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A recce of practices and designs that innovated with the archaic in 2023

A recce of practices and designs that innovated with the archaic in 2023

STIRred 2023: STIR enlists creative explorations that reintroduce traditional techniques and craftsmanship into the thriving contemporary context.

by Anushka Sharma
Published on : Dec 18, 2023

What does the past encapsulate? Does it merely point at the accounts writ large across the oxidised pages of history books or is it an entity that breathes secretly under the skin of everything our eyes meet? It is not every day that one encounters the past and its traditions outside of libraries and museums—at least not in their primitive form. Yet, somehow, a time that has ceased to exist, and practices that have retreated away from the spotlight, continue to captivate the creatives of today. This fascination that defies timelines yields a collaboration not just between approaches, but eras; the humble metiers peek through a contemporary cocoon, bursting open into a kaleidoscopic canvas aspiring to be timeless.

Contemporary designers, in constant pursuit of inspiration, often find solace in time-honoured traditions and crafts. Despite it essentially being an act of looking back, the creations that follow represent far more. They come across as hybrid silhouettes that, no less forward-looking than their counterparts, embody narratives that surpass the often unidimensional definitions of innovation. Owing to these escapades, craftsmanship and artisanal skills take up due space in the contemporary context and two design languages thrive in unison.

Practising the art of looking back, we scour through STIR’s repository seeking artists and designers who revived traditional techniques in their distinctive innovative designs in 2023. From calligraphy-inspired lighting designs to modern interpretations of Egyptian design, STIR enlists interventions where the past and the present collide.

1. Digitally Woven by Gareth Neal x The New Raw

Traditional craft techniques such as knitting, crocheting and weaving have been intrinsically linked to cultures across the world. What if our furniture could be woven as well—but digitally? British designer Gareth Neal joined forces with the Rotterdam-based studio The New Raw to push the boundaries of 3D printing and conceive the Digitally Woven series. The objects partaking in the ongoing series—including a chair design titled Loopy and vessels evocative of woven baskets—are made out of three times recycled polymer printed in loops rather than layers. Together, the product designers explore how properties, efficiency, and sustainability of additive manufacturing can be improved through the incorporation of traditional crafts into a digital process.

2. Mindcraft Project 2023

The Mindcraft Project, a platform based in Copenhagen Denmark, reiterates time and again, its commitment to highlighting creative experiments in Danish makers every year. The 2023 edition of the project was dedicated to providing visibility to product designs that are fuelled by a study of natural materials or comment on archaic traditions and plausible futures in conjunction with nature. The design exhibition was curated by Danish multi-disciplinary designer Sara Martinsen, a participant in the previous edition of the event. A group of 10 diverse Danish designers, hailing from disparate backgrounds, showcased narratives that speak of materials and crafts, all the while abiding by themes of nature and its relationship with humankind.

3. Kaanch by Diego Olivero

The rich history of glass technology in India, dating back to 1730 BCE, informs this delicate series of collectable objects and lamp designs. Befittingly titled Kaanch, which translates to ‘glass’ in Hindi, the one-of-a-kind series by Guatemala-based Diego Olivero Studio is developed in cahoots with Indian artisans in Delhi. The centuries-old glass art that emanated from India is reinterpreted in Borosilicate glass, a German invention from the late 1800s. Olivero’s debut foray with Borosilicate, Kaanch meshes the durability of the material with intricate traditional techniques.

4. Wooden vessels by Ash & Plumb

Based in Sussex, UK, wood artists Barnaby Ash and Dru Plumb breathe life into unassuming vessels flaunting imperfect and worn-out surfaces. Their eponymous woodturning studio, Ash & Plumb, has built a repertoire of one-off pieces that vacillate between functional and sculptural mediums. The cracks and crevices that adorn the vessels are the protagonists of the sculptural art, celebrating the unfiltered spirit of the material and the humble craft of woodturning. Several pieces also reference archaic forms such as vessels from the Neolithic era and specific shapes the sculpture artists have discovered such as our Saxon Vessel or Funnel Jar which is named after the Funnel Beaker culture (4300 - 2800 BC)

5. Lustrous furniture designs by Vikram Goyal

Contemporary Indian designer Vikram Goyal sculpts metals to achieve an amalgamation of contemporary aesthetics and traditional Indian artisanship. At the 15th edition of PAD London in 2023, the designer made his debut with a collection of ten, limited edition pieces of furniture designs (consoles, benches, side tables), lighting designs (chandeliers, wall sconces) and wall panels. Through every hand-made object, Goyal emphasises Indian metalwork techniques that have lived since the 3rd or 4th century BC and passed down from one generation to the next.

6. Drawing A Line by Giopato & Coombes

Envision a nimble calligraphy brushstroke suspended mid-air, illuminating the space as a sculpture. This was the thought that inspired the lighting designs by Italy-based creative studio Giopato & Coombes. Drawing inspiration from Korean art, the Italian-British architect and designer couple conceived Drawing A Line, a limited-edition series of dainty luminaires emulating brushstrokes. “In our project, (there is) a fusion of light, glass, metal, and the serendipitous—we’ve seized upon this enigmatic synergy between two distinct realms—the realm of design and the realm of calligraphic expression,” the lighting designers share.

7. Fibra by Colección Estudio

A pursuit of the essence of craft and accompanying research propel ahead the design expeditions of Colección Estudio. Based in Mexico City, London, and Queretaro, the design practice is a collaboration between three Mexican designers, Andrés Cacho, Manuel López and Daniel Martínez. Together, they turn to Mexican culture for inspiration and translate it into limited-edition furniture designs, accessories, and collectable designs. In 2023, the designers expanded their distinctive repository with Fibra, a fluid lighting design that conforms to the studio’s aesthetic choice of repetition.

8. Illusory Objects by Virzi + Bortolini

Furniture and objects design studio Virzi + Bortolini draws out these Illusory Objects from the lavish palaces of Egyptian pharaohs and into the contemporary day. Influenced by Egyptian culture and regency design, the collection rummages through the past—from the first tribes and the culture of the great Pharaohs to the Egyptian revival during the Napoleonic times, as well as the Golden Age. The ensemble, produced in Porto, Portugal, employs the nearly forgotten talents of local craftsmen to create expressive designs made out of recycled metals and centuries-old discarded wood and carefully chosen antique pieces.

What’s NEXT?

The notions of innovation that hold sway and people subconsciously accede to often talk about the novel, the never-before-seen and the futuristic. Amid this reckless pursuit, the traditions and craftsmanship—the foundations on which this evolution rests on—are shoved into oblivion. A dire need emerges to assess where these treasure troves are positioned in the current art and design landscape of the world. As a coterie of creatives sets out to reinforce the dwindling status of crafts and craftspeople, they outline an essential choice to make: a future detached from the past or one that moves forward with the archaic.

STIRred 2023 wraps up the year with compilations of the best in architecture, art, and design from STIR. Did your favourites make the list? Tell us in the comments!

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