This month’s design news features the work of creatives who wanted to change the status quo. We have a gallery show celebrating the work of queer art collective General Idea, a group of artists who will forever be associated with the Aids pandemic and the prejudice many victims of the virus faced in the 80s and 90s. There’s also a show dedicated to Virgil Abloh, the first black creative director at Louis Vuitton. Abloh worked on the exhibition before his untimely death last year, and the centrepiece was ‘Social Sculpture’ a physical space for gatherings designed to counter the historical lack of space afforded to Black artists in cultural institutions. It’s important to honour the creatives who use their voices for political good. Especially as it seems the fight for equality and autonomy is never over.
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You get the General Idea
The General Idea retrospective, currently at the National Gallery of Canada, is one of the most comprehensive surveys of the Canadian queer art collective to date. The three members – Jorge Zontal, AA Bronson and Felix Partz – met in the 60s and created magazines, performances and artworks that looked at the media, gender, consumerism and, most famously, the Aids pandemic.
The trio met at Rochdale College, an experimental commune in Toronto, where they bonded over humorous, creative, unconventional projects, such as avant-garde beauty contests, TV shows and creating fake shop fronts. Their aim was to reach people who might not be a typical gallery audience, but would react to artworks placed in an everyday context. One of their projects was the magazine File (1972-1989). Started as a record of the 60s Mail Art movement, File became a manifesto for their ideas, but also a more general culture title. Later cover stars included Debbie Harry and Tina Turner.
General Idea’s philosophy was founded on Susan Sontag’s Notes on ‘Camp’, a 1964 essay first published in Partisan Review, and William S Burroughs’s fiction. Their aim was to subvert mass media and images to show an alternative viewpoint. They were prescient with their motto “Image is Virus”, an idea that intrigued the trio long before the internet and viral social media existed.
Tragically, though, General Idea’s work is now more widely associated with the other virus that defined the 80s and 90s: Aids. Their final projects included an iconic reworking Robert Indiana’s Love sign to read Aids and an installation called One Year of AZT/One Day of AZT, comprised of drug capsules. Partz and Zontal both died of Aids in 1994, bringing the collective’s work to an end. Bronson continues to work as an artist to this day. After the retrospective’s run at Ottawa, the exhibition will travel to Europe bringing the work of a fascinating collective, with ideas that were ahead of their time, made by members whose lives were cut too short. If you haven’t got it yet, soon you’ll get the General Idea.
General Idea is at National Gallery of Canada until 20 November
Interior designer Hollie Bowden sets up shop
Interior designer Hollie Bowden opens a shop space, The Gallery, next to her Shoreditch studio this summer. Bowden has quickly made a name for herself with her unique style. The homes she creates have a spare feel with open space and a simple palette but with theatrical, quirky furniture and artworks. She’s describes her style as maximalist minimalism and her references include everything from architect Ernö Goldfinger and French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank to the Catalan sculptor, Xavier Corberó.
Bowden trained at KLC School of Design in Chelsea and then worked as a stylist, florist and set designer before assisting various designers and then establishing her own interior design studio in east London in 2013. Her clients include actor Robert Pattinson and musician FKA Twigs, and she’s also created a shop space for leather goods brand Tanner Krolle.
Sourcing quirky and unexpected pieces of antique furniture is one of her favourite parts of the job. A keen collector and traveller, Bowden’s trove includes handpicked textiles, ceramics and art found in Paris flea markets and trips to Mexico and the Balearics. These vintage objects will be on show in the new Shoreditch shop, including the designer’s collection of chairs, which features cult styles by Italian design pioneer Gaetano Pesce, Ron Arad and Joe Colombo.
“So much of my design process involves thinking through objects,” says Bowden. “I’m excited to have this forum to share with people who are interested in what we’re doing.”
The Gallery, 5 Calvert Avenue, London E2 7JP, will open this summer. Hour-long slots will be bookable via email (email@example.com)
Grow-your-own with the Floating Garden
Scottish wannabe gardeners should head to the Lowland Canals this summer. Creative programme Dandelion has created The Floating Garden, a waterbound allotment aboard a workboat, which will travel from Glasgow to the Kelpies in Falkirk over the next month.
