Wednesday. 12/6/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Shopping for baskets

Art Basel’s sister fair Design Miami brings together a great jumble of furniture and design pieces. Amid the variety, the uniting quality here is “collectability”. But choosing what’s worth collecting is not an easy task. Unprepared buyers can easily find themselves debating the respective merits of a mid-century Jean Prouvé-designed furniture versus British-Canadian designer Philippe Malouin’s chainmail rug. Many agonise over the choices they make: will their purchase increase in value? Will it age well? Or will it represent a poor investment and a visual reminder of one’s poor judgement?

When following the money the key word is “functionality”, with buyers turning away from items that are better placed in a display cabinet than in a home. This year we are drawn to Erik Thomsen, whose eponymous New York gallery is known for Japanese fine art and design. This week, however, it has garnered praise for objects that are distinctly utilitarian: woven Japanese bamboo baskets. Admittedly these ones are quite exquisite, dating back over the past century, and have been commanding sums in the tens of thousands at the fair. For Thomsen, who entices us with a still-unsold reclaimed-bamboo basket from artist Wada Waichisai II from the 1930s, the beauty of collectable design remains just as much in functionality as aesthetics. “I wouldn’t want to see these behind glass,” he says. We agree.

Diplomacy / Sudan & USA

No-confidence vote

As the situation in Sudan worsens the US has dispatched Tibor Nagy, its assistant secretary for Africa, to broker peace talks between the country’s military junta and pro-democracy activists. In recent days, the country’s militia has drawn condemnation for its deadly crackdown on protesters who are calling for fair and free elections. Allowing the junta to control the democratic process would be a mistake. “There is a real risk here of a sham election being organised in Sudan, run by the military with their own people and ending up victorious,” Jeffrey Howard, lecturer in political theory at University College London, tells The Briefing. “Sudan would then just be the latest example of a so-called democracy, where the military is really calling the shots.”

Politics / Hong Kong

Crossing a line

A bill that would grant Chinese authorities the power to extradite Hong Kong citizens to the mainland is on its way to becoming law. Members of the autonomous territory’s legislative council assembled today to push the bill through to the next stage of the process, with a view to holding a final vote next week. Thousands gathered outside the building to protest against the motion; many Hong Kong businesses closed to allow employees to participate. “The government should postpone the enactment of the law,” says Stephan Ortmann, a politics professor at City University of Hong Kong. “Such a serious law should not be rushed through the legislative process.” As the fervour of the protests shows, few Hong Kongers want the law to be passed at all.

Environment / Canada

Last straw

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau wants to banish single-use plastics by 2021. He announced on Monday that Canada would follow the EU’s lead and ban them, vowing again to make good on a commitment made at last year’s G7 meetings. With Canada currently recycling less than 10 per cent of plastics, it’s welcome news – but the plan is scant on details. The government says it’s still determining which products will be banned and, with an October election looming, it’s savvy timing. The country was embarrassed by a rubbish-fuelled row with the Philippines last month, while Canada’s environmentally friendly Green party – typically a political afterthought – has gained steam in provincial elections. The environment will be a key issue come October; Trudeau’s statement shows he’s well aware that a win is not yet in the bag.

Architecture / France

Resurrection ruckus

This weekend Notre Dame Cathedral will host the first mass since fire engulfed the building in mid-April; hard-hatted clergy will gather in a small chapel that was spared by the flames. Although businesses and the public have generously pledged money to fix the cathedral’s spire and roof, there’s an impasse after the French Senate suggested that the structure be rebuilt exactly as it was before the blaze. “It’s disappointing and a bit absurd,” architect Alan Dunlop told Monocle on Design. “The majority of the timber burned during the fire was not seen and it is 12th-century technology that they’d be replicating.” The visiting professor at the University of Liverpool wants to draw attention to the outpouring of creativity that architects and designers drew on in considering how the structure could be cannily rethought, rather than just faithfully rebuilt. “It should offer an opportunity for a forward-looking country facing the 21st century.”

M24 / The Menu: Food Neighbourhoods

Honolulu

Food writer Martha Cheng on what Hawaiian food really consists of – and why there is so much more to be discovered than just fresh coconut juice and delicious bowls of poké.

Monocle Films / Czech Republic

Brno: fully functional

The Czech Republic’s second city was central to European design before falling into a troubled 20th-century sleep.

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