Brassless – FAR
Curated by Studio Vedét at Nilufar Gallery
Brassless was born as an ironic and provocative gesture, an irreverent parenthesis within its context. Just as in the previous episodes of FAR the parasitic curatorial entity that lives within the spaces of Nilufar, Brassless marries a challenging accent to the characteristic language used in the established Milanese gallery. With a light but decisive statement, it aims to accelerate the ending of the brass era, or rather, the ending of a phase in which contemporary design and architecture abused this alloy by using it randomly or needlessly. The playful spirit with which we embarked still remains, opening up space for broader reflections.
In 2017, many publications began to make bold declarations about the return of brass in design, a new trend that was often defined as nostalgic or retro. One might smile at the oxymoron of the new retro, but whenever a choir of numerous diverse voices sings the praises of a new trend, it usually marks the point of its decline, with one last, unconstrained outburst of circulation. A final strike of the tail-end at which we find ourselves today.
The history of design, like that of fashion or graphic media, has always proceeded in alternating cycles: collective infatuations with certain shapes, colors or materials, followed by reactions of horror and denial towards the same elements. Similar though not identical mechanisms characterize the processes that establish major stylistic movements, originating in important design schools or deriving from historical philosophical branches, but trends work in different, subtler, and potentially more harmful ways.
One of the greatest dangers of the trend, its most contemporary characteristic, is the supersonic speed of its dissemination when compared to past developments. What once moved slowly in the worlds of design and architecture, especially compared to fashion, today finds itself traveling at the speed of light: images, colors, and shapes race across the Internet and onto social media. In their two-dimensional charm, these visual phenomena conquer and perpetuate a line of development that obscures, among other things, the weight and qualities of materials that are fundamental to design disciplines.
Take a look at the articles that glorify the brass trend: there is no principle, manifesto, technical or symbolic purpose to be found that would account for the revival of brass. But if there was no functional or theoretical-disciplinary basis for the sudden proliferation of this material, what made it happen? In all likelihood, this recent brass obsession originated with a handful of simultaneous projects that dusted to this outmoded material, and possibly for good reason, in full awareness of its suitability towards a particular shape, process, or function or its potential for innovation. Perhaps these initial projects were published without going into the technicalities of these material properties -such details are not mandatory- while their shimmering golden images began to appear, disseminate, and multiply until, finally, the world of designed objects and spaces was paved in a poor yet beautiful approximation of gold, what Homer called aurichalcum. Today, brass is especially popular in the form of sheets, which cover everything and nothing in particular. Brass makes love to all materials, from wood and marble to silk and velvet, in the bathroom or in the kitchen. The trajectory of its rise seems to follow a wild, unconditional tendency that does not make too many demands on the specific properties of this alloy.
Ductile, malleable and resistant to corrosion, compared to copper, brass measures higher in hardness, resilience and fusibility. It has remarkable acoustic properties for which it is used in the production of various musical instruments, not for nothing known as brass. It is equally an antibacterial material that is, capable of quickly eliminating pathogens that are deposited on its surface- hence its frequent use for handles, taps or handrails. There, the explanation we were looking for. It came, however, not from a design project description but a manual on the history of brass. We are moving into a new era: one in which the choice, acquisition, and desire for certain design qualities will increasingly stem from two dimensional images or other virtualities. Only with ever more difficulty will we be able to touch, lift, perceive an object in the round before bringing it into our spaces, using it, scratching it, staining it, clean- ing it. In this climate it is especially urgent that designers link us to material properties, employing all of their experience and creativity.
Brassless is not a stop to brass but rather a denunciation of the decadence of trends and an effort to prevent the very thing we need least a new homogeneous movement spreading designed matter at random over our tired world. The exhibition features projects that choose different metals for different reasons, as well as one non-metal experiment, indicating that this investigative approach could extend to any material with which design has been and, more importantly, will be made.
While the Objects of Common Interest duo choose steel for its magnetic aspects in order to develop playful and interactive furniture elements, Studio Minale-Maeda investigates the properties of copper for a proposed method of recycling and reuse done in house. Simón Ballen makes vessels from the gold strewn throughout Colombia’s rivers to denounce the absurd effects of mining in his home country, while Martino Gamper redeems lead from the thousands of prejudices that have accrued around this antiquated metal. If standard press-locked aluminium gratings is a perfect match for versatile weatherproof seating by Antonio Barone, the basic aluminium sheets sold on the market for years are reinvented by Thomas Ballouhey through new plasma cutting and bending techniques that transform the material into unexpected and sinuous surfaces.
Odd Matter select nickel for a new evolution of their Guise project, where both Destroyers/Builders or Wendy Andreu and Bram Vanderbeke opt for the lightness of aluminium in their modular furnishings in total contrast to the heavy steel chosen by Lukas Wegwerth for his design system that revolves around a miraculously strong and versatile structural joint. Not brass, but bronze -another variety of copper alloy- is included as the critical ingredient in the hybrid fusion process (both hypercontemporary and vintage) through which Carlo Lorenzetti creates his beautiful sculpture-lamps; silver, on the other hand, enters the scene as a new challenge for the designers of OLDER with Alexander Benjamin Vinther, collaborating with one of Denmark’s most experienced silversmiths to create a set of spatial cutlery.
And sulfur? It’s not a metal. Is it in any way related? Yes, in fact: it comes to Brassless via the fascinating research of Icelandic designer Anna Diljá Sigurðardóttir, who created a machine to illustrate the industrial and geological cycle of an undervalued and misunderstood element. This project broadens the exhibition scope and, beyond that, epitomizes the designer’s role which is more crucial than ever as a pioneering explorer of matter.
If the world is destined, as previously noted, to decide at a distance on the basis of partial representations and perceptions, it is ever more important that those who design and manufacture in direct contact with materials have the necessary competence to meet greater responsibilities. Brassless has chosen to collaborate with 13 skilled designers who ignore trends and aim for deeper metallic resonances each pursuing a different direction in a potentially discordant polyphony, but united as a multiplicity of equally powerful reasons for being.