May 2, 2024 - June 15, 2024

Friedman Benda, New York, NY

         Friedman Benda is pleased to present Under Present Conditions , a survey of responses to the urgencies of our time by leading contemporary designers. Central to the exhibition is the exploration of materials, as opposed to mass processes of industrialization and extraction. With concerns such as overconsumption, the overexploitation of resources, and the search for sustainability, the works presented are personal expressions of and, in some cases, poetic responses to the conditions that we live under.  

          The exhibition includes both long-established and emerging practices which approach this topic from different angles. Recycling, upcycling, and reimagining the life cycle of materials are crucial themes here. Hamed Ouattara, from Burkina Faso, questions the idea of disposability by repurposing discarded materials, such as oil drums, and addresses the sociopolitical realities of unidirectional global consumption. The eminent Brazilian Estúdio Campana transforms and recontextualizes the materials of their surroundings through craftsmanship and the triumph of simple solutions. Made entirely out of recycled cardboard from his studio, the work of British designer Max Lamb embodies new histories of craft by pushing the material’s structural capabilities and giving value to what is often seen as secondary. Studio Raw Material’s work represents an ongoing exploration of geology in terms of material and processes. Their practice, based in the desert plains of western India, responds to various local materials like salt, marble, clay, and plant-based resins. Mexican designer Fernando Laposse interrogates the complicated history of the avocado industry and its social and environmental ramifications by reusing a material that would otherwise be considered waste. 

          Another conceptual pillar is contemporary design’s engagement with technology in search of hidden values and properties. The work of British designer Paul Cocksedge is underpinned by extensive research into the possibilities of making processes, questioning, among other things, our relationship with and dependence on fossil fuels. Further exploring the role of cutting-edge technology is Dutch designer Joris Laarman, who traverses the boundaries of design and science by using computational techniques to make forms inspired by nature. Similarly, the approach of the studio gt2P synthesizes a parametric methodology with a sensibility rooted in the Chilean landscape and its materials. 

          For other studios, intervening in natural processes and landscapes can dictate the design and form of the object. The UK-based studio Full Grown employs photosynthesis as the main process in their manufacture, reconsidering the way we produce our everyday objects; they literally grow rather than manufacture their objects, achieving a novel hybrid of design and horticulture. Another long-term research project in the show, undertaken by Israeli designer Erez Nevi Pana, focuses on salt from the Dead Sea, which in his hands becomes a register of devastating environmental imbalances caused by industrialization and mineral extraction. Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma delves into the life cycles of the raw materials she employs. By exploring agricultural landscapes in the Netherlands, she challenges the commodification of flax and creates pieces that mirror the topography of the fields where the material originates. Also employing natural and often overlooked materials, such as silkworm’s cocoon fibers and honeybee bio resin, French-born Marlène Huissoud creates quasi-functional pieces that also mount an ethical challenge: should humans not be designing for all life on earth, rather than just ourselves?

          Collectively, these practices represent the field’s panoply of reflections on the circumstances we all share. By seeing how leading designers, consciously or not, approach these themes, we see how material itself tells the story of its own surroundings.

          The exhibition is accompanied by a digital catalogue with essays and entries contributed by Glenn Adamson and Renata Del Riego.




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