Source Material

From sewing machines to petrified wood, this Milan exhibition showcases objects that inspired creatives

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Inspiration is one of the most interesting and mysterious aspects of creativity. It’s those sparks that ignite the creative process which are the focus of Source Material, an upcoming exhibition due to open during Milan Design Week. One of the most important design events, the fair is all about imagining the future and tracking the past in search of true innovation—but Source Material seeks to answer: where do all the ideas originate?

The show was conceived and developed by curators Jasper Morrison (English designer and entrepreneur), Jonathan Olivares (industrial designer and design researcher) and Marco Velardi (Editor-in-Chief of Apartamento Magazine and Art Director of DePadova). They have asked a group of 54 different creative minds to provide a very personal object that’s able to express the origin of their ideas and thoughts. The mix of participants is varied—designers, musicians, chefs, architects, filmmakers and artists, intellectuals, philosophers and teachers. It’s peculiar and entirely insightful to see how objects can generate ideas that are then turned into new objects and new ideas, in a never-ending spiral of influence and inspiration.

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If a design needs too much thinking, rather than inspiration, it usually isn’t as good.

But is creativity a natural gift, or is it a slow and constant process that is honed and practiced? “Ideally both,” says Morrison, “I do a lot of looking around and reflecting on what I see—and occasionally, there’s a spark. In my case the best ideas come suddenly, without much effort, but I think they only arrive because of the observation process. If you put me in an empty room without windows, I don’t think there would be any sparks after a while. And if a design needs too much thinking, rather than inspiration, it usually isn’t as good.”

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Objects—as inanimate as they are—have an enormous capacity to stand for something, and to act as stepping stones for the human mind and spirit.

The three curators are creative minds themselves, but were inspired and educated through organizing the project. “As we collected the objects and read descriptions that their owners gave us, what became clear amidst the diversity of submissions was that all had established a strong bond with their owners by becoming symbolic of some greater meaning,” says Olivares. “Objects—as inanimate as they are—have an enormous capacity to stand for something, to act as stepping stones for the human mind and spirit, and to help us reach places we might otherwise not reach.” Some of the objects’ influence is obvious while others are almost riddles, and they vary just as much as the people they inspired. On show will be a sewing machine brought by designer Erwan Bouroullec, a leather briefcase from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, mushroom guidebooks from photographer Takashi Homma, friction tape from industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa and petrified wood, which served as inspiration for architect Frida Escobedo.

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This exhibition focuses on everyday objects that were able to generate extraordinary ideas. Yet they still beg more questions: Is culture relevant or is there a universal attitude towards some items? What about the personal or sentimental aspect of an object? Velardi says, “Many of the objects submitted to the show were first encountered by their owners during childhood (or during their owner’s formative years) and this highlights how cultural upbringing has an enormous effect on a person’s creative language. But while many of the objects have an international presence—books published in numerous languages, products or materials that exist globally—the context in which they were discovered was entirely unique, and specific to their owners setting, peer groups, or travels.”

The Source Material exhibition will take place at Milan’s Kaleidoscope Project Space, via Macedonio Melloni 33, from 8-12 April 2014.

Images courtesy of Source Material