A Few Bright Satellites

East
Thursday, June 18, 2009
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Materious, one of the designers in The Promise of this Moment, pulled up to the Guerilla Truck Show. (Samantha Topol)

Materious, one of the designers in The Promise of This Moment, pulled up to the Guerrilla Truck Show. (Samantha Topol)

In recent years, the proliferation of satellite events at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair has grown robust enough to compete for the attention of fair-goers. Now, a handful of young designers have identified a parallel void surrounding NeoCon in Chicago, and this week, they mounted The Promise of This Moment: Objects that Augment the Everyday, a group exhibition including work from 14 Chicago-based designers.

Sponsored by The Object Design League and curated by The Mighty Bearcats, a design collective started in 2006 by Bryan Metzdorf, Steve Haulenbeek, and Jason Chernak, the show takes its cue, according to Chernak, from their intrigue with reports of the “lipstick effect,” the recession phenomenon of people buying small things that offer a sense of luxury under financial constraint.

As the show’s subtitle suggests, there’s a departure here from the material interpretation of “the everyday”—where common materials are recontextualized, as has been popular both in a post-Droog era and amid conversations about sustainability—and an attention to objects that bring levity to rote, quotidian activities.

Fill er up: Greg Bethel’s design for a water-bottle top as faucet handle. (Samantha Topol)

Fill 'er up: Greg Bethel’s design for a water-bottle top as faucet handle. (Samantha Topol)

Greg Bethel designed a soft rubber water-bottle cap in the shape of a faucet handle, evoking both the humorous connotation of water bottles as portable spigot, and the historical collision of current habits with archetypical models. The Teton Blanket, by Mighty Bearcat member Metzdorf, turns an unmade bed into a sculptural statement: Fabric reinforced with Pelon, typically used for shirt cuffs and collars, creates a composed topography no matter how casually the blanket is cast aside. And with Materious’ oversized ceiling-mounted tassel, the MASTER SWITCH, pulling the tassel sends radio signals to nearby power outlets, turning on whatever appliances are plugged in, lending theatrical flair to one’s sense of household command.

The Master Switch, designed by Materious.

The Master Switch, designed by Materious.

The piece that most directly touches on the show’s economic underpinnings is Garrett Smith’s Trickle Down, a basic vacuum-formed plastic container meant to filter out the change from the other detritus left in your pocket at the end of the day. While many of the show’s inclusions intervene in domestic space, one of its standout pieces is also the only nod to the presence object designers could have in territory more typically defined by architects and urban planners: Michael Savona’s Goose Cones playfully reconfigures orange construction cones as a line of crossing geese.

Michael Savona’s redesign of orange construction cones. (Samantha Topol)

Michael Savona’s redesign of orange construction cones. (Samantha Topol)

The Promise of This Moment, a phrase taken from President Obama’s first speech on the economy, clearly aligns with the curators’ vision for the exhibition, but also suggests something about the overarching mood of the Chicago designers involved. Coproduced by the Object Design League (ODL), an initiative launched this spring by Caroline Linder and Lisa Smith, two recent graduates of the Design Objects masters program at the School of the Art Institute, this show is ODL’s first foray into exhibition programming. According to Smith, ODL aims to “become a resource for independent designers,” and if the response in membership and event attendance they’ve seen in just a few short months is any indication, this show will be the first of more to come.

Both the ODL and a number of the designers included in The Promise of This Moment made an appearance in another satellite event Tuesday night called the Guerrilla Furniture and Art Truck Show. It was the biggest turnout in the event’s five-year history, with 28 designers showing their work from the back of U-Haul trucks parked for a few hours near Morlen Sinoway’s design shop in the Fulton Market. Despite periodic sheets of rain, intrepid design connoisseurs came out in good numbers to see what Sinoway, the event’s founder, described as “something formed out of the necessity for young designers to have the opportunity to show.”

The Object Design League, perhaps because it functions more as a platform for designers than a venue for production, decided to forego a truck altogether, and find a way, as Smith described, “to be a spatial presence.” Using their logo as a base, ODL members Thom Moran, Eric Rosenbaum, and Mingli Chang built an inflatable, inhabitable, spherical polygon, nearly 10 feet in diameter, from little more than Tyvek and duct tape. Inside, the atmosphere was something like teepee meets geodesic dome on a construction site. As for the origin of the logo? “We wanted something generic that could come to mean something through community and history,” said Moran.

There’s a resonance between these two events that hints at how that community and history is poised to take shape: through curiosity, humor, and commitment to design.

Check out The Promise of This Moment through June 22, by appointment at 312-560-1532.

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