Subscribe to our newsletter

Highlights From the Previous Week, Partnered Events and Haikus. View our Newsletter archive

Beyond the Object: Unraveling Sensory Memories

TLmag highlights two installations, within Ventura Future’s Milan Design Week exhibition, that offered intimate stories and experiences about heritage, memory and using our primary senses.

Scroll right to read more ›
Text by

Every year Milan Design Week comes and goes, and with so many projects and exhibitions on view in such a short week, it takes a while to reflect on what we’ve seen. This year, the presentation of Ventura Future’s (Ventura Centrale’s little sister) at BASE Milano shone a spotlight on designers that are moving from beyond designing purely objects to designing stories and experiences. The show not only presented unique installations that activated visitors’ own (culinary) memories and primary senses but dealt with topical issues such as heritage and intolerance between cultures, the concept of personal memory and the human desire to collect items. Here, TLmag highlights two installations within Ventura Future’s exhibition that showcase this larger ongoing trend of designers going beyond the object. 

SAcrosanct Hut

It was hard to miss the bright red-and-white patterned hut curated by award-winning South African designer Thabisa Mjo of Mash T. Design. The exhibition, predominantly women-powered and community orientated activated their space through unapologetically expressing their authentic contemporary views of their cultural narratives. Every aspect of the hut, from the bright colours to the glimmering, patterned beaded windows reflect on and are a nod to past and future of (South) African traditions.  The idea for the exhibition came to Thabisa as she observed her mother on their first visit to the Vatican in Rome.

“Watching my mother in the cathedral made me see parallels between how beautