For 'The Biennial of Design' in Ljubljana (BIO251) curated by Angela Rui, Formafantasma questions the Slovenian underground with a multimedia installation at MAO Museum and the Mayor’s cave. Because of Slovenia's Karst terrain's special geological features, approximately eleven thousand caves are officially registered in the country. A huge underground network of chambers exists just beneath our footsteps, unchanged since time immemorial, indifferent to the passing seasons, and the mutations of the human environment. From the perspective of design, a natural resource leaves the purely geological realm and enters the human one in the moment of production. Addressing such a place and the issues it raises, Formafantasma and the team of designers (Eva Jäger, Dan Adlešič, Isabella Rinaldi, Daniele Misso and Patrick Herron) which applied to the open call organized by the MAO Museum, identified two scenarios. Both of them are set in underground Karst spaces: The human – made Lipica quarry and Županova Jama (Mayor's Cave) which is naturally – formed.
The central installation within the MAO Museum examines the underground from different perspectives. The floor – mounted tile installation is produced with a mix of limestone cut from the local quarry in Lipica and spray – painted. The designers generated the pattern by vandalizing six slabs of material with a list of questions related to the design process: how long will this last? Is this going to crack open? Where will it end? Are these colours too pretty? Can you see the world hanging upside down? Should we be looking for a function? Will we be able to detect changes in magnetic fields? Will our eyelashes be bleached and our eyes atrophy? Why should this have meaning? Can we actually define when production starts? When did the formation begin? Why do we even bother? What is the production rate? Was this place submerged by river or ocean waters? Is this going to work? Are we walking on extinct corals, molluscs, and foraminifers? Are our bones, nerves, skin, and organs all materials in formation?
Despite being very abstract and alternating between mysteriousness and banality, the questions assume existential tones, evoking moments of uncertainty and helplessness. The work reflects on the conflicting relationship that the designers have with the translation of natural resources into commodities and desirable products. Once cut into tiles, the slabs are randomly re – arranged into an abstract composition that becomes both the physical background and the conceptual framework for the videos and the objects presented on it. The feeling of uncertainty produced by the installation translates the designers' questioning approach with the discipline as a generative force for design. The installation also features three combs carved in different limestones and exhibited on plinths made from the same stone. The objects are engraved with an estimate of the production's time, but extended to include the materials' geological formation. For the designers, this is a way to use mundane objects to question production efficiency, scarcity, and time.
The installation also features an archive table and an atlas, designed by Patrick Herron, which operates as an anthology of research, findings, discoveries, and lingering queries in the analysis and study of the Mayor's Cave. While broad in scope and purposefully diverse, this research seeks to question more than answer the role of design as it occupies the space in between, above and below, registering differences and productive misreadings within its inherent qualities. The 'Atlas' is wholly incomplete, yet present, palpable, and open to interpretation.
The two videos on show, 'Aboveground' and 'One, Two, Three, Four', take polarizing positions in interpreting the underground. The movie 'Aboveground' intends to present a portrait of material – Slovenian limestone – through a combination of images that show the reciprocal action and influence between man and the natural world. It speculates on the notion of production by overlapping coring and material extraction with an analysis of limestone samples, along with a film of the Proteus anguinus, an endangered salamander farmed at the Tular Cave Laboratory, which is located in an air raid shelter from the Second World War. This rare animal exemplifies the resilience of nature: it has existed for two hundred million years. It has survived environmental catastrophes thanks to the time capsule in which it chose to live: caves. The video includes recordings from the Lipica Quarry, from which the limestone for the installation was taken, and the laboratory at Geological Survey of Slovenia, which guided the material's interpretation.
The video 'One, Two, Three, Four', designed by Eva Jäger and Dan Adlešič, explores the materiality of the underground through human emotions as one man is overcome and eventually infused into the architecture of Mayor Cave. The underground is not only a source of raw materials: from a cultural perspective, it signifies resistance on the fringes of society. This movie explores the rave as a modern category of ritual, following the progression of a contemporary raver as he is overcome by the cave's depth, finding himself in a frenzy as he moves deeper and deeper into the cave. The final crescendo corresponds to the man's infusion into the cave itself.
The other main installation held in the Mayor's cave is designed by Dan Adlešič, and invites the audience to experience an inverted interpretation of the aggressive extraction of stone, assuming the point of view of the cave itself. It is a story of extraction translated into light and sound, and it awakens the cave for its audience. Elements such as extraction, sound, vibration, light, human rationalization, and valuation are interpreted as choreographed elements for creating the audiovisual composition. Recorded sounds from the material's extraction inform the movement and rhythm of synchronized laser and strobe lights. Even the material itself is used as an instrument: core samples are transformed into a xylophone, whose crisp tones resonate throughout the hall. Perched at a high point in Mayor Cave's great hall, the audience will experience the awe of the cave's interior and acoustics while listening to the sound of its destruction.
Notes, References and External Links
1. BIO25. Faraway, So Close, 2017 edition of BIO, focuses on Slovenia’s main potential: its landscape. Curators Angela Rui and Maja Vardjan have deployed international teams of designers to the woods, the karst underground, mining areas, the plains of the Pannonian Basin, the Slovenian coast, and the Slovenian Alps. – FF x Underground Release
CONCEPT, DESIGN Andrea Trimarchi, Simone Farresin
DEVELOPMENT Daniele Misso, Dan Adlešič, Patrick Herron, Eva Jäger, Isabella Rinaldi
PRODUCTION Beno Ogrin, Marmor Sežana, GeoZS Geological Survey of Slovenia, Dan Adlešič, Andrej Detela
CURATOR Angela Rui, Maja Vardjan
PHOTO CREDITS Delfino Sisto Legnani, Daniele Misso
, Towards a “smart land”E-flux
, Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), LjubljanaFrieze
, BIO 25 – The Biennial of Design in LjubljanaArts thread
, Faraway, so closeDomus
, Faraway, so close