Milan hosts Salone del Mobile, the annual furniture trade show and design week, this month. Think of it as the furniture industry's CES or SXSW. While there's plenty to discover in the smaller galleries and off-site installations, the fair itself can feel like an eerie case of deja vu when the pieces on view become homogenous, big brands reprise safe design classics, and there are few changes year after year other than a fabric refresh.
To New York–based designer and performance artist Nikolas Gregory that's a byproduct of economics: Only the biggest and most conservative brands with deep coffers can afford to show their goods. Emerging designers—who are typically more experimental and adventurous—on a shoestring budget are left hoping their work will be selected for SaloneSatellite—a curated section of the fair that's free for the chosen exhibitors—or to find cheaper space somewhere else, which is likely has less foot traffic and exposure.
Gregory's latest piece, Coup de Cushion, aims to be a coup de grâce for the bland, lackluster work in the cavernous trade show halls. He's making and distributing whoopee cushions and inviting people to place them on pieces they believe to be poorly designed. He thinks of it as a Golden Raspberry Award for the furniture industry and says in a statement:
The fair is an amazing event but a lot of work gets in only because it was well financed or they were the same designer that has been exhibited year after year. This results in many poor/boring designs being exhibited at the fair whereas designers with great work but without financial backing or without good credibility are left under-represented. We also realized that there is no way for fairgoers to express their actual opinions about this poor/boring work at the show and, therefore, little opportunity for critique.
The whoopee cushions are emblazoned with "f art" on one side and—and his design studio's logo on the other. Gregory encourages people to upload their photos to social media using the hashtag #coupdecushion. He calls it a "funny bit of activism."
"I don’t mean it to be malicious—I want it to be a fun, tongue-in-cheek commentary," Gregory tells Co.Design. "I really think that for the large companies their name is what carries them—they essentially can show anything. Last year, the takeaway for me was I remembered [brand] names and the beautiful booths. The designs were secondary."
If this seems like a publicity stunt, it certainly is, and Gregory is no stranger to provocative work. Since opening his studio in Queens last year, he's created a ring called Ripley that receives its "custom" oxidized finish by passing through a person's complete digestive system. He also produced Style Church—a fake site that sells outfits and "pre-loaded" social media profiles based on how marketers stereotype consumers—to lampoon the state of consumerism today. His most high-profile project is Higher Tides, a fake real estate company that profits off of rising sea levels and aims to raise awareness about climate change.
Will Coup de Cushion shed more light on the perceived inequity in the design business today? If the sound of whoopee cushion farts permeates all those fancy furniture booths, then we'll know for sure.
All Images: courtesy Nikolas Gregory