“Design is something that happens all over the world, sometimes professionally and more often, quite spontaneously. And I think that that aspect of design is very easily overlooked in favor of the kind of glossy, expensive, exclusive world of design that happens in Europe,” says Stephen Burks, industrial designer and curator of the Museum of Art + Design’s “Are You A Hybrid?” exhibit running through October 2nd. It’s not the typical tack of a world-renowned designer, but Burks has made a career of cultural fusion and bridging the gap between the hand-made Third World and manufactured First.
His first curatorial project explores this through a selection of pieces from a variety of designers, artists, and photographers<like Charles and Ray Eames, Patricia Urquiola, or Glenn Ligon<who “promote a pluralistic vision of design,” as well as photography documenting design communities from the developing world by Zwelethu Mthethwa. There are even somewhat surprising finds, like a bottle of Taittinger champagne designed by Amadou Sow<the first African designer to be a part of the Artist Collection series in a long string of big-names like Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. “One of the statements we’re trying to make with the exhibition OAre You A Hybrid?’ is that design is not separate from art and design is not separate from architecture and all these things happen simultaneously and within the same cultural context,” he says.
And he certainly practices what he preaches. Whether he is creating from his Brooklyn-based Readymade Studio or traveling the globe in search of forgotten or dying traditions<like a village in Peru where locals came down from the mountains to teach him macramé<he has dedicated himself to protecting and elevating the craft tradition. Even his mass-market projects have this bent, like his artisanally produced South African pieces for collaborations with Artecnica and Cappellini. “It’s not about saving the planet. It’s about extending craft traditions into the future and making a viable connection to contemporary design,” he says. “But it can also really make a difference in people’s lives. I firmly believe in the concept of economic transformation or economic renewal to design.”
Stephen Burks | Are You A Hybrid? Is on display at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York through October 2