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This year’s Design Miami/ Basel, taking place June 11–16, is your ultimate Basel design destination. The fair’s new curatorial director, Aric Chen, has put together presentations from an impressive roster of exhibitors, special commissions, and unique collaborations. A former lead curator of Hong Kong’s M+ museum, he’s a design and architecture expert with an innate intuition for visual culture. Whitewaller spoke with Chen about this year’s edition of the fair, its Design at Large program, and more.
WHITEWALLER: Walk us through this year’s edition of Design Miami/ Basel. Are there any highlights, new programs, or first-timers we should be on the lookout for?
ARIC CHEN: There will, as always, be a great range of historical designs alongside the contemporary, ranging this year from rare works by Prouvé and Royère to mid-20th-century designs by Studio BBPR, Carlo Mollino, and Nanna Ditzel that will help us see that period in new ways. I’m also excited about an exhibition at Paul Hughes looking at the influence of pre-Columbian Andean textiles on the Bauhaus designers Anni and Josef Albers, while on the contemporary front you’ll see the debut of new work by, among others, Philippe Malouin, Hella Jongerius, and Studio Mumbai. Other firsts for the fair will include furniture by the great Mexican architect Luis Barragán and Erik Thomsen Gallery’s display of 19th- and early- 20th-century baskets by Japanese and Chinese bamboo masters.
WW: Tell us a bit about this year’s Design at Large program, entitled “Elements: Earth,” aimed to explore the role of design, materials, and making in a post- nature, Anthropocene future, with large- scale installations.
AC: “Elements: Earth,” which will be followed by “Elements: Water” at Design Miami/ in December, is part of our attempt to look at how collectible design—design whose function goes beyond the utilitarian to take an experimental, conceptual, and cultural position—creates a space for designers working in a more speculative realm. In this case, we’ll be featuring projects that help us reimagine materials and making as we cope with a future in which human activity has changed the nature of the planet, and even the nature of nature itself.
WW: How is the exhibition prompting questions—about topics like consumption and production, raw materials and waste—in relation to human activity and our impact on the planet?
AC: You’ll see projects like the postindustrial designs of Guillermo Santoma, and Formafantasma’s Ore Streams, for which they look to a not-too-distant future in which we’ve exhausted most of our below- ground mineral resources, to create a series of designs incorporating e-waste “mined” above-ground. There’s also Shahar Livne’s Metamorphism project; made of bits of plastic with various minerals, formed together under heat and pressure to simulate Earth’s geological processes, it proposes new ways of seeing materials that acknowledge plastics and other waste as now being part of the planet’s geological record. On a practical level, I’m happy to say the fair is taking steps to substantially reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, with a plastic-free cafe and coffee bar, and other initiatives.
WW: Tell us a bit about this year’s edition of the Swarovski Designers of the Future Award.
AC: Over the years, the award has built an incredible track record of featuring young and emerging designers who’ve gone on to make a real impact on design. This year, I’m sure, will be no different, with Raffe Burrell, Juju Wang, and Studio Klarenbeek and Dros, who will be working with Swarovski to create installations in the areas of lighting, architectural surfaces, and home decor, respectively. The projects are still under wraps, so they’ll be as exciting a discovery for me as for everyone else.