The Floating Garden features traditional beds but also a vertical farm with LED grow lights. There will also be a raft of aquatic plants which will help clean the canal water, and an experimental use of “biochar”, a new growing medium which can filter pollutants out of the canal water.
At its 10 stops en route to Falkirk, the team of gardeners aboard the boat will hand out grow-your-own kits to bankside visitors. The Dandelion programme is part of a major grow-your-own food initiative, which culminates in September with harvest festivals across the country.
“The Dandelion programme is creating events across Scotland,” says Marie Christie, head of development at VisitScotland. “The Floating Garden is another example of this – taking new technologies and old ways of growing and reimagining them in a celebration not only of plants, but of our cultural tradition. We’re proud to support a project that is connecting so creatively with the audiences.”
For details of The Floating Garden’s visits, go to the Dandelion website (dandelion.scot)
How Tastee Tape will save your lunch
Inspiration sometimes strikes in the most mundane situation, and Tastee Tape is a good case in point. This edible sticky tape, which wants to be the answer to one of lunch’s most irritating problems – the disintegrating wrap – is one of them. Four students at the John Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering – Tyler Guarino, Marie Eric, Rachel Nie and Erin Walsh – were brainstorming ideas for a project for their college’s Design Day Competition over lunch. Walsh was eating a burrito which came apart and the answer to their problem fell into her lap – literally. “We realised this was the problem that we can solve,” says Guarino. “We could make an edible tape that can hold wraps together.” The chemical and biomolecular engineering students developed Tastee Tape, an edible masking tape made from a food-grade fibre and an organic glue. The tape can survive cooking as well as eating.
For a school project, their product has been picked up by a surprising number of news outlets across the US. “We were surprised at how much attention it got,” admits Guarino, “but it’s a fun product that solves a relatable and common problem.”
The team are now looking for companies to work with them on launching Tastee Tape as a commercial product. “We want to get it into the hands of consumers,” says Guarino. And those hands will be a lot less messy once that happens.
The inspiring winners at the DBACE Prize
The five winners of the Deustche Bank Awards for Creative Entrepreneurs (DBACE) were announced this week. Two fashion brands were picked by the judges: Chamiah Dewey Fashion, the UK’s first clothing brand for people with dwarfism, and Pivot, a social enterprise that helps people experiencing homelessness learn crafts. Convenience Gallery, an arts organisation based in Birkenhead working with contemporary artists and the local community, also won. The final two awards went to organisations that are involved in the media. Journo Resources is a social enterprise that helps underrepresented people into journalism, with free-to-access tools and resources. Tag is a youth culture and marketing agency working with young people from minority ethnic and lower income backgrounds to help them access the industry.
“Every year, DBACE seeks to celebrate young business leaders driving change in society,” says Lareena Hilton, global head of brand communications at Deutsche Bank. “In the wake of the pandemic, and as the creative sector continues to face great challenges, it is more important than ever to support these talented business leaders, providing them with funding and, importantly, with mentorship and expert business guidance.”
Honouring the legacy of designer Virgil Abloh
The first posthumous retrospective of designer Virgil Abloh’s oeuvre opens at Brooklyn Museum this week. Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” will feature a mix of fashion from Off-White and Louis Vuitton, sculpture, furniture, video works and sketches by Abloh, who died at the ago of 41 in November 2021. His collaborations with artist Takashi Murakami, musician Kanye West and architect Rem Koolhaas will also be on display.
The show is an update of a show that run in Chicago, Abloh’s home town, a couple of years ago. The Brooklyn show has one vital addition: the ‘social sculpture’. This creates a physical space for gatherings and performances – showcasing Abloh’s connection with the worlds of architecture, music and visual arts. The installation was designed by Abloh to counter the historical lack of space afforded to Black artists and Black people in cultural institutions.
Anne Pasternak, the Brooklyn Museum’s Shelby White and Leon Levy Director, says, “We’ve been working with Virgil and his exceptional team on the presentation of his exhibition for more than three years, and throughout we’ve had a single goal: to celebrate his talent and the ways he kicked open doors for young BIPOC artists.”
Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” is at Brooklyn Museum 1 July 2022 – 29 January 2023