Tucked away in a beautiful Milanese courtyard located in the Brera Design District of last week’s Milan Design Week, The Iceland Whale Bone Project was a mesmerising entrée to the students of ECAL‘s typically brilliant plat principal in a separate building of the same courtyard – or, should that be primo and secondi? Whichever country you’re dining in, this fascinating project was the sort of starter that leaves you wondering if you have room left for the main. Wowing us with their Too Cool for School project at last year’s design week, the output of the young creatives at the University of Art and Design Lausanne was on our must-do list for this semester, and they did not disappoint.
In January of this year, 17 ECAL Product Design Master students headed far north for a one-week workshop led by Icelandic designer Brynjar Sigurðarson, in collaboration with Iceland’s Academy of the Arts. Exploring the surroundings, heritage and history of this volatile, changeable landscape and nation; the designers collected whalebones, sharkskin, shark teeth and plastic waste – setting about exploring the many contrasts of Iceland with their found materials. Used primarily for decorative purposes these days, the many whalebones that can be found as a result of 10-15 whale strandings a year have been neglected as a material for product design – the resulting objects created by the young designers reflect traditional values and thought-provoking innovation in equal measures.
Miloš Ristin’s Hrefna is particularly challenging, the Serbian-born designer attempting to recreate the wonder of a mink whale skull but showing the limitations of such a process along the way – as perfect as his reproduction looks, as Ristin says “the actual perfection was the mink whale in the ocean”. Other pieces follow a more traditional craft route, but are no less beautiful. However, end-product aside, the most rousing thing about this project is the project itself – the bracing windswept beaches of Iceland as a backdrop for breeding analysis, introspection and reflection. Thought over function, and all the more inspring for it.