Emerging designers from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) will debut new work in Milan, Italy, during the annual Design Week, which runs from April 17–22, 2018. The 2018 ‘whatnot ’ Milan collection will be launched to the public at the Salone del Mobile in Milan.
Since 2012, whatnot has served as a commercial brand that annually brings to market a diverse collection of objects that are rich in materiality and meaning. The whatnot studio is a place for bringing design experiments to life as real products and is also a progressive educational platform focused on creative inquiry and iteration. The year-long External Partnership: Milan course enables students to hone their voice as individual designers while working as a team to execute a thematic collection of highly refined and relevant work.
In the first semester students generate initial ideas in response to an annually-set theme, then develop these into viable design concepts through months of intense research and iterative prototyping. In the second semester students produce final products, packaging and exhibition furniture utilizing the school's diverse workshops (from digital looms to a full metal foundry), and in collaboration with local manufacturers. As emerging designers and young entrepreneurs it’s vital to experience all aspects of producing salable and innovative work, from researching materials and processes, to negotiating with external vendors, organizing the shipping manifest, and engaging with customers at an international exhibition. The comprehensive learning-by-doing approach of this class offers students a realistic understanding of what is required to bring a design to market all the while emphasizing the importance of professional presentation.
The 2017-18 year-long External Partnerships studio is being directed by Professors Pete Oyler and Jim TerMeer. Working with the Chicago-based artisanal foundry and fabrication studio West Supply, students are addressing the nuanced relationship between borders and food through objects. As imagined constructs that define nation-states, borders represent political and cultural boundaries, are often rooted in dense colonial histories, and as writer Primo Levi famously noted in his 1978 novel The Monkey’s Wrench, are “where wars start.” Borders are also a site of possibility and transgressive social and cultural exchange.
Our contemporary global world thrives and depends on the exchange of goods, and especially food, beyond nationstate borders. Bananas are one of the most consumed fruits in the United States and are overwhelmingly supplied by five other countries: Guatemala, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Columbia, and Honduras. Kentucky Fried Chicken whose roots are in Louisville, KY is one of the most popular food chains in China, a country whose cuisine has developed over centuries without the use of refrigeration. Breads and curries define Northern Indian food while South Indian food is based around rice, lentils, and stews. From knives, forks and chopsticks to chairs and zabutons, what we eat, how we eat, and the objects that facilitate our relationship to food are in an evolving relationship to culture, politics, identity, and of course, geography.
Student designers are developing a collection of serially produced multiples which will be hand-cast and handfinished by West Supply’s team of highly skilled technicians, drawing upon many years of experience producing high-quality metal and glass objects for artists, architects, and designers.
Pete Oyler is a product and furniture designer and educator at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He joined SAIC’s Designed Objects program in 2016 has taught studio classes that explore the contemporary landscape of design and exhibition. As an educator Oyler is particularly interested in design semiotics and in the potential of three-dimensional objects to incite imaginative curiosity. Oyler co-founded the award-winning furniture studio Assembly Design with Interior Designer Nora Mattingly in 2012 and produces work for larger volume production eponymously. His work explores the intersections of design, craft, contemporary culture, and history and his studio practice emphasizes both traditional and experimental approaches to a wide range of materials and methods of production. Oyler’s work has been exhibited and recognized (inter)nationally. Recent publications include The New York Times, Elle Décor, Dwell, Ideat, Modern Painters, and Wallpaper.
Jim TerMeer is a product designer and educator whose teaching centers on the research and practice of the global independent design movement through collaborative sponsored projects and graduate thesis mentorship. Recent collaborations include projects exhibited at the Salone de Mobile, NY ICFF, and Neocon in Chicago. As partner in the design studio giffin’termeer, Jim applies the philosophies and technologies of mass production of objects and systems into experimental works that investigate the future of individuality and space. Presently he is working through an investigation into anonymous materials. His work of has been exhibited worldwide, including Istanbul, Milan, London, Tokyo, NY, Amsterdam, Seoul, Cheongju Korea, London, and St. Etienne France. Jim has a graduate degree from the Design Academy Eindhoven and lives and works in Chicago.