Vienna Design Week is the intended antithesis of the usual trade fairs, huge bazaars situated in hangar-like spaces on the peripheries of major cities. Directors Tulga Beyerle and Lilli Hollein, who started the festival five years ago, have pioneered an interesting concept that they call Passionswege (which translates as “paths of passion”). They fund and pair young designers with Viennese businesses, who then collaborate on designs that really engage with the life and economy of the city.
This year, for example, Philippe Malouin worked with luxury glassmaker J&L Lobmeyr to create Time Elapsed, an arresting mobile in brass. Turning on a motor – normally used, as Malouin explained, to revolve huge disco balls – the mechanism resembled the machines depicted in Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass, 1915-23). Malouin’s sizeable instrument sprinkled the fine sand used by the company’s glassmakers, turning hypnotically to build up a doughnut-shaped dune on the floor below.
Malouin was worried that the sand would run dry, like an hourglass emptying, before the festival was over. He was beginning to regret lending a bag to fellow Londoner Tomás Alonso, who had used it to rake a Zen garden on which to show the elegant tea set he had made in collaboration with the Vienna Silver Manufactory. This sat on a circular tray, which had a similar wavy, raked pattern, echoed in the bases of the silverware that neatly locked into position on top.
The unofficial base of Vienna Design Week was the pop-up Café Sonja, designed by PostlerFerguson. The duo had created an ingenious set of cut-out, lightweight, flat-packed MDF furniture in their open studios at the V&A, where they are currently designers in residence, and had shipped it in two small crates to Vienna. Here, seven tables and twice as many benches were slotted together, the porous black-painted tabletops made usable by the addition of tiles covered in reflective golden foil sourced from NASA.
Many young designers based in Vienna also had work on show. Patrycja Domanska had a Cinderella-like installation in a shop that sold traditional folk costumes. She sat, hunched over her loom, stamping handkerchiefs with intricate patterns and invited visitors to do the same. In a defunct slaughterhouse, Greta Hauer and Delphine Rumo created seats out of bat shit, beehives and old furs to draw attention to an urban wilderness to which most people remain oblivious. For the ubiquitous Viennese cafe, Tanja Lightfoot created a pair of lights capped with fan-like screens that could be opened and closed to give privacy. “All ones to watch,” said Tulga Beyerle of this local talent.
Vienna Design Week