Danish Milan-based architect and industrial designer Mikal Harrsen has worked with premium brands like Royal Copenhagen, Cassina, and Rex Kralj. In 2011, he became an entrepreneur, founding Copenhagen-based MA/U Studio. In 2017, it was acquired by Boffi, who appointed Harrsen as executive brand director. Two years before, in 2015, he experienced the intense apocalyptic exhibition All the Worlds Futures at Venice Biennale, with the main part of the Arsenale area dedicated as a futuristic museum displaying burned and melted artefacts from present times, supposedly after a nuclear encounter.
— That’s when the first ideas behind Design Editions were born. Taking part in that exhibition provoked reflections about the violence of human nature and the ugliness and uncoordinated aesthetical environments that often is the cradle of violence, he tells, continuing,
— I wanted to isolate and discuss the materials that we are using to build our world and civilizations, that arguably are in rapid decline. Earlier civilizations held beauty as part of higher ideals, the Incas offered 25 % of their harvest to their gods, by burning it, performing sacred rituals showing their appreciation and respect for resources harvested from the earth, the smoke would reach them — when the crops could not, to me this illustrates a humble spirit. In comparison, today, the fashion industry burns a significant part of their production to avoid it from entering the markets and potentially disrupting their control and capital gains. This is not sustainable.
— When I did the first works and sketches back in 2015 they were a sort of meditation on some of these issues, perhaps an attempt to imagine a reconstruction after this nuclear destruction that was at display in Venice. A way of stealing a small part of the materials from the consumer industries, isolating them, maybe as a kind of sacred offering, with the intention of provoking new respect and appreciation for everyday resources, made available to us to sustain and develop the culture we want to live in. And also, perhaps, to start a discussion on the concept of beauty, which as a theme increasingly have lost the attention of the art world during the course of the 20th century.
Tell us about your range.
— I call it Formal Design — it’s about isolating the design process from its typical context of creating functional objects by facilitating a formal platform that allows for studies focusing on the material, the crafting technique, and the designer’s idea of extracting an aesthetical consequence. The range consists of limited editions developed in collaboration with renowned international designers and architects, produced by best-in-class manufacturers such as DeCastelli and Bonacina 1889, with whom we have developed the Skyscraper, created by myself, and the Fragment of a Spiral, by Studiocharlie. Working with The Inoue Brothers, known for their sustainable projects for Commes des Garcons and Monocle, on Lakiya Rugs, we are exploring a cross-cultural collaboration with the Lakiya Beduin Township in the Negev Desert in Israel, supporting the women’s weaving initiative. Keiji Takeuchi’s project Phenomena is projecting traditional Japanese screens, byóbu, into modern-day technology using CNC milling and anodizing to create the surprising light reflections in the aluminum reliefs while Terracotta is produced in collaboration with Milano based Fornace Curti, run by the Curti family since 1400. The Geometry works are being handcrafted in an extremely heavy cotton-based paper in collaboration with a small paper mill in the north of Spain. It’s about the idea of not painting or writing or in other ways manipulating the medium. It speaks beautifully for itself, Harrsen tells. He adds:
— Design Editions is essentially an industrial platform using modern-day manufacturing techniques to produce the final object, even if the work inside the frame is partly handcrafted in collaboration with, for example, Bonacina 1889, using ancient techniques. To emphasize the isolation of the materials and the aesthetical manipulation they have been exposed to, through the designer’s ideas, we have installed most of the pieces of our first collection in an industrially manufactured aluminum frame. I like the idea of the frame, I like the questions it provokes — when the audience look at Keiji’s aluminum screens sitting in a frame and ask; ”What is that, that awesome?”, the response is easy; ”It’s aluminum, it’s precious, and should be used and considered as such”.
In these times of blockchain and NFT hysteria, Harrsen is keen to add new perspectives to how we own and how we consume.
— Why do I work with limited editions? From a commercial point of view making limited has become a trick to make people feel that they were lucky enough to get in on something unique. Not the least with all the noise around NFTs, it seems odd as they are digital and as such extremely suited for endless reproduction, as opposed to, for instance, lithographs in editions of 80 where the print stone will only last you those 80 prints before being compromised. Making NFTs in limited editions merely has an emotional function — supported by using extremely resource-consuming blockchain technology, booting up emotional value, and monetary profits.
— Even today, Andy Warhol’s 70-year-old ideas of mass-producing art manually seem more progressive than the idea of securing a couple of reproducible pixels from reproduction by using blockchain technology — resulting in energy consumption, a piece, equivalent to the energy consumption of a small village for a week. The same goes for a pair of sneakers by celebrity designers, the injection mould, moulding out the rubber base is constructed to do hundreds of thousands of shoes, so why make 1,500? It’s an emotional game that tells quite a bit about how much people actually desire to feel that what they have acquired, is unique — especially when it’s not! — in the world of fashion. As always, it’s a lot about vanity, he tells, continuing,
— Limited editions might as concepts be surrounded by meaningless, emotionally boosted overpriced consumer objects, and to that end, periodically a kliché used as an attempt to use vanity to drive a feeling of cultural value into consumerism — it’s kind of a paradox.
— We’re working with limited editions as it makes sense for us. It gives us a chance to study and evaluate materials and processes without setting up extremely expensive resources requiring production facilities. It gives us a chance to dive deeply into an experiment examining the materials and try to understand their inherent values better, before actually starting the big consumer engine and producing something that will likely be trashed within 24 months. The idea of Design Edition is not to mass-produce, but to understand the materials and their aesthetical possessions better and emphasize this to encourage using resources to create real value for societies, not just profits.
Who’s your client?
— I see the works go anywhere art goes. A lot of people ask; ’so, why is this not art?’ That’s because it’s created by designers with the intention of creating a design that serves as a study of the aesthetical relationship between everyday materials, the designer’s creativity, and finally, the manufacturing techniques the designer are exposing them to, whether high-tech or ancient craft methods. Of course, our acoustic offerings are more likely to enter contract segments, even if it is already finding its way into the home office that increasingly needs better acoustic control due to the emerging culture of online conferences.
What else do you have coming?
— We are currently studying projects in glass that include higher levels of modern technology as well as 3D printed objects. We are also looking at a project with fashion legend Romeo Gigli as well as new projects with Copenhagen-based Birgitte Due Madsen, Milan-based minimalist industrial designer Maddalena Casadei, and also Milan-based Rafaella Biondillo, a Loro Piana designer working with weaving techniques and yarns. This spring, we’ll establish a gallery and workshop in Piemonte and exhibit at Fuori Salone in Milan in April, in the space in Via Montebello 24. The collection is available in Europe through our e-com as well as Cassina in Milan and the Carwan Gallery and will be made available in the US via Suite New York and JanGeorge in the Hamptons and in Miami. We’ll also launch the new brand Acustica with a range of modular and noise-reducing furniture. Ultimately, I hope this project and platform will attract a 360-degree crowd of designers and architects working all around the industrial and crafting sectors, Harrsen concludes.