Although participants in this year’s Paris Design Week were scattered about the entire city, a healthy selection exhibited their work at the multi-level creative hub known as Les Docks. Overlooking the Seine, the space was teeming with designers from different traditions, aesthetics, and cultures. But despite the throngs of participants bustling throughout the space, I was immediately drawn to a quiet, but cohesive exhibition by the design conglomerate Look To Norway.
Exhibition at Les Docks – Information Packet by Pati Passero
Founded by Strek Collective, Look To Norway consists of twelve Norwegian designers who united to investigate various notions of consumption. Their most recent exhibition at entitled “Best Before” derives an obvious inspiration from the food industry – specifically the ideas of consumerism and expiration. What does it mean for something to expire? Is it no longer fit for consumption, or is it simply outmoded? Is an object’s purpose inherently tied to its use, or is there latent potential in what we discard?
My favorite aspect about Look To Norway (aside from their chosen topic) is the diversity by which the designers respond to these issues. While every piece adheres to an unwaveringly minimalist aesthetic, they are nonetheless separate – even disparate – in terms of their persuasions.
Ship O Hoy – Jørgen Willumsen
Perhaps the most candid piece in the exhibition is Jørgen Willumsen’s “Ship O Hoy,” which is a small collection of lamps made from recovered buoys. In transforming litter into a utilitarian object, he undermines popular notions of expiration by re-investing meaning into a discarded material. Rather than conceding death, Willumsen evokes a dramatic functional transformation that illicits a second thought about our conception of life. Are the sentient and inanimate all that (dis)similar?
Kull (mold) – Wærnes
Kull – Fredrik Wærnes
On the more conceptual side of the spectrum, Fredrik Wærnes confronts ideas of consumption through a clever material exploration surrounding coal. Viewing it as an outdated energy source, he set out to use the material to produce a functional, everyday object. The result was a calculatedly ironic series of coal-composite candleholders. In juxtaposing coal and the flame it supports, Wærnes highlights a dubious relationship between the competing potentials of such a versatile material.
Although these two pieces are successful in their own ways, they are nonetheless a small sample of an incredibly diverse exhibition. What’s innovative about “Best Before” in particular is the opportunity it gives to the designers to ask and answer their own questions. The result is a series of works which is as appealing as it is thought-provoking:
Make Up – Joachim Rasmussen
This simple mirror by Joachim Rasmussen was made in response to the idea of deterioration. Although the mirror will inevitably undergo a natural process of aluminum oxidation, the patina can be easily removed. For people however, the process of aging is irreversible. Rasmussen capitalizes on this schism between the user and the object, investigating the value we place on the untarnished versus the aged.
Balance – Caroline Olsson & Anneli Fjærli
A joint project by Caroline Olsson and Anneli Fjærli, this poignantly-titled “Balance” lamp calls into question the price of progress. Cranes are a certain symbol of prosperity, but they also carry a more negative association tied to blind consumption of materials, resources, and spaces. The goal of this piece is to entice the user to ponder these relationships between growth and destruction.
Drops – Marianne Andersen
In a more craft-driven approach, Marianne Andersen harks back to the time before ‘throw-away culture’ when objects were not only made to last, but were made to be used. These lanterns are all hand blown – each with it’s own idiosyncrasies. Her work demonstrates the vast differences between mass production and handwork; homogeneity versus character, profit margin versus value, and tradition versus technology.
Eclipse Mirror – Nicolai Gulliksen
Both literal and metaphysical reflection play major roles in the entire exhibition. Likewise, this mirror by Nicolai Gulliksen operates on two levels. While the first use is obvious and intuitive, the piece features a light source on the backside to create a nice atmosphere around the object. Because it is very easy to move, the user can interact directly the mirror or reposition it in the room, allowing it to create it’s own reflections and shadows.
Waxandstone – Victoria Martinsen & Sara Polmar
One of the central issues of expiration is the idea of life-span. Victoria Martinsen and Sara Polmar interpreted this through a combination of dissimilar materials. While candles are understood to have a short shelf-life, stone is viewed as almost indestructible. Yet in carefully determining the visual relationship between the two materials, Martinsen and Polmar seem interested rather in their similarities. Are the differences in life-spans enough to view these objects as opposites?
Circuit Breaker – Stian Ruud
This experimental series of light switches from Stian Ruud investigates different ways of breaking a circuit. Only two are pictured, but he has developed five varying methods using combinations of alloys, plastic, and electronics. By changing or slowing the user’s interaction with the switch, Ruud allows us to contemplate not only our relationship with our immediate surroundings, but also the use of our resources.
Miroir – Martin Solem
For his submission, Martin Solem derived inspiration from the 3-sided mirrors of yesteryear. He relied on modern materials and aesthetics to streamline the object without sacrificing its usability. His work suggests that a good way to move forward is to look backwards. In making an outdated object relevant to contemporary society, he gives the mirror a new – albeit different – life.
If you would like to learn more about “Best Before,” try to get your hands on the information packet designed by Pati Passero. It’s gorgeous. In the meantime, be sure to visit the Look To Norway website. You can also find more information about the designers via the links to personal websites strewn throughout the post above. It’s also worth taking a moment to connect with Look To Norway and Strek Collective on Facebook for news concerning upcoming works and exhibitions.