On Display
May 19 - June 9 2023
9 am - 5 pm

51 Hudson Street
New York NY 10013


How can design become a tool to question and therefore challenge cultural assumptions as well as social connotations embedded in design artifacts? How can it generate a critical discourse around notions of nation, identity, culture, and authenticity too? By presenting a series of common use design artifacts and creating a new synergy between shape and the research process, Zaven look at how the practice of design and the design research are culturally located. They don’t suggest solutions to a problem that has to be solved–this specificity is indeed not approached as a problem; rather they make space for a broader, multidisciplinary conversation to be held in the context of a design exhibition–a place of sharing, engagement and participation where objects and the meaning they create can be collectively discussed and analyzed. 
The site-specific project Zaven present at Verso aims at unveiling the relationships existing between design and knowledge production in order to problematize the universal values of design items; to understand how other cultural practices can meaningfully participate in the design process; and ultimately envision the potential to contribute to the construction of cross and trans cultural possibilities that design can eventually participate in. 

The exhibition presents pieces of furniture that viewers easily and intuitively recognize–they are shelves, cabinets, vases and tapestries.  By means of a simple yet ironic distortion of their traditional aesthetic qualities, Zaven deconstructs common use design objects with the purpose of breaking with the familiarity of the shape and in so doing of highlighting that cultural implications are always inevitably entrenched in design and in the design process. In other words, Zaven metaphorically call upon the underlying cultural authority that characterizes, among others, also the field of design. 

Zaven’s gesture, resembling the situationist tactic of détournement, though apparently simple is indeed powerful. The way we visualize the world is through mapping, a system rooted in society’s imperialist heritage. In the current globalized cultural ecology, flags are still symbols of control, territorialization and power. Playing with the iconic symbology of the flag, Zaven subverts its original meaning as well as its cultural legacy. They create items that allegorically blow in the space as a flag does. From a symbol to reclaim national identity, the flag is turned into a possibility to foster dialogue, openness and no, rather than anti, nationalist viewpoints. 

The joyful combination of colors also responds to the will to reimagine the socio-historical background of the design object. Once again, Zaven attempt to sabotage cultural assumptions attached to our knowledge of design. While in the furniture pieces they pair nuances of the same color palette–an intellectual decision that suggests unity–, in the collection of rugs they combine complementary colors. The message that each carpet-flag is inscribed with (the name of the color complementary to the background) is at the same time readable and unreadable; the imaginative action of flowing in the space thus creates a distortion in the audience’s perception of the rug. In a series of cylindrical ceramic vases, Zaven open up a cut from which to look inside the object. Without fully disavowing its original function, the vase becomes a portal that generates an osmotic relationship between outside and inside, thus removing any sort of symbolic barrier. By interweaving structure and culture in their design practice and research, Zaven generate a heterogeneous environment, where the interconnectedness of the exhibited objects and their new design configuration contribute to imagine a critical space for the development of new narratives about the social implications of design.

Text by Tommaso Speretta