Incendiary devices

Designers who try to make dramatic political comments with their creations should tread carefully, says John Stones. When you exploit the victims and paraphernalia of war or poverty you negotiate a minefield that could blow up in your face…

Alongside the Baghdad table Edra presented another ‘sculpture table’, also dedicated to a city – the Brasilia table by Fernando and Humberto Campana, with an impractical if visually arresting surface made up of fractured mirror ‘reflecting’ their thoughts on the Brazilian city that is so often seen as an object lesson for the failure of Modernism.

Delaney says, ‘These products are symptomatic of design’s continuing obsession with fashion and novelty. If they had appeared in the satellite exhibition, presented by a young unknown designer neither would have warranted a second glance.’

But the work also has its defenders. Mike Curtis, managing director of Start Creative, suggests ‘the controversial nature of Starck’s latest work reinforces how the design industry can provoke and stimulate the consciousness’. He adds, ‘Designers are well placed to challenge conventions, especially at a time in the economic cycle when clients tend to be more conservative and much work is commercially focused and, by definition, safer.’

And Flos cites Cristina Morozzi: ‘Neither self-made toy weapons nor table lamps are the cause of wars. Think about the pure gold plating on these fake weapons, which is just as powerful a symbol of the greed, not love, that appears to drive life, with ever more devastating effects.’ She places the work in context with Catalan designer Martí Guixé’s new book on Toy Guns, which shows how a coat hanger can be shaped to look like a gun.

Both the gun lamps and the ‘sculpture tables’ are going into production. Younger designers are also adopting the use of furniture design as a vehicle for controversial statements. John Angelo Benson, a young British designer showing at the Salone Satellite, presented the ‘the most expensive chair in the world – to die for’, a wooden recreation of Andy Warhol’s infamously aestheticised chair of death, with leather straps now adorned with diamonds too. It presents itself as pillorying the media need for controversy and unambiguously criticises design, while not entirely escaping the clutches of that game itself.

If the intention or function of the furniture was to get people talking, these pieces are no doubt successful. While some are already writing out no doubt sizeable cheques, others are left foaming at the mouth.

Sophisticated or well-intentioned attempts to make design relevant to wider debates and events in our culture or crass, insensitive, headline-grabbing opportunism? You decide.

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