Previously: Salone del Mobile: It's lamp time, everybody! and Salone del Mobile: check in at Hotel RCA.

As i mentioned two days ago, Ventura Lambrate was the new hip area during the Salone del Mobile that ended in Milan last weekend (except for the hundreds of designers stranded there courtesy of everyone's favourite vulcano.) The landscape stars with swanky renovated buildings, flower wallpaper, silver tree in a courtyard and fresh apple pie with hot butter.

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The place is so hip and neat it was the ideal location for the 'Questions' exhibition that showed the most recent work of Design Academy Eindhoven graduate students. Each year, the academy showcases its typically Dutch, very beige, very pretty projects. There's just a bit of edge and provocation but not too much. Each year, the Dutch are the stars of Milan. There's no reason to change a formula that works great. However, it would be nice to be surprised and see them take a more adventurous direction once in a while. Or maybe i'm spending too much time visiting art exhibitions?

The Question exhibition reminded visitors that the design process often starts with an interrogation (some of the ones in the show were, alas! a bit rhetorical.) The question at the heart of Amélie Onzon's From Fable To Table, for example, is "Can cruelty be beautiful?"

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Photo by Rene van der Hulst

The project explores the double standards that govern out relationship with animals. We profess our love of animals, adopt them as pets and sometimes go to extreme in order to pamper them, yet we eat animals. Once the animal is on our plate, it's not a cute little lamb or a lovely rabbit anymore, it is just a piece of meat. The animal is abstracted and becomes a functional material.

From Fable To Table is a series of objects that forces us to chose between nurturing an animal or killing it in order to eat it. The protagonist of Onzon's project is the duck, an animal as easy to domesticate as it is tasty.

She designed two pieces of furniture and let their user decide whether they will use them to produce foie gras, or to give the ducks a more comfortable life.

Ducks force-feed themselves before migration. That's precisely this behaviour that inspired the foie gras. The bird is force-feed with grain and fat using a funnel until the liver expands to the right size (the organ can swell to up to 10 times its normal size.) Onzon's (Force) Feeder is a duck feeder that doubles as a force feeding stool. The ducks bowl is also the force-feeding funnel. An irrigation system softens the food to make it edible.

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For the foie gras process, the liver has to be blood free. Once the force-feeding period is over the blood vessels in the throat are cut and the duck bleeds to death.

(Blood) Bath is a pond and shower for the duck but also a hook to suspend the animal for its execution. The blood can be collected in the sink.

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If you believe that humans in the Western well-fed world wouldn't have the heart to kill their pet for food, just ask Marcus the sheep to tell you his story.

A few steps away from the Design Academy exhibition, i discovered Maarten Baas' Grandfather Clock. Part of his real time collection, this video works as a clock. Or maybe it's the opposite. Actors were filmed for 12 hours while they were drawing the hands of the clock to indicate the time.

There's not much more that i feel like highlighting from my visit to the polished side of the Ventura Lambrate area. I stumbled upon quite a few eco-friendly ideas that artists had explored five years ago. Designers seem to have fallen in love with 'installations' as well. You don't design chairs anymore, you do chair installations.

Now the other side of the Ventura Lambrate area had a bit of a Wild Wild West feeling that you certainly don't get in Tortona...

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An area so wild, they had not heard that it is not 'sustainable', 'eco-friendly' and 'responsible' to illuminate the area in broad day light.

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Everyone i met asked me "did you see the Lambretto building?"

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That's the area where is saw Hotel RCA.

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My pictures on flickr.

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Previously: Salone del Mobile: It's lamp time, everybody!

The one exhibition not to miss at the Ventura Lambrate area is Hotel RCA. I wish i were not writing so often about RCA but why should i resist when they keep on churning out some of the best projects around.

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Valentin Vodev's Biquattro and Kieren Jones' Community Commerce

Their exhibition for the Salone del Mobile is called Hotel RCA because it fulfills the functions of a hotel as an organizational structure to exhibit a broad selection of new designs. There's a reception, a bar, a breakfast room and all kinds of service areas. Hotel RCA was built inside a disused warehouse by the Design Products department, a two-year postgraduate masters course including diverse design approaches -called Platforms- that range from the quirky to the practical and innovative, from the speculative to experiments with materials and techniques. The new Head of the Department, Tord Boontje, has invited alumni to present either the projects they had exhibited at the Summer exhibition last year or the new projects they developed since they had left the College. Damn it was good!

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Merel Karhof, Wind Knitting Factory, 2009

Merel Karhof's Wind Knitting Factory harnesses the power of the wind to activate a knitting machine, right from a free, natural element to a finished product. The machine visualizes directly what you can produce with the present amount of urban wind. Along the façade, the knitwear moves slowly through the window into the building as a long scarf, going faster at high wind speed. Every now and then, the wool is harvested and rounded off in individual labeled scarves. The time to knit one is related to its length, and people will protect their neck from the element that has actually conceived the scarf. Each scarf comes with a label that tells you in how much time it has been knitted and on which date.

