Be Open to the Future @ Salone Milan 2012

Be Open to the Future @ Salone Milan 2012

BE OPEN: a global scheme to foster creativity and innovation, to imagine and build solutions for the future

The BE OPEN think tank launched during this year’s Salone – in collaboration with Interni Magazine and sociologist Francesco Morace—with a series of speakers from the worlds of art, media, business and science gathered over three days to exchange ideas about how design thinking can respond to and find solutions for current and future social, environmental and economic needs.

Behind the creation of BE OPEN, stands an international team united around one of the most successful Russian businesswoman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Yelena Baturina.

Baturina announced she will be dedicating $100 million to the BE OPEN Foundation, a charity she created in April to support young talent in architecture, design, art and other disciplines.

BE OPEN is a creative think tank whose mission is to promote people and ideas. It is a cultural and philanthropic initiative that aims to harness the brainpower of the global creative minds in the arts, education, design, business, and  media – and asks them to imagine and then build solutions for the future.

“Working in the construction industry, I collaborate with architects and designers all the time. I enjoy their alternative vision, sensitivity to human needs and restlessness – a desire to keep improving on what we have, to fashion us a better world. I want to garner this energy and responsiveness to direct it at really big issues. I am also aware of an emerging generation of creative people who deserve more attention; and I want to help them get it” explains Yelena Baturina, Founder  of BE OPEN

After Milan, BE OPEN’s worldwide road map will reach Basel and London in conjunction with their established design week and art fair. The key project, that will act as catalyst, will be a series of international BE OPEN conferences with creative leaders of the 21st century that aim to create an international debate and platform for making new ideas happen.

Be Open Conference / Discussion Talks

BE OPEN’s first conference rather ambitiously aimed to “exchange ideas about how design thinking can respond to and find solutions for current and future social, environmental and economic needs,” with a particular focus on the relationship between Russia and Europe

Everyone operating in the world’s of architecture, design and technology knows that the world has changed since 2008, but the job of identifying and describing exactly how is only just beginning to happen.

It was the contention of the convener of the first BE OPEN conference, Francesco Morace, that three new relationships in the world of design had undergone a huge and important shift.

Morace suggests that a fundamental realignment in thinking has occurred in over the issue of sustainability, the idea of happiness and perhaps most fundamentally the relationship between the local and the universal.

These theories were tested by the inquiring minds of some of the leading figures in the design world.

Day 1 Sensible and Sustainable

Sensible & Sustainable – discussion about the new parameters of excellence in sustainability, which combine design thinking with ethical principles.


Luisa Collina, Projects & Relations Manager at Politecnico di Milano – International School of Design
Maria Sebregondi, vice president, Moleskine
Jane Penty, stage leader BA (Honours) Product Design / School of Graphics and Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins – College of Art and Design
Sass Brown, author of the book “Eco Fashion” & professor at Polimoda IFT
Clare Brass, designer

Sensible and Sustainable

Claire Brass, formerly of the Design Council in the UK and now of the SEED Foundation outlined her project Food Loop, which is a design-led social enterprise that offers local authorities a blueprint system for localised composting of biodegradable waste on housing estates. Her vision of how food waste could be turned into compost and how it could become a product in a token based economy, formalising the existing relationships enjoyed by allotment owners and gardeners into a complex bartering system.

Certainly if Morace’s theory that this is a crucial paradigms in our lives, then a great deal of work on creating an alternative economy needs to still be done.

Other contributors such as Sass Brown, author of the book “Eco Fashion”, were more interested in championing those who have adapted existing commercial models to a more sustainable model.

Brown championed a range of companies that she felt were exploding the myth that sustainable design is bad design, or just basic design. Through highlighting the range of companies producing desirable and well-designed apparel she felt that she was part of a general shift in the ethical outlook of consumer culture.

Luisa Collina meanwhile addressed the way in which design students, professors researchers and institutions can shape a more sustainable future. Collina explored new methods for the dissemination and valorisation of the best ideas and solutions for issues relating to sustainability.

Day 2 Daily and Happy

Daily & Happy – a discussion about the daily happiness that we express through gesture, behaviour and ritual in relation to design objects and elements.


Julian Schnabel, painter
Alberto Alessi, entrepreneur & managing director of Alessi
Elio Fiorucci, entrepreneur, fashion designer
Carlo Cracco, chef
Edson Matsuo, designer and director of research & development for Grendene

Happiness is many things to many different people.

To Julian Schnabel it is clearly the idea of ceaseless creativity that leads – sometimes inadvertently – to happiness.

If Schnabel’s philosophy is that there is no past or future or an endless present, then his art becomes a means of simultaneously existing in as many places as possible. Happiness for him is the bi-product of multiple acts of creativity.

