Power Move
Wallpaper|June 2019

Creative polymath Virgil Abloh on flexing his design muscle, and furniture against climate change.

Alice Rawsthorn
.Whenever an unusually high tide in the northern Adriatic Sea coincides with strong summer winds in the Venetian Lagoon, sirens blare across Venice, followed by a series of whistles. This is a warning that the city is at risk of being flooded by the perilously high water, known as acqua alta.

Virgil Abloh, an energetic polymath but best known as the founder of the fashion brand Off-White and as artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection, is fascinated by acqua alta, and the monitoring, warning and clean-up systems designed to deal with it. And it has served as the inspiration for the furniture he has devised for ‘Dysfunctional’, a show presented by Carpenters Workshop Gallery in partnership with Lombard Odier in Ca’ d’Oro during this summer’s Venice Biennale.

‘Whenever I’m presented with a design project, the first thing I relate to is the context,’ says Abloh. ‘What makes Venice alluring is, obviously, the landscape, which is almost surreal in nature, and faces the reality of periodic flooding. What we see in the exhibition are objects above the surface of the water, but it’s the layer below I find most interesting because it has been reclaimed by the sea, and we can’t get it back.’

The chairs, benches and floor lamp in the Acqua Alta collection stand at topsyturvy angles as if they may be submerged by rising flood water at any moment. ‘That’s the message of the work,’ Abloh explains. ‘This land is not our land. We’re part of an ecosystem. With growing concerns about climate change, the design is a powerful vehicle to explain that message to a broader public. Anyone can understand a chair.’

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