“Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus”: Austria at Adorno London 2021

“Our lives are shaped by rituals, which in turn are embedded in the objects we surround ourselves with. [This collection] examines what the core of these symbolic behaviour patterns might be and what remains even when the circumstances change radically.”

– Gabriel Roland, curator of the Austrian collection, “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus”

“Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” is part of Adorno London 2021, presented during London Design Festival, 18-26 September. Visit the collection in person as part of VIENNA DESIGN WEEK 2021, hosted at Festival Headquarters – Sachsenplatz 4–6, 1200 Vienna – 24 September – 3 October 2021, open daily 11.00 – 20.00. “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” is kindly supported by Advantage Austria & VIENNA DESIGN WEEK.

A derelict space, overtaken by nature, yet recognisable to those with memories of the ritual. On entering, we seek out the familiar: the coffee cups, the chairs huddled around small tables, the imagined music and bits of overheard conversation, the rustle of notebooks and newspapers. The coffee house has taken on a different shape, covered over with trailing ivy and littered with dead leaves blown in by the wind. And yet, our ritual remains. We grasp onto the everyday despite the changes around us, we share coffee and our inner thoughts over reimagined tableware, under reinterpreted lighting. The objects we surround ourselves with reflect this new period in their materials and construction, allowing us to preserve these moments. In this familiar space, we can seek out that which connects us with one another and makes us feel at home.

The Austrian collection, “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus“, curated by Gabriel Roland, examines the continuation of everyday ritual in the face of altered circumstances. Looking to a radically changed future, the collection re-establishes the storied experience of the Viennese coffee house with pieces attuned not only to the needs of the ritual itself, but to the aesthetics of an altered world. They speak to the ways in which design can preserve the everyday, from studionero’s “Mokkup” espresso cups which merge natural stone with drinking vessel to Onka Allmayer-Beck’s ceramic “Kaffeehaus” which symbolically brings the setting into one’s home. Reflecting on the contemporary Austrian collectible design scene, this collection highlights the diversity in approaches and room for experimentation that exists among these designers to reimagine, build, and focus on what we cherish.

“Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” features work by Anna Paul, Daniel Stuhlpfarrer, Katrina Schneider, KIM + HEEP, MADAME Architects, Michael Anastassiades + J. & L. Lobmeyr, Onka Allmayer-Beck, Peter Sandbichler, Studio Bonpart, Studio Högl Borowski, and studionero.

Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus

What are the main themes present in “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus”?

Our lives are shaped by rituals, which in turn are embedded in the objects we surround ourselves with. The “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” examines what the core of these symbolic behavioural patterns might be and what remains even when the circumstances change radically. It is meant to suggest some direct, raw, and primal approaches to form and materiality by peeling back the civilised veneer a little.

What is the significance of the post-apocalyptic Viennese coffeehouse environment that your collection is presented in?

Vienna’s coffee houses are venerated institutions, well-oiled tourism machines, literary fictions, and beloved local hangouts all at the same time. Their iconic status and international renown make them fascinating specimens for speculation and an ideal platform to present a different kind of Vienna internationally.

How would you describe the contemporary design scene in Austria?

Austria is not a major design player, of course, and Vienna is not in the first row of global design hot-spots. That being said, this comfortable position has afforded creatives in Austria the freedom to develop a recognisable profile. Finding paths [to show how] design can create cultural impact, tackle social issues, and innovate in ways that are sustainable both in ecology and society features prominently in the Austrian mix – all viewed through a filter that is informed by the past and often influenced by traditional crafts. And then there’s a budding scene of digital creators who manage to somehow bridge the gap between this grounded approach and cutting-edge virtual worlds.

MADAME Architects, “Rare Cacti”

In your curatorial statement, you reference the heritage of Viennese art and design, specifically around the fin-de-siècle. In what ways does this collection – and these designers – reflect on and/or move against this heritage?

We remember the years around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century in many ways as a world that we now know was not meant to last. All the great works of art, literature, music, architecture, and design came to be on borrowed time – and still laid indisputably defining foundations for everything to come. Looking back, the main lesson seems to be that we can’t re-simplify the world. Instead, we ought to roll with the punches of its complexity, and by doing so, let them buoy creativity in ways that a rigid image of the world could never produce. Seen from a certain angle, the way people stumbled into the 20th century with a great hurrah uncannily resembles the unrestrained rocket power with which technology today sends us hurtling towards an unknowable future. In that vein, design ends up being a thin coat of enthusiasm on top of a great deal of confusion all too often.