“Art’s happy gesture is about the happiness I feel whilst working. How do you get through the day? I paint my way out of problems. I’m looking for a poetic reality that is running alongside the tangible reality.”

Separating where creativity ends and happiness begins is difficult to describe, as chef Carlo Cracco found.

Alberto Alessi meanwhile used the history of his company to challenge our notions of what is serious and what makes us happy. No architect or designer can have made an object designed to simply make people as successfully as Aldo Rossi’s designs for La Conica produced by Alessi.

To find happiness a degree of mischief is helpful.

Both Edson Matsuo and Elio Fiorucci clearly see joy as a motivating force in both creating and consuming; buying things can make you happy!

For Vladimir Pirojkov happiness was a concept he understood in relation to design through his own personal experience. Having worked in the car industry, designing the interiors of the Prius and Yarus for Toyota amongst a host of other roles in the automobile sector, he explained he was driven into the aeronautical sector through understanding he was dissatisfied with what he was doing. In doing so he has arrived at a proposal for a combined car and plane vehicle.

Happiness may be hard to attain but the meaningful pursuit of it leads us on to creative and surpass ourselves

Day 3 Unique and Universal

Unique & Universal – how local and global worlds are strongly differentiated and yet converge


Stuart Parr, designer
Ilse Crawford, design expert
Paola Navone, designer and architect
Daniel Rozensztroch, art director Merci Paris
Patricia Urquiola, designer
Gaetano Pesce, architect and designer
Vladimir Pirojkov, designer, President Astra Rossa

What makes something Unique and Universal drew an even greater variety of responses.

Ilse Crawford gave the example of her interior strategy for the Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland.

Briefed to both represent the hitherto unknown craft culture of the area but also draw in international visitors to the island, the Inn became a space to firstly represent and develop an informal indigenous craft culture – patchwork quilts and hard furniture – through the help of international designers and secondly as part of an interior ensemble designed to attract visitors from far and wide.

In her model the designer becomes an intermediary between the local and the universal.

In her own way Paolo Navone is doing a similar thing.

Although the interface between the unique and the universal to her was the way in which the individual assembles objects from around the world in their own way, much as how Daniel Rozensztroch, her fellow contributor takes her work and adds it to the ensemble of the Merci Paris store of which he is art director and where Navone sells her work.

For Gaetano Pesce the conference was a chance to re-affirm his faith in the direction of Italy as a home for design. Pesce who has questioned the existence of Italian Design in the past, has clearly realised that the approach of the Italians to material production is unique, affirmed its role in an international context.

For Stuart Parr, the unique was itself an opportunity. Rather than being a product of a specific place for him the unique was the great idea; the Hasellblad camera, the Rietveld Chair, the first Thonet bentwood chair.

What makes a unique object universal, is the manner in which it addresses a need and subsequently succeeds. Whilst things have changed a great deal the skill of the designer is the same as it always was.

Be Open Verge Art & Design Exhibition

The exhibition Verge shown alongside the Be Open to the Future conference was in many ways a more brutal, more confrontational exploration between the ideas of artistic autonomy versus social utility.

Covering younger artists solely from Moscow, Verge showed the refreshing clarity with which Russian designers view the social function of both art and design.

“Verge”, showcased contemporary Russian artists whose work sits at the subtle interface where art ends and design begins. “Verge is our chance to give young Russian artists and designers a stepping stone to the future.

By appearing on the international stage, they will be able to develop their thinking and direction”, says curator Elena Selina

The problem of Russian contemporary art is that it’s separated from the rest of the world, I don’t know if this is a historic inheritance, but it is not well enough integrated into world art. The whole world knows the names of famous galleries but not those of Russian contemporary artists. They don’t have a showcase, and the situation is even worse for young designers,” … Yelena Baturina

Exhibition installation was by Italian designer Paola Navone

Be Open Verge Milan Exhibition

The Language of design in art, dedicated to Russian contemporary art that sits at the interface with design.

Today contemporary art and design are strongly intertwined, organically influencing each other. Sometimes the distinction between art and design is blurred – it is difficult to tell where art ends and design starts, and vice versa. Often art disguises itself as design and assimilates its language: one form is on the verge of becoming another.

Both of these cultural phenomena play with each other’s forms and meanings. It were Marcel Duchamp and later Andy Warhol – who initiated this process with his famous “Campbell soup cans”, when a canned soup became the hero of the artwork. Art has referenced design, whilst every third design solution contains either hidden or explicit references to art, be it Russian avant-garde aesthetics or the latest novelties of video art.

