Cape Town Fires Up Its Design Engine

Trevyn and Julian McGowan, founders of Southern Guild

Global rock stars of design are 
showing their work as part of the WDC 2014 programme, reports Hilary Prendini Toffoli.

The furniture created by bewhiskered Spaniard Nacho Carbonell is so radical that a chair can sometimes look more like a bush. His designs incorporate anything from gravel and ground corn to thorns, broken glass or a stretchy outer layer he calls skin. They're highly experimental and provocative. No wonder Brad Pitt bought himself an entire Nacho Carbonell collection.

This ingenious Netherlands-based rebel is one of the high-octane designers whose work is on display in Cape Town this week during a 10-day international design fair. Guild is part of Cape Town's World Design Capital (WDC) 2014 programme, which also included the Design Indaba and the Cape Town Art Fair.

It's an event that promises refreshing exuberance, exemplified by the witty furniture designed by 29-year-old Los Angeles-based twins Simon and Nikolai Haas.

Simon and NikolaiHaas - photo Ben CopeSimon and Nikolai Haas - photo Ben Cope

Their work has featured in Maison Louis Vuitton in Shanghai and the Versace Home collection – 12 pieces commissioned by Donatella Versace. Their zoomorphic Beast Feast collection was a sellout at Design Miami, one-offs going for anything up to $75000, including a reindeer fur sofa with bronze camel hooves, and a buffalo hide bench with metal cheetah feet.

The Haas brothers' designs are here along with the work of other modernist stars of New York's forward-thinking gallery R 20th Century. These designers include the father of the art furniture movement in the United States, 81-year-old Wendell Castle, and the memorably innovative glass sculptor Thaddeus Wolfe.

With an exhibitor line-up that spans 17 countries, Guild is the brainchild of Trevyn and Julian McGowan, the founders of Southern Guild. Powerful South African design marketers, they have been taking African and South African products to the world for almost a decade, showcasing it more recently on the endlessly expanding global network of design fairs.

In Trevyn's view, Guild is more than just a fair for beautiful objects. "When designers are deeply involved in what they make – hands-on, immersed – a different kind of work emerges. The distance becomes greater between what is a result of process, intimacy and narrative and what is rapidly made, mass-produced or machine-led. Handmade pieces are what really contain meaning for society and for the people who own them.

"Guild will introduce highly respected design authorities and work from Africa, the US, South America, Britain and Europe."

Europe is represented by Milan's promoter of emerging designers, the upwardly spiralling Rosaana Orlandi. Brazilian/Columbian gallery Coletivo Amor de Madre has work from Latin America, and from Britain comes the Maker Library Network, a partnership project of the V&A Museum and the British Council.

Not surprisingly, South Africa's creative input has an African voice. Objects that confirm human ingenuity – from modern times to the authentic wonders produced 110 000 years ago – are on display at Wits's Origins Centre stand. As a counterpoint, the University of Johannesburg's Agents of the 3D Revolution is showing how the most progressive international 3D print designers are changing technology.

With the generous backing of Absa and Arcelor Mittal – recent recipients of the Business and Arts Award – Guild is showing at the Lookout in the V&A Waterfront until March 9.

All in all, as Cape Town's World Design Capital programme gets under way, there's an abundance of art and design riches on offer.

And there's more to come further down the line, says Alayne Reesberg, the chief executive of Cape Town Design, the organisation established to deliver on the WDC commitments.

Alayne, a Northern Cape dynamo who worked with Bill Gates at Microsoft for six years, is enthusiastic about what this biennial award, initiated a few years ago by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Designers, aims to highlight.

"Six signature events will happen during a whole year of excitement and we will deliver them well. Other cities have delivered similar events [Torino the first in 2008, Seoul in 2010 and Helsinki in 2012]," says Alayne. "So we know how high the standards are, but for me the trick is to thread all of these things together into connective tissue that doesn't end when the whistle blows.

"The challenge is to sustain the attention, to sustain the dialogue throughout the year and beyond.

"I would just ask Capetonians to participate," says Alayne. "To achieve our aims, we need everyone to be involved."

See full report by Hilary Prendini Toffoli in Mail & Guardian

Via MapMyWay