The pieces presented as part of “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” speak to “what remains of our rituals when circumstances change”. Looking at the present moment, in what ways have the presented designers reimagined these familiar rituals in the face of the ongoing pandemic?

The piece speaking about the afflictions of the pandemic most explicitly is Onka Allmayer-Beck’s living room-sized coffeehouse. It is, quite literally, a ceramic centrepiece in the shape of a house on legs that contains vessels to enjoy coffee. The piece enables its owners to symbolically relive the experience of going to a café without having to leave the safety of their home. A bit like the Japanese tea ceremony, it also heightens an everyday activity by reducing the number of participants and providing an altar-like setting and an array of ritualistic tools.

Similarly, the other objects in the collection also have the ability to help users create contemplative spaces and moments by focussing on specific poetic potentials of material, form, or function. What ties them together is that they achieve this by doing less, by leaving ends loose and finishes raw. Their gestures are completed only when they receive someone’s concentrated attention.

How do the pieces in your collection relate to the theme of Adorno London 2021, “Designing Futures”?

One way to attempt coming to grips with possible futures is to think about what might and might not be available to us – materials, technologies, infrastructures. On this basis, we can speculate about whether these changes to our circumstances will in turn lead to changes in our priorities. Designers are good at imagining solutions to connect the dots between what is and what we want. Crucially, “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” does this in a way that foregoes resignation or a sensationalist craving for catastrophe. Instead, the collection focuses on how contact between some of the rituals we cherish in Vienna and their physical manifestations might be preserved or re-established. There definitely are some changed priorities ahead and good design can be one of the more positive tools we have to approach them.

Top: Michael Anastassiades & J. & L. Lobmeyr, “Flint” Tumbler // Bottom: Anna Paul, “Plateable”

What do you think the future has in store for contemporary design in Vienna?

I think that Vienna has taken some very wise steps in creating quality of life for a wide spectrum of people. Of course, not all is well, but this model could serve as a good blueprint both for the city as a whole and the design scene that plays an active role within it. Granted, as the city continues to form an attractive framework of urban infrastructure, an active cultural atmosphere and an efficient system of public funding, creatives will continue to apply their skills in ways that contribute to solutions for a fruitful and enjoyable life. In Vienna, this effort is closely linked to social considerations, connected to local crafts, and informed by both the good and bad parts of history. Also, design festivals, like VIENNA DESIGN WEEK, will need the space and support to do their part as site-specific, forward-thinking, bold, and accessible hubs.

Meet Gabriel Roland, curator of “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus”

Gabriel Roland is the newly appointed director of VIENNA DESIGN WEEK. Besides leading the team organising Austria’s largest curated design festival, he is directly responsible for many of its international relations, commissions and special projects. For example, he initiated the Virtual Festival Headquarters of 2020 and co-curates the festival’s renowned ‘Passionswege’ format, which brings together design and craft. Roland has a background in textile design as well as fashion and free essay writing.

Apart from VIENNA DESIGN WEEK, he was involved in projects bridging topics as diverse as toys, digital media, pop culture, and the contemporary art market.

Can you give a bit of insight into your approach to curating this collection?

At the beginning stood the title, both mischievously winking and dead serious. Of course, I had a few pieces and designers in mind, but doing an open call through the Austrian Chamber of Commerce’s internationalisation office really rounded the collection out. Initially, we wanted to focus solely on tableware. Instead, we ended up bringing a whole interior setting together. All [that is] missing is a chair. Seems like the coffeehouses of the future will have to make do without bentwood chairs…

If the viewers of “Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” could take one concept or piece of information away from it, what would you want that to be and why?

Next time they’re enjoying a cup of coffee or even just a glass of water I’d like them to have a new-found consideration for the object they are holding in their hands. If they also think about the future, that’s nice, but what I really want is to create a chance to find a fresh point of view on the immediate pieces of material we use every day and which we think we know so well.

“Postapocalyptic Kaffeehaus” is kindly supported by:

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