The exhibition “Verge” is about the morphing of these two disciplines as seen in some part of contemporary Russian art and design. “Verge” in fact shows that they have moved on from the conservative “realism” with which people tend to associate Russian art. Russian culture has a new openness and dynamism. Its new art is interactive, ambitious and deep.

BE OPEN project is also something of a stepping-stone to the future for the artists involved.


“3G International” sculpture by Electroboutique group turns one of the most popular products in the international gadget market – an Apple’s iPhone – into Tatlin’s “The Third International Tower”, which was conceived as a state-formative structure in its function and as a meaningful symbol of the workers solidarity all around the world.

In Electroboutique’s opinion, universal access to information and easiness of processing it postulated by the iPhone’s engineers is just another illusion, born, this time, not in the socialistic but in the consumerical world.

Another work, “The Cross”, is interactive – the information on the electronic panel changes only after a spectator has bowed to the object.

Here religious experience, which is collective par excellence, is opposed to an individual schedule of moving in space. Archaic notions creep into the contacts with the technocratic world, and this does not come as a surprise to Russian spectators. Many of us, while dealing with intricately organized technical equipment, practice animism – earnestly, more or less, (the degree depends not upon education level but upon the difficulty of a problem solved by a technical appliance).

Electroboutique’s art has the closest affinities with design in this exhibition. Their objects and installations are spectacular and interactive and play on our perceptions. They promise a lot – each looking like a designer objects – yet fail to deliver: they’re really about criticizing our consumerist society.

Their works lie at the meeting point of cool aesthetics and information technology, modern design, pop-art and real-time data processing. Their techniques amalgamate open source and proprietary solutions with the key art media of past decades

The work in Verge is imbued with the spirit of the age, particularly in technological terms thanks primarily to the work of Electroboutique

Electroboutique is a unique creative electronics production company, a media art gallery and an artist collective. Their products are developed in modern technological forms, – user- friendly electronic devices and computer programs, which at the same time are artworks and exist beyond national and cultural borders.

Group “Electroboutique” consists of Aristarkh Chernyshev, born in 1969 and Alexei Shulgin, born in 1963. Both are Professors at Rodchenko Multimedia Schools and they live and work in Moscow.

Files, 2012. Installation. Files, cabinet, mixed media

Buldakov is one of the most interesting artists in this new generation of contemporary Russian artists. He works in video art and installation. “One way or another, a considerable part of our lives takes place in virtual reality, and it has an effect on our minds”, he says about his project “Correction of Design”.

Real things, for example, office furniture, come to be regarded as virtual. He perverts normality through radical action

Watch, 2012. Sculpture. Styrofoam, acrylic

Sergei Shekhovtsov works principally in foam and plastic, materials more readily associated with design. He brilliantly uses them in a sculptural way.

With the help of PU foam Sergey Shekhovtsov, in his monument to an expensive watch, makes a parody on marble, the material favored by sculptors of monuments.

Shekhotsov’s sculpture implies the existence of watch worshippers on a mass scale as well as of the “memorized” watch’s owner who cannot but belong to “the high and mighties”. Here the individual add-on symbolizes not so much a social status as the power – over minds and wallets

Plasticene in Metal

Irina Korina uses modern materials, often literally from construction sites to create cosmogonic installations. These works have a sense of nostalgia for lost aesthetics, yet also offer new original aesthetic possibilities.

In the installation by Irina Korina multi-colored play dough in the oblong container personifies a miscellaneous society stiffened by the authorities.

Irina Korina work involves the forcing of layers of plasticine into metal grids- giving the effect of a hugely constrained sense of vitality and difference bursting at the seams, begins to think at some of the ways in which she uses design. “You can really tell when they were made, they are both expressions of the time,” she says.

Red Kabab, 2012. Computer mice, enamel

Mikhail Kosolapov’s computer “mice” gather frantically in packs.

Mikhail Koslapov’s work featured a frenetic pack of corroded scarlet computer mice quivering in a pack or herd. He adds a further distinction. “Design has a client and art does not,” he states.

Mikhail works with the most unlikely and unexpected materials – tubes and tyres, fixtures and glass, molten computer mice, monitors and fax machines – to create astonishing artefacts.

Asked to comment about the nature of an art market which is dominated by the tastes and spending power of a limited number of art-buyers, Koslapov whose work on show in Milan created an organic form from melted computer mice and red enamel, insisted on the distinction, between agent and end-user.

“Pushkin he says, said was impossible to sell inspiration but it was possible to sell the script.” And yet there is a resonance and charge to the exhibition. These artists may not consider themselves a school. They may not have even been friends previously but there is a certain pop-art power to the way the language of the everyday has been appropriated and critiqued.


Create the Future Now, an international contest focused on young talents.

The Be Open awards are designed to recompense original design solutions, and the use of future technologies that can be implemented today.

