Belgium is Design’s “The Gift to be Simple” Exhibit Locates the Humanity in Textiles

A sculptural rug, tapestries made from paper and more serene and surprising works for New York Textile Month

Artists, designers and curators once again converge in New York to celebrate the foundational yet ever-evolving medium of textiles in the citywide event founded by Lidewij Edelkoort: New York Textile Month. This year, public initiative Belgium is Design tapped Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano to curate The Gift to be Simple, a poetic display of textiles from nine women artists that attests to the purity of Belgium aesthetics, humanity of natural materials, sustainable innovations in the field and the necessity of textiles now and forever.

by Leon Cato, courtesy of Belgium is Design

“The title actually comes from the [pacifist Christian sect] Shaker prayer or Shaker song called ‘The Gift to be Simple,'” Fimmano tells COOL HUNTING. “We wanted to do an exhibition this year which was a little bit more pared back and thinking about the essence of things, thinking about people’s shift toward making better choices and more conscious consumption. The textile designs that we’re exhibiting are also very much attuned to the fiber’s origin or the materials that they’re working with.”

“PARADISE Natural” by Natalia Brilli

The exhibit features the work of nine designers—Natalia Brilli, Emma Cogné, Design for Resilience’s Vanessa Colignon, Laure Kasiers, Charlotte Lancelot, Geneviève Levivier, Pascale Risbourg, Alexia de Ville and Céline Vahsen—a roster that unintentionally ended up being exclusively women. “Just through the selection of the objects, it happened that all nine designers were women,” Fimmano continues. They were chosen not for their gender but for how they “aligned with the philosophy of the show: simplicity, passage of time and the essence of fiber and materials.”

“Untitled” by Céline Vahsen

In other words, their works exemplify the serenity and strength of Belgium design, which the curator describes as “very pure and, of course, has a Nordic philosophy which is to design objects that have a clear function as well as a simple style of beauty. They are very much interested in elevating the materials that they work with.”

“Magic Lace” by Geneviève Levivier; photo by Heloise Rouard

Fimmano and Edelkoort unite Belgium sensibilities with the American Shakers’ penchant for minimal style and respect for the earth. Located in a loft in SoHo, the exhibit is organized so that each object is situated in different, corresponding areas of the home. Honoring natural materials throughout, it locates an innate beauty in various textiles and the reciprocal relationship between resource and maker that can come from it.

“Clareira” by Emma Cogné; photo by Jenna Duffy

In Cogné’s “Clareira,” Stipa Gigantea, a natural reed fiber from northeast Portugal, is woven into a raw sculptural rug that embodies the tufts and clearings of the landscape it stems from. It’s wild, natural and untamed yet still inviting, soft and elegant—characteristics drawn out by its concentric circles and open space. “It’s trying to show that the raw fiber or the essence of the materials is actually expressed in the objects themselves,” says Fimmano. “We always try to follow people who are interested in expressing the beauty of fiber, from seed and farming, right to the final product.”

“Clareira” by Emma Cogné; photo by Jenna Duffy

Elsewhere, the prompt to return to nature is furthered and enhanced by technology in Levivier’s “Magic Lace.” Co-founder of the eco-responsible and laboratory-like studio A+ZDesign, Levivier reinterprets natural and recycled fabrics with new technological techniques that revel in the intrinsic ties between humans and nature. “Magic Lace” is an acoustic lace and digital tool, created by a laser wielded like a paintbrush on sustainable textiles: European jute, Texel wool and PLA. Despite the modern process (which requires no waste, glues or colorants), the resulting lines and patterns are surprising and organic and, at times, recall the fleeting moment where sea foam washes up to trace the lines in sand.

“Magic Lace” by Geneviève Levivier; photo by Heloise Rouard

While Levivier applies a contemporary approach to age-old textiles, de Ville unearths the innovation within the traditional materials itself. For “Papiers tissés,” de Ville repurposes wallpaper production scraps and weaves them together to create tapestry out of paper. Tinted with natural pigments, they are quietly beautiful and subdued but also speak to the inherent futuristics of paper. Fimmano explains, “We often think that paper is a very humble, simple material but it’s also the future because it can be recycled and 3D-printed. It can be woven into textiles and in fashion, it can be washed. Paper is, in a way, a sustainable material and being reinvented. Issey Miyake, who recently passed away, actually believed paper is the future of fashion.”

“Papiers tissés” by Alexia De Ville

“We want to remind people that for the past 20 years, especially for New Yorkers, textiles have been coming back with a vengeance and warming up our interiors with upholstery and curtains, wall-hangings and rugs,” says Fimmano. “It’s really to remind people about the importance of having textiles in our interiors for bringing a sense of warmth or craft or even just humanity, human touch and tactility.” Both in the exhibit and in spaces at large, the inviting and gentle works are sensitive to the scales of nature and the importance of cultivating a home.

Hero image by Leon Cato, courtesy of Belgium is Design