The Parisian fair extended a friendly hand across the Channel last month with its focus on emerging British designers
Six eminent designers (Ilse Crawford, Paul Smith, Tom Dixon, Ross Lovegrove, Nigel Coates and Jay Osgerby) selected six rising stars (Marcin Rusak, John Booth, Zuza Mengham, Giles Miller, Studio Swine and Sebastian Cox) to present their latest work at Maison & Objet’s Rising Talents exhibition. The catch: all are based in the United Kingdom. After the country’s vote last year to leave the European Union, Maison’s organisers felt the need to emphasise their kinship with British designers, and British design in general, by giving them a dedicated section of the show. As political rhetoric on both sides heats up, this small gesture of reconciliation does indeed feel welcome.
Out of the six talents – seven if you count the two founders of Studio Swine – two were born outside the UK, demonstrating just how crucial the exchange of ideas and ease of movement of people is to the profession. But the young designers are also representative of the British design scene in other ways: there’s Cox’s dedication to local materials and crafts and artist Mengham’s considered forays into design, a field she isn’t wholly ready to embrace just yet. Rusak, on the other hand, combines personal memories with novel material processes to achieve poetic and sublime results.
Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves of Studio Swine, our recent cover stars, employ their curiosity to unravel narratives and provide unusual insights into the nature of their chosen subject, while Miller patiently manipulates surfaces into shimmering, almost-tactile fields. Finally, Booth applies his lively, colourful illustrations and collages across media, from fabrics to ceramics. There is, perhaps, less of a focus on what would normally be considered industrial design. A shame, but one would hope that there is a young designer in the country who dedicates themselves to that task with gusto and, more importantly, success.
Icon spoke to the exhibitors to find out more about their work.
Marcin Rusak showed the latest addition to his Flora series (top)
The Flora project was the result of your experimentation with flowers. What other areas of design would you like to explore in the future?
I have a constantly growing list of things I would like to explore, but I never find enough time to pursue them all. I recently began working with metal, which each time leads to new discoveries, so I am trying not to rush it. This time, I decided to take as much time as needed to develop the work, as it is a completely self-initiated project. The other thing is an installation I have had in mind for a long time, which investigates our relationship with ephemeral objects and our pursuit of prolonging life.
Sebastian Cox showed a selection from his Bayleaf collection
Do you feel that your local, craft-based way of working keeps your practice manageable? Are there any future collaborations you can talk about?
Having a focus on craft helps us remain committed to our core value of sustainability. We are inherently able to only produce work that fits our brief: objects that are made from British wood and that are going to last. In terms of future work, we're excited about launching our Timberclay collaboration with Billy Lloyd at London Design Festival, where we'll be exploring the relationship between Kentish clay and Kentish coppice chestnut.
Studio Swine showed materials and small objects from its Fordlandia Project
The first part of your Fordlandia project, which you displayed at Maison & Objet is almost finished. Tell me about the second part.
The second part will focus more on the automotive industry in Detroit, taking inspiration from the forms and skills in car production and how they could be adapted to other areas of design and architecture. It will also explore the grand vision of Henry Ford in America.
Zuza Mengham showed a series of resin objects, including the Nexus stool and Camber vase
You trained as an artist. How do you think that influences your approach to design?
Perhaps the artistic training allows more freedom from direct functionality and less sympathy towards a situation that involves multiples or the idea of mass production. That in itself probably sets aside the design versus art distinction, but only in the traditional sense. I think of designers as leaning towards problem-solving and artists as questioning through mainly visual or, more broadly, sensorial means. Seeing interplay between these has revoked a lot of those beliefs for me, and from what I can tell that's been happening for some time. I prefer not to observe the criteria of one or the other but keep everything open, allowing each project to evolve naturally through the appropriate routes of development.
Giles Miller showed his new Gregorian series, in which surface sculptures represent the months of the year
Your studio’s portfolio ranges from commissioned artworks and installations to bespoke and serially-produced surface products. How do you manage to be so consistent?
Our output is in some ways extraordinarily diverse in terms of the scale, materials and context of our projects, but whatever the project all of our work is singularly investigative of the composition of materials in relation to the surroundings of the final piece. We almost always work with a mass of designed components, creating textured reflection or shadow and this element of our work is consistent, given the concept of arranging mass-parts in considered ways.
John Booth showed new ceramic work and illustrations
You apply your illustrations across many different media. Do you work differently when you know you’ll be applying them to fabrics, ceramics or other products?
I work in exactly the same way, as much as possible. For instance, I love collaging onto paper, and this can also be done using thin slabs of clay for the ceramic pieces I make. I use the same paintbrushes to decorate my ceramics as I would use with inks and paints onto paper.