German design exhibition, Herford

Text by Sophie Lovell

Despite the best intentions of the new frugalitarians, the idea that we need to innovate our way out of the crisis is beginning to take hold. In the world of product design, traditionally distinguished by an essential level of commercial functionalism (however fancy the packaging might be), innovation now involves a number of startling directions that have little if anything to do with a practical, industrially-viable or even rational approach.

Instead more and more designers like the Spanish-born Marti Guixé and Berlin-born Jerszy Seymour are questioning the ideological values, commercial strategies and consumer values that define ‘product’ with their work. This means that many of the objects, ideas and processes that are being produced in this field have little or nothing to do with the familiar and everyday consumer goods that we understand as products. Welcome to the world of conceptual design.

The Belgian art and design critic Max Borka has curated a brave new exhibition that strikes the very heart of prevailing preconceptions: the rational, functional, sensible reputation of ‘German Design’. With ‘Nullpunkt. Niewe German Gestaltung’ (a Flemish, English, German hybrid of a title), Borka asserts that ‘the strategy of industrial, corporate and product design common in Germany is just as outdated as national attributions’.

He focuses on a German scene composed of locals, outsiders, emigrants, former residents and immigrants such as Jasper Morrison, Andreas Brandolini and El Ultimo Grito who head what he calls a ‘New Order’ of industrial design. He presents a picture of a lively, dynamic, utopian and international scene in Germany with the clear implication that progress comes from those who dare to be different.

The exhibition is a gloriously eccentric mixture of film, performance and installation with levels of criticism and irony that were previously reserved for art before it started to disappear up its own edifice: Soft sofas as life-sized, stitched versions of Alfa Romeo sports cars from Bless; lampshades made of wax that melt when you turn on the light by Ayin Kayser & Christian Metzner; teacups with handles you can’t get hold of by Alexa Lixfeld and conceptual indoor prefabs by Redesigndeutschland.

It is well worth a visit for those wanting to realign their attitudes with the flip side of the German/international design scene and it is also somehow refreshing that exactly this show is not being hosted in Berlin for a change.

IKARUS wax lamps by Kayser & Metzner, 2007

No 35 Automatic Remote Services Mini cars by Bless

Abandoned Architecture Space Vases by El Ultimo Grito, 2009

Abandoned Architecture Space Vases by El Ultimo Grito, 2009

Salon des Amateurs, Jerszy Seymour, 2009

Moebelette by Katrin Sonnleitner

Moebelette by Katrin Sonnleitner

Creacrete cup by Alexa Lixfeld

Forever Bauhaus by Marti Guixe, 2009

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