“There are three prizes,” Baturina explains: “Each winner gets tuition fees in a top design institute, and the first gets €10,000 to make a prototype of their project.”

About Elena Selina

One of the most influential and independent Russian curators and gallerists, Elena has been part of the Russian contemporary art scene since its nascence.

Her XL Gallery was one of the first contemporary art galleries in Moscow.

The gallery has exhibited at key international fairs such as Frieze/London, Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach and FIAC/Paris. Gallery artists have exhibited through years at Biennales in Venice and Sao Paulo and museums such as SMAK (Ghent), Folkwang (Essen), MUHKA (Antwerp), MAC/VAL (Paris), Art&Science museum (London), ZKM (Karlsruhe) and MUMOK (Vienna)

About Yelena Baturina

Yelena Nikolayevna Baturina born 8 March 1963) is a Russian Oligarch.

BE OPEN is the brainchild of Elena Baturina, who made her fortune in the construction and cement industry during her husband Yuri Luzhkov’s 18-year tenure as mayor of Moscow from 1992 – 2010. Luzhkov was brutally dismissed by president Dmitri Medvedev in 2010.

Baturina is Russia’s richest woman and the only Russian woman worth more than a billion dollars.

“Luzhkov was long admired for his no-nonsense organisational skills, but the latter half of his tenure was plagued by allegations of corruption as his wife, Yelena Baturina, amassed a vast fortune as a leading Moscow construction magnate, becoming Russia’s richest woman along the way,” …. UK Financial Times.

About Paola Navone

Paola Navone’s eclectic approach as a designer is hugely influenced by her travels and by different cultures. This Turin-born live wire, who trained in architecture at the Politecnico di Torino, and graduated in 1973, lived in Africa in the 70s, then worked in Asia for over 20 years, notably as a UN and World Bank development consultant for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Although often inspired by the Far East, Navone finds inspiration everywhere, as she told Be Open’s audience during the Unique and Universal conference. Talking with Daniel Rozensztroch, art director of hip Paris lifestyle store Merci, with whom she has collaborated, Navone summarised her approach as ‘sponge design’. From the moment she wakes up, she said, her ‘brain is like a sponge, absorbing everything’. She also described her eclectic approach as being like ‘a mixed salad’ ­– such that she can’t talk of individual inspirations, only combined ones.

Indeed, Navone’s work gleefully jumbles cultures and references, resulting in unexpected hybrid pieces (‘hybrid’ was another word she mentioned in reference to her work at Be Open). For example, for Habitat she once designed kitchen utensils whose shapes are derived from African tribal cooking utensils but made of a high-tech, heat-resistant plastic.

The origins of this pick ‘n’ mix approach partly lie in her highly formative experience of working, from the mid-70s, with Milan’s avant-garde, ultra-conceptual design collective, Studio Alchimia, whose members included Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottass. This group rebelled against the dry rationalism of the Bauhaus and helped lay the foundations of postmodernism until it dispersed in 1992. Navone’s own work has continued to be experimental although it is also commercially viable.

About Francesco Morace

“In the crisis scenario we’re living in, deep recovery of value needs are emerging, through the talent and passion led by a perspective of “design thinking” in which creative people and not only designers or creative professionals, become bearers of values, creating a vision of the world, with a capacity of concrete realization. And this is the foundation of the debate brought by BE OPEN think tank. You can only forecast the future if you are prepared to project it” concludes Francesco Morace, Future Concept Lab President.

Sociologist, writer and journalist, has been working for over twenty years in the sociology and market research fields.

Founder of the research and strategic consulting institute Future Concept Lab (1989), he is also a professor at Domus Academy and Milan’s Politecnico.

He has participated in conventions and seminars in 22 different countries around the world, where he represents the excellence of made in Italy. He consults to blue chip international clients such as American Express, BMW, Coca Cola Company, The L’Oreal Group and many others.

Co-founder of the association The Renaissance Link, among his most recent publications is “Il Talento dell’Impresa: L’Impronta Rinascimentale in dieci aziende italiane” (The Talent of the Enterprise: traces of the Renaissance being left by ten Italian Companies) published in 2010.

He is the author of over 20 books translated into various languages, and ranging in subject from trends in consumption to social change. Among the most important titles: “Paradigms of the Future. A Trend Exploration” (e-book version will be available in April, 2012); “Il Senso dell’Italia. Istruzioni per il terzo miracolo Italiano” (The Sense of Italy. Instruction for the third Italian miracle, February 2008); “Societa Felici” (Happy Societies, December 2004).

Francesco Morace is a regular columnist for Adv, Interni, Mark Up and other specialist international magazines and journals.

Share your thoughts