Mark Woods, And in Her Reflec­tion, She saw The Thing That She would become, 2013, sil­ver-plated rhodium, wood, leath­er, plastic, wax, fake nails
Dimensions: 23 x 20 x 16 cm
Image © Paul Tucker


Curators : Marco Costantini and Susanne Hilpert Stuber
Nirvana. Strange Forms of Pleasure is Switzerland’s first international-level exhibition to be devoted to forms of pleasure in contemporary creation, exploring design as well as fashion and contemporary art, and the first compre­hensive study of the influence of erotica on design and fashion. By turns bold, luxurious and mysterious, the exhibi­tion presents works by around eighty artists and designers, and over 200 objects and installations.

Posted 13 October 2014

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The exhibition features a selection of contemporary designers who draw on the iconography of pleasure in their creative work, finding inspiration in erotic and fetishist literature, along with the images, objects and clothing to which they frequently refer. Visitors will discover finely-crafted, sometimes rare and inaccessible items, made from materials usually associated with the worlds of luxury goods, craftsmanship and contemporary art.

Mustafa Sabbagh, Just in Black, 2014, Photograph (lambda print)
Dimensions: 100 x 90 cm
Image © Mustafa Sabbagh

The exhibition invites us to examine our own ideas and perceptions of pleasure. It forces us to observe how its forms of expression can cross the line from the private to the public sphere when they are the subject of fashion, design or art. Designers cover the body with close-fitting garments or sensual materials, adorning them with jewellery that is aesthetically as well as erotically pleasing, creating furniture with evocative forms, works of art in which beauty and perfection are spiced with the whiff of brimstone. Nirvana shows that society’s desire for sensual pleasure remains vigorous in our digital age.
The exhibition focuses on design, fashion, and also contemporary art, which helps to open our eyes: its aim is to examine our relationship with the forms and objects that give physical expression to our unconscious perceptions of sexuality and our private notions of pleasure. In the exhibits, taboos are subverted by the use of unexpected shapes and materials, and by an attention to detail that has much in common with what the fashion world would consider haute couture.

Atelier Van Lieshout, Body Sofa, 2009, fibreglass, textile
Dimensions: 117 x 325 x 220 cm
Image © David Brook11 

Celebrated and up-and-coming designers alike bring these multiple influences into the spotlight, placing in the public sphere what has hitherto remained private. All these designers force us to question our value judgements on erotic practices by presenting unexpectedly luxurious items, worked to the highest standards of craftsmanship in leather, glass and precious metals.

Three rooms of the mudac have been given over to three important designers, who have each been invited to create a unique installation for the exhibition.
Betony Vernon was born in 1968 in Tazewell, Virginia, to an American pilot father and English civil rights activist mother. Her stylistic and sexual education took place on the East Coast of the USA, before at the age of 20 she moved to Italy, where she still lives, splitting her time between Milan and Paris. She began by selling her creations to some of the most prestigious labels in the world, before developing her own line of luxury erotic jewellery crafted in silver. Today her work is exhibited in Paris, Milan and New York, and she rubs shoulders with high-profile design­ers, couturiers and contemporary artists. She has devoted the last six years to writing her best-selling book, The Boudoir Bible, in which she takes a down-to-earth but light-hearted look at the secrets to achieving pleasure.
The vision of sexuality that Betony Vernon embraces in her book and through her jewellery eschews the commercial in favour of fine craftsmanship. “I don’t make sex toys. My objects are precious and they demand respect. Some can be worn outside of the boudoir, to a cocktail party or the opera. They are as much objets d’art as they are toys.” Be­tony Vernon’s erotic jewellery, with its decidedly non-organic forms, embraces mystery but not secrecy. Designed to refine and augment pleasure, they are a far cry from the plastic made-in-China trinkets that fill the shelves of sex shops.

Betony Vernon, Lovelock Collier, 2003, silver
Dimensions: 34 x 4 cm
Image © Lara Giliberto

Betony Vernon, Soul-Less Shoes, 2005, silver
Dimensions: 25 x 9 x 16 cm
Image © Michael James O’Brien

Betony Vernon, Minerva (pièce unique), 2006, silver
Dimensions: 20 x 25 x 20 cm
Image © Ale Mosso

Rachel Freire, Immodesty Jump­suit, FW 2010 collection, lycra and synthetic textile
Image © Diego Indraccolo

Mark Woods’ objects are a fascinating exploration of the concept of transgression. Unambiguously referencing the world of erotica, their softness, delicacy and beauty distance them from their potential function. They play on concepts borrowed from feminism, masculinity, sexuality and even religion, the attractiveness of their execution and the nobility of their materials – ebony, silver, lace, velvet – capturing the senses of the onlooker. The bespoke boxes and containers specially designed to house these marvellous objects become veritable “Cabinets of curiosities” that demand only to be opened.

Mark Woods, War Heart Fetish (Hung out to Dry), 2014, leather, white metal, plastic, wax
Dimensions: 26.5 x 9.5 x 6.5 cm
Image © Paul Tucker

Mark Woods, Pierced, Heart of broken Nails, 2014, leather, suede, wax, M.D.F, textile
Dimensions: 18 x 13 x 13 cm
Image © Paul Tucker

Mark Woods, Brownie Box Fet­ish, 2014, leather, white metal, hair
Dimensions: 68 x 27 x 6.5 cm
Image © Paul Tucker

Nika Zupanc, a young Slovenian designer, offers a unique vision of desire in the world of design. The furniture she creates pushes aesthetic limits and suggests a new visual code that reinterprets pre-existing or predefined mean­ings, challenging us to look at them in a new way. She playfully revisits feminine archetypes, combining glamour with a caustic wit, as in the Mrs Dalloway hotplate in the shape of a powder compact, or the suite entitled Self-discipline comprising a lamp, desk, chair and wardrobe that elegantly subvert the codes of S&M.
As well as running her own label, La Femme et la Maison, which she created on graduating from the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Nika Zupanc also works with contemporary design houses such as Moooi and Moroso. Her works have appeared in prestigious publications including Wallpaper, the New York Times, AD, Elle, Design Week and Desire.

Nika Zupanc, Till death do us part (Black Cherry Lamps), 2009-2011, blown glass, metal
Dimensions: 82 x 36 x 85 cm
Image © Dragan Arrigler

The ambition of Nirvana is to examine the aesthetics of eroticism and to map its influence on design, fashion and contemporary art, avoiding the clichéd responses that it frequently attracts. Bringing together this corpus of work has enabled us to identify eloquent pieces that bear witness to the astonishing creativity of their designers. Whether disturbing or seductive, the clothing, jewellery, accessories and furniture displayed and studied in the various sec­tions of the book reveal the richness of the forms referenced and the erudition of those who have conceived them.
It was therefore important to us that the catalogue produced to accompany this major exhibition at the mudac should be not just a glossy coffee-table book, but also a serious work of research. The works of more than 100 international artists and designers are reproduced and studied through the prism of analyses by design specialists, art historians, sociologists and fashion historians, who highlight the way they transcend categorisation.
Authors of the catalogue:
Texts by Marco Costantini (curator, art historian, Lausanne), Susanna Kumschick (ethnologue, vice-directrice/con­servatrice, Gewerbemuseum, Winterthour), Denyse Beaulieu (journalist, Paris), Joel Vacheron (sociologist, Lon­don), and Luca Marchetti (semiologist, Geneva/Paris)
Interviews with Betony Vernon, Mark Woods and Nika Zupanc. 

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