“All life is an experiment,” said American thinker and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The more experiments you make the better.”
Palestinian architecture and design duo Elias and Yousef Anastas are a living embodiment of this advice as they’ve unveiled a new store in Milan, under their label Local Industries. In collaboration with Studio Folder, the venue will function as a shop, cultural platform and design hub.
“The Milan store is sort of an experiment,” Yousef tells The National. “A furniture store doesn't make any sense for us in a city. I mean, I don't know what you do in furniture stores, you end up buying gadgets and it doesn't create any engagement with the process, with the material, with the furniture itself.”
'Create new forms of synergies'
Local Industries began in 2012 as a network of ever-expanding creators, designers, architects and engineers melding production practices, and so the duo doesn’t consider the store as only a place to sell products.
“The experiment of Milan is to collaborate with a studio that is also in the same kind of thinking, in order to open the place up for some transformations, for engagement with different people from different fields,” he says. “To try to create a place that is not only a store, a studio, or a cultural platform, but all of it in one space, which transforms and adapts to different configurations, that reacts to the place it’s in.
“Maybe the people of Milan will try to transform the place in their own way.”
They also hope the concept will give them better accessibility to Europe’s market and creators.
“The idea is to create new forms of synergies and links between designers and makers and open up new ways of production,” Elias says. “We are trying to investigate new forms of transmission of knowledge and different kinds of encounters that are not really seen in the current conditions.
“For example, a sound artist working with a blacksmith or a scientific researcher working with a stonemason. We want to have a space that will foster new interactions in between the participants.”
Inside a steel factory in Bethlehem
We speak to the Anastas brothers at the 60th Salone del Mobile, which ends on Sunday in Milan. While the main Salone showcase takes place in Fiera Milano in Rho, the fair’s widespread sister event Fuorisalone acts as an accompanying fringe event. Almost every street in the northern Italian city comes alive with public installations, exhibitions and events celebrating design — this year focused on sustainability and the environment.
Alongside launching the new store, the brothers also showcased their work at the Salone fairground, presenting pieces designed early in Local Industries’ productions, as well as new items from the past two years. Their Bethlehem workshop, located in a former steel factory — which began making school desks and chairs after the 1967 war — is where most of these items are crafted.
The chairs created by Local Industries utilise the factory’s facilities and the know-how of local craftsmen, while also drawing inspiration from the minimalist and industrial look of the items made at the factory in decades past.
Inspired by the Tower of Babel
The Palestinian brothers aren’t the only people who have been representing the Mena region during the event.
Another creator drawing inspiration from historic craftsmanship is Lebanese designer Richard Yasmine, who has been showcasing his latest series Woven Whispers at 5Vie in the Centro Storico district of Milan.
The furniture collection is the result of collaborating with several Lebanese craftsmen, promoting their techniques and skills with natural fibres, rattan, wicker and wood, while updating the craft to more modern aesthetics. For Fuorisalone, the piece is stacked into an installation titled The City and The Tower, a commentary on sociopolitical infrastructures.
“My work is always involved with craftsmen, because in Lebanon we don’t have the industry that is available in Europe or elsewhere, we rely on the local artisans and craftsman,” Yasmine tells The National. “I left them to work freely and left all the imperfections, to have the charm of handmade production. If we — the new designers and architects — don’t support them and work with them, then they won’t be able to live, because we don’t have enough tourism for them to sell to.
“[The] installation is inspired by the Tower of Babel, reflecting society. The base — which is the general public and workforce — must be strong, in order to support the level at the top,” he explains. “It’s all joined by ropes, to symbolise that it’s all linked together and we can help others to climb up, as a concept. We’re joining forces to be stronger together. There is the chair at the top for the ruling class, but it can only be there if the base is strong and has a good foundation.”
Memory keeping and healing from Beirut
Over in the Isola district, Lebanese designer Karma Dabaghi is presenting three series of glass vases, hand-blown by Sarafand’s renowned Khalife Brothers Atelier. The vases are made of recycled glass smashed during the 2019 Lebanon protests and 2020 Beirut Port blast, intended as a form of memory keeping and potential healing.
Her series, Genesis, is made with clear glass from the blast, exploring themes of cellular growth and life originating in catastrophe. New Vision uses smoky glass and compares the unpredictability of the glass-blowing method with trying to emotionally process the uncontrolled events of the explosion and its chaotic aftermath.
“The third series [Fragments of Hope] is about the Thawra,” she says. “I looked for broken glass that had slogans and graffiti on them, to keep that memory. You’ll notice bits of red or colours in the glass.
“I thought hard about what could be done with the glass that was broken and had to do with what happened, keeping the memory visually present, as well as representing different aspects of how we dealt with the situation afterwards."