I breathe opportunity and feast on experiences. I have to, and there is nothing I want more, than to grasp every possibility of trial and even possible error. Six months ago I was presented with the opportunity to participate in a larger scale collaboration and exhibition to be shown at the epicentre of design – the Milan Design Week 2015. Milan, for God’s sake – stars in my eyes. This is a post-Milan self-reflection.
It has been just about two weeks since I returned from Milan.
I went to the Salone del Mobile and everything that surrounds it, which makes up this mythical Design Week –and it was my first time there. The accumulation of objects and designs were impressive. Massive. I was a Design Week virgin, and I was very privileged to be there as an exhibitor, expenses paid and all. I was there to present a design concept developed for the exhibition in collaboration with a large-scale wood furnishing company and the design school from which I recently graduated. I was the icing on the cake – the young designer invited to participate, as part of their self-promotion. I felt that this was a huge compliment. The development process ahead of the event had been relatively smooth, despite me being quite a rookie newcomer. But that is not what these scribbles are to be about.
I am not an industrial designer, nor a furniture maker or such. I do not just design beautiful things – I design experiences. Yet I catastrophically forgot to make a plan and set expectations for my own, personal experience. Big mistake.
I arrived in Milan having no clue of what I wanted to get out of my presence during those six days of thunder. Most of my time was to be spent next to a 20 ft. container, repeating the same conceptual statement that the content – my design – was to represent: An invitation for conversation about design, designers and their future. Looking back, I feel the bittersweet irony of facilitating a conversation about a topic I had completely neglected to consider for myself; my own future perspective – my Milan perspective.
Questions started occurring as I stumbled upon other young designers – some, old friends from near and far – showing at their own initiative, financed by them.
“– Did you get any nice contacts?”
“– What is your future goal for showing this project here?”
“– How is it adaptable to the market?”
All perfectly normal questions to ask in such a context – and to have prepared oneself for, before jetting off to be an exhibiting part of a major design industry event.
Yet I did not know how to answer those questions. I did not come with a plan. They did. Business plans and tactics for both spotting and luring in manufacturers and journalists. It freaked me out a little, to be honest.
After taking in the first confrontations with my now obvious unpreparedness, I was forced to reflect. Had I been there to sell myself as a product, I would have panicked by now – but I was in Milan to experience and be inspired. When all came to all, my design served as a representation of my two collaborators, more than it did me.
After spending four days chatting with art students, occasionally passing an exhibition press card to random bloggers and laughing nervously at middle-aged Italian housewives who clearly cared as little about conceptual spatial communication design, as they understood English, I must admit that strumming through Milan to experience and get inspired, was not really what I wanted to do most. I wanted to get drunk and sleep. I mainly just ended up doing the latter.
I took one day to explore. One day to run through every must-see I had been encouraged to go to, be inspired, and to collect kilos of catalogues, flyers, and random business cards. Not to forget tote bags. I really like tote bags. The only souvenir from this bombardment of impressions, I can truly promise I will not toss until completely worn out.
After that one day, my head exploded. My lack of creating a thorough overview of what to expect from such a huge event, had left everything I experienced as a tangled mess in my head. I could not tell one impresson from the other. I must have probably only managed to see a mere one per cent of the exhibitions Milan had to offer that week. And some of that one per cent even was a waste of time.
I flew back to Copenhagen the next day, and almost slept for two days. I woke up feeling empty – now having to evaluate the experience.
I was in the right place at the right time, but did I get anything out of being in this fortunate situation?
Milan truly was an invaluable experience. I will not be looking back, silently judging myself for not having gone to Milan as a young exhibitor with a mission. I quickly concluded that, after being confronted with my lack of need – or preparation – to somehow productise myself. The design industry still scares me – as I think it does a lot of young designers with no immediate goals for or routes into the future. I refuse to believe I am the only person ever returning from such a large-scale industry event, feeling nothing. That feeling of nothing is neither a defeat nor a label of negativity. In my opinion nothing is a very important feeling, because of the food for thought and reflection – and eventually the learning – it breeds.
As I switched point of view, focusing on the experience and the inspiration, the feeling of nothing started to evolve. Inspiration can be many things. I expected the inspiration I encountered to be of the creative kind, the kind that feasts your own creative practices – objectives and perspectives, ways of making and doing. Instead, the impressions from the exhibitions I had visited did not inspire in the way I had imagined – the feeling of emptiness I returned from the event with actually inspired me. The many impressions turned into a mash of diversity, possibility and good examples – leaving me at first, confused, to eventually turn in to an eagerness to learn. This inspiration – and conclusion – is honestly still a bit vague to me, but I know for sure, that this was all part of a learning process, and it still is.
It has been a long time since I have felt this inspired – despite the confusion and the unexplainable empty feelings.
I came, I saw, I learned.
Ask me if I would do it again. I would in a heartbeat.
But before next time – new tactics – all good advice accepted.
ALLUSION is the personal column written by editor of opinion, Sidsel Søgaard Spas.
ALLUSION is a space to blabber about current topics, life, or just about anything she finds immediately relevant. Sidsel is particularly fond of asking questions, serious humour and is not afraid of being wrong.
ALLUSION, noun: A passing or casual reference, an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication.