quite limiting, whereas if you use an offcut or waste product, you have to push harder, but the return is a lot more interesting.’

Pushing harder is a recurring theme in Gamper’s diverse output, a selection of which – from, products and furniture to video–art pieces – will be showcased in the UK for the first time at nearby Samsung KX. Gamper is also the designer behind the Arnold Circus Stool, created as part of the regeneration of the UK’s first social housing project in 2006; Screenshot, a conceptual photography project in collaboration with artist Brigitte Niedermair and Italian textile house Dedar, which synthesised 500 years of the colour blue in figurative art; and No Ordinary Love which saw Gamper and peers such as Max Lamb, Bethan Laura Wood and Silo Studio populate SEE••DS Gallery with a collection of bronze candle sticks priced according to their weight. All of these raise more questions that they answer, a habit Gamper acquired from Ron Arad during his time at the Royal College of Art.

 Disco Carbonara, a London Design Festival commission by Martino Gamper, installed in Coal Drops Yard at King's Cross

‘Ron taught us to really question everything,’ says Gamper. ‘He was always controversial. He would ask very valid questions, and at the same time encourage us to find our own way, to be individuals and not just follow in the footsteps of others or tick boxes. For 12 years, he created the most diverse selection of designers that I can think of. We are all out there, doing our own things, finding new ways, new methods, new techniques…and thinking outside the box.’ Established in 1837, the RCA’s mission is to take innovation to industry and engage with real-world issues, and if Arad’s emphasis during his tenure as Professor of Design Products (1998–2009) was on the former, Gamper, who taught there from 2003 until 2017, put his focus on the latter. ‘I tried to bring students out of college to do as many live projects as possible – we went to India and Africa, we opened restaurants and shops, we visited factories. It was important that the students understood that it’s not just about what you design, it’s about where it lives in the world.’ But Gamper admits it’s a constantly changing world. He came of age in the wake of post–modernism, when designers and architects such as Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and Alessandro Mendini broke free from the shackles of modernism. ‘Sotsass, especially, killed the idea that ‘form follows function’ and started to develop a new language, borrowing elements from the Greeks and the Romans,’ explains Gamper. ‘He was trying to create a new style, a new aesthetic, new surfaces – and he was having fun. People post-rationalise it into this deadly serious, intellectual movement now, but they just wanted to do something new.’

Now, after the minimalist reaction against post-modernism, Gamper thinks it is again time for something new. ‘Material has become important; narrative has become important; the environment and sustainability have become important. Before now, design groups have always said, “This is the future, forget about the rest”. But now things are happening in parallel. Maybe we can create something new from all of those ingredients rather than separating them into smaller things. Maybe things can be a little more mixed, a little more inclusive.’

As you step through the doors of Disco Carbonara, instead of feeling disappointed about the lack of night club, perhaps imagine instead that you’ve stepped into a parallel universe – one where mending is taken as seriously as making, where waste is a precious resource, where you have the freedom to question everything, where everything happens in parallel and everybody is welcome. Whether your name is on the list or not – step inside.

Find Martino Gamper’s site-specific installation for Coal Drops Yard, alongside exhibitions, events, workshops and performances at the London Design Festival’s newest design district, Kings Cross, from 14th to 22nd September 2019.

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Photograpy: @studiostagg