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Shu-Chun Hsiao, Emf Chime, 2010

I probably walked by Shu-Chun Hsiao's Emf Chime without paying much attention to it. It's only now that i'm back home and clicking all over the Hotel RCA website that i'm discovering it. The suspended chimes play sound when sensing the electromagnetic field in the air. Movements are made by the invisible force and respond with a harmony sound. Any visitor making a call may trigger the chime, actually feeling the invisible existence of EM fields.

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Benjamin Newland, Wearable Sound Systems, 2010

Wearable Sound Systems are part of Benjamin Newland's reseach on how mobile infrastructures of sound reproduction can open up new ways to perform, and engage with surroundings and the people within them.

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Jen-Hui Liao, How to Train a Man to be a Father, 2010

Jen-Hui Liao is not only showing his blockbuster Self-Portrait Machine but also the tongue-in-cheek How to Train a Man to be a Father. During the mother's pregnancy, a Pavlov's Dog training principle is applied to help the male partner create an instant response to the baby's crying in his mind. The machine is radio-linked with a baby doll and wired to a home entertainment system like a TV or PS3. When the doll simulates crying, the trainee must hold and cradle it correctly. Depending on the correctness and reaction time, he will receive levels of rewards as positive reinforcement (they range from one pound coin to a voucher of great sex.) If the trainee ignores the baby's crying, the machine will shut off the power to the linked TV or PS3 as a negative reinforcement..

Once the baby has been born, the father will be able to react to it correctly.

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Georgi Manassiev, Washing Machine, 2009

Georgi Manassiev's washing machine doesn't just wash clothes, it also aims to bring people together outdoors, by relocating the public laundry in the park. The concept is based on the classical playground seesaw where more than one person is required for it to work. The washing machine uses rainwater and no electricity at all.


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Hwang Kim, CCTV Chandelier, 2008 - Ongoing

CCTV chandelier - Virtual Doppelganger Simulator, by Hwang Kim, has a dozen CCTV cameras distributed around the viewer's face and engineering their experience to show their Virtual Doppelganger in the connected TVs. The system allows the participant to see his/her own body or the surrounding environment from a third person's perspective. Therefore, the viewer and visitor is displayed as an object in the gallery.

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Sarah Colson, Fungi Furnature / Distortion, 2009/2010

Sarah Colson, Fungi Furnature / Distortion was utterly repulsive to me. Yet, fascinating: Dowel soaked in a mushroom spawn solution, usually intended in domestic cultivation, has been a catalyst for inspirations within this project. The intention is for spawned dowels to be used in furniture construction lending themselves to domestic objects. Due to the nature of cultivating mushrooms the objects will be made from green timber in order for the fungi to have the optimum conditions to grow as it would naturally. Over a period of six months the mushrooms will flourish and the wood will distort, debilitating the object's initial purpose, but regenerating a new function fit for human consumption. The final transformation will be when the nutrients that the fungi needs are absorbed and its life will cease to flourish. The object will then be given back to nature providing further nourishment for the continued life cycle of future objects.

A few tips if you're going to the Salone del Mobile, Milan's international furniture fair, this weekend. 1. Don't leave without sunscreen an umbrella (just read the weather forecast). 2. Don't be surprised if Tortona smells a bit of a hasbeen area now that the big guys, the heavy glitter and the trashy panino con la porchetta have moved in. 3. Start with the Ventura Lambrate area because that's where the cool kids are showing their work now. More details coming up in the next post. Aside from Ventura Lambrate, here's a couple of shows i'd recommend:

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Grazie mille Laurence Humier for walking me to Spazio Rossana Orlandi, a shop slash exhibition space in the Magenta District. The old buildings offers several floors of design furnishing with a gallery for exhibitions, a cafe where ladies in pearl necklace sell their homemade cakes and a space dedicated to fashion. It's a bit like Colette in Paris. Only more bourgeois and less Tokyo-NYc oriented. Still, very very fun place to visit. See by yourself:

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There were rooms after rooms of tables, plates on tables, lampshades on top of tables, seats and shelves. What got my attention was Isabel Berglund's Home With Tree. Very big knitted cotton tree planted in a tiny white room and part of Danish Craft.

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Frederique Morrel had some fiery tapestry human and non-human animals climbing up the walls overlooking the cafe area. The creatures are dressed in needlework with added fur touch here and there.

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Far away from there, at Spazio Krizia, Ingo Maurer is presenting spectacular exploded comic lamps.

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