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Salone del Mobile: Laikingland

Designer Martin Smith and engineer Nick Regan presented their kinetic cocktail at the FUNction showcase during Milan Design Week

Italian kinetic sculptor and designer Bruno Munari theorised as early as 1936 in his 'Manifesto of Machine Art' that artists were the only ones capable of understanding a machine’s personality and its possibilities. The creative minds behind Laikingland, UK-based artist Martin Smith and Netherlands-based engineer Nick Regan, seem to agree with Munari’s principles. Founded in 2008 Laikingland produces exclusive modern artworks in movement: pieces such as the “The Applause Machine” and “The Party Popper Machine” or works produced in collaboration with other artists such as “Fingers” or “Storm in a Tea Cup” are already hailed among contemporary interior design fans as must haves.

This week Laikingland are joining forces with Tord Boontje, Atelier Ted Noten and Atelier NL to bring to the Ventura Lambrate event during Milan Design Week a bit of kinetic playfulness. Entitled “FUNction”, their Milan showcase moves from three main themes, narrative, humour and craftsmanship, and features Tord Boontje’s doorbell performing a cacophony of sound and movement, a clock by AtelierNL inviting the viewer to tell their story in 50 different languages and Atelier Ted Noten’s jewellery box integrating a robot arm that protects and presents a magical ring.

Dazed Digital: How would you describe the objects you create?
Nick Regan: We call them “beautifully crafted kinetic objects”, but some pieces are really art works, others like the “FUNction” exhibits are a mix of art and functional product. Usually our works bring a smile to the faces of the observers and, if that’s the reaction, then we are happy since we have reached our aims.

DD: Is this the first time you go to a design event in Milan?
Nick Regan: It’s actually the second time we’re showing during Ventura Lambrate. At last year’s edition we got such great feedback from many designers, including several famous ones who walked into our exhibition space and were completely surprised by our work. We’re really looking forward to this year’s edition as there seems to be a lot of exciting designers and organisations showing in this area and we’re expecting a busy week. Our main reason for exhibiting is to expand our retail network, but we’re also looking forward to meeting new designers we may end up collaborating with in future. At the moment we’re developing the projects side of our Laikingland business, so we’re hoping to meet organisations and companies who may be interested in asking us to develop one-off or special edition kinetic objects.

DD: There seems to be an emphasis in the “FUNction” event on storytelling, is the power of narration one of the themes of this event?
Nick Regan: Narrative is really interesting and is definitely a theme inside our Laikingland brand. For the “Cacophony Bell”, Tord Boontje’s idea was to really create an object that gave such a wonderful performance and that implied the presence of a house owner hoping and waiting for visitors so that he could watch the bell performing. The performance of a kinetic object is something Tord really picked upon and created the product story around it. For “Story Time”, our product with Atelier NL, we actually took the narrative theme a step further. We’ve printed the text “What’s Your Story?” in 50 languages on the ribbon that moves from one reel of the timepiece to the other. This same text can be read through the course of a day in different languages. Our intention with this piece is that we’re actually inviting future customers, collectors and visitors from all over the world to tell us their stories. In future we will create customised one off versions of this object and each customer or collector will have the possibility of suggesting their own story.

DD: How did you get in touch with the artists who collaborated with you on these pieces?
Nick Regan: We met them at the end of 2009 when Martin and I decided it would have been good for us to work with some Dutch artists and designers. Laikingland’s studio and assembly team are based in England, but I live and work in Utrecht where we carry out most of the engineering development for our products. We started researching into the world of Dutch design and were introduced to Margriet Vollenberg and Margo Konings from Organisation in Design and through them we met Atelier NL and Atelier Ted Noten.

We fell in love with a piece called “Sleeping Beauty” created by Atelier NL’s Nadine Sterk and Lonny Van Ryswyck. When we met them they told us about some products they had designed as concepts, then it was just a matter of choosing which of their dream products could best fit to our Laikingland brand. The guys at Atelier Ted Noten loved our works, especially the “Applause Machine”: at our first meeting Ted said he wanted to create a tiny diamond ring for one of the fingers! At our second meeting, they had already prepared sketches for 30 - 40 ideas, they’re incredibly creative and it’s really fabulous working with them.

DD: Is there a dream kinetic object you have been working on, but still haven’t managed to finish?
Martin Smith: Nick and I are constantly discussing how many objects we should develop as Laikingland grows. We are planning some more fabulous objects in the next couple of years and we’re always thinking about which artist or designer it would be interesting to work with. In my own studio there are always ideas in development in drawing books and in the darkest corners of the workshop. At the moment I’m working on pieces centred around the idea of celebration, occasion and time. An example? One object is designed to open and perform only once a year on the owner’s birthday!

Laikingland’s “FUNction” is in Via Ventura 6, Milan, from 13 - 17 April 2011