“I would see so many beautiful things, but often find them antiquated and not functional in the modern world.”
– Feyza Köksal, Turkey
Dach & Zephir: “Éritaj Kontré”. All images courtesy of the artists.
Antique porcelain and enamel dining ware embellished in exotic flora and fauna, perhaps even a few people dressed in lavish garb, was all the rage of European high society during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today in an antique shop, someone uncovers a set of teacups covered in tropical flora as a perfect touch of French vintage luxury to complete their whimsical and sophisticated urban dwelling. These items may add some uniqueness to hip, on-trend interior enthusiasts, but let’s try and keep in mind what the world was like when these objects came into existence. A deeper look and exploration turns up words such as exoticism, orientalism, and chinoiserie – an object made by one culture built upon the fascination and idealization of another without a sincere understanding or respect for its people. These are ideas that should be far from timeless, perhaps it’s possible that aesthetics are not the only reason that these objects went out of fashion to begin with.
Responsibility with regard to our modern creative objects goes beyond responding to the concerns of our natural environment, after ages of appropriation, exploitation, and disregard for the cultural backgrounds from which the ornamental adornment and subject matter in fashion originates. These next designers look at the past through the context of their own personal culture; they imagine a time yet to come, where our dazzling objects and the stories of their cultural heritage are intrinsically connected in the eyes of consumers. What if we could re-interpret and be inspired by the past in a way that is authentic and culturally relevant to the makers of the object – could this lead us to a brighter, more inclusive future?
Dach & Zephir: France
Based between Paris and Guadeloupe, designers Florian Dach and Dimitri Zephir, combine the craft traditions of both culturally distinct locations into hybrid objects that address historical issues and subject matter. The work of experienced craftsmen, Faïencerie Georges in Nevers (France) specializing in hand-made decoration on raw enamel, and Gérard Ako, specializing in the Guadeloupe tradition of coconut palm weaving, meet in the project “Éritaj Kontré”. The blue and white enamel surfaces depict vibrant scenes of the coconut industry in the Caribbean taken from vintage postcards. The project, however, is a stark contrast to this period where Europeans were obsessed with depictions of “exotic” imagery while not-so-concerned with the actual well-being of the cultures depicted. Instead, in “Éritaj Kontré”, the makers and their stories are celebrated and respected.
Magnus Ingvar Ágústsson: Iceland
Icelandic designer and artist, Magnus Ingvar Ágústsson’s work reflects a world viewed through the lens of a science fiction novel, which upon closer inspection is not so far off from reality. With a BA in Man and Communication, Media and Culture from the University of Eindhoven, Ágústsson has embarked on creating a futuristic visual language communicated through age-old craft techniques, for example, weaving. The resulting tapestries are ripe with classic mythological figures and references populating a digital dimension influenced by modern-day internet and meme culture. This combination of warm, tactile, traditional craftsmanship with a cold and possibly frightening ideology becomes an eerie glance in the mirror for modern-day society.
Leo Di Caprio: Brazil
Constructed by an intricate process of fitting over 2,000 individually carved and lacquered pieces of wood together resulting in an immersive geometric pattern, Brazilian lawyer-turned designer Leo Di Caprio researched the long tradition of Brazilian jewels for his mesmerizing cabinet. A continued practice originating prior to colonization, indigenous groups created shimmering geometric jewels from seeds found on the forest floor. Di Caprio uses native Pau Ferro wood assembled in a marquetry technique where each individual and unique piece unites the resulting cohesive pattern together.
Billie van Katwijk: The Netherlands
Dutch designer Billie van Katwijk digs deep into unappreciated and often overlooked material sources for her works. As archaeology is constantly unearthing mankind’s forgotten tools from centuries or even millennia ago, van Katwijk is digging up her own hyper-prehistoric materials. Recreating the neolithic forms from Northern Europe’s funnel beaker culture, the drinking vessels are then glazed in the most modern “mud” available, Kaumera, derived from waste-water treatment.
Ulysse Martel & Candice Joyce Blanc: Switzerland
Ulysse Martel comes from classical training with a focus on historical and traditional crafts at the École Boulle in Paris, ranging from oil painting and cabinet making to marquetry. Martel, together with architect Candice Joyce Blanc, has been able to elevate this understanding of the past to resonate in present-day issues and future ideas. In Olympia, Martel & Blanc address the modern longing for bodily perfection in a series of exercise equipment, including dumbbells, in forms that forebode to the role of genetic modification in the near future. All the while with the title Olympia, we’re reminded of an ancient Greek tradition of the perfect mortal body being somehow closer to the gods.
Studio Hanna Whitehead: Iceland
The Vikings’ legacy of conquest and land grab has left its mark not only on historic maps, place names, and language across the North Atlantic, but its effects are seen even to this day through the genetics of the people who inhabit these old Viking territories. Icelandic designer, Hanna Whitehead, explores these connections and the empires’ lasting effects in her collaboration with Scottish textile designer, Clare Anderson, uncovering their countries’ shared heritage. Through combining traditional Icelandic and Scottish crafts traditions, the two designers interweave their unique cultural heritage and imagine a world converged into a single “tribe”.
Mac Collins: The UK
Appearing as a vision of Afrocentrism and Afrofuturism, British designer Mac Collins, whose practice connects his European and Caribbean cultural influences, taps into the pure power and compelling narrative of heritage. Originally interested in Scandinavian and Japanese design, his interest shifted to explore his own cultural heritage including researching African form and wood carving traditions. The chairs physical presence is enough to command a space, simply by its sculptural prowess, with its deep marine hues and bold spear-like shapes. This power is then transferred to its human subject – in a regal and commanding seated position the user finds a new throne of cultural meaning.
Feyza Kemahioglu: Turkey
Using both a material and visual language that is deeply rooted in her Turkish background, Feyza Kemahioglu, pays tribute to tradition while employing a signature, gleamingly cosmic style that results in objects originating from an interstellar Byzantium. Kemahioglu’s works display an interdisciplinary mastery and understanding of craft’s history and its place in the world of contemporary design. A diverse educational training focusing on glassblowing, art, architecture, and woodworking contributes to the incredible range of objects she creates. Her table lamp, for example, is created out of meerschaum, a soft stone originating from Eastern Turkey, and a glass bulb with gold leaf incorporated into the glass blowing process.
The calavera [skull] is a symbol synonymous with Mexican culture and a perfect example of how the country’s storied past remains an integral part of its contemporary identity. Originating from pre-Colombian traditions and kept alive through festivities such as Día de Los Muertos, they show the duality of life and death, past and present. Tzompantli refers to walls found throughout Mesoamerica comprised of either real or stone-carved skulls that acted as a protective barrier between sacred spaces and the mortal world. Piedrafuego, a combination of the words stone and fire, honor a similar duality of the human hand and earthly resources.
Seray Asker: Turkey
Inspired by both her travels and her own Turkish heritage, Seray Asker‘s artistic practice revisits ancient and “primitive” iconography through modern interpretation, creating unique, yet historically-rooted imagery. Her approach to this theme develops a strong connection between past, present, and future while also asking the viewer to consider their own existence, values, and contemporary presence. From her recent residency, the series “Beasts of Cappadocia” makes reference to ancient Anatolian heritage and myth through the depiction of goddesses and beasts, re-engaging these historical icons with modern method and material and carrying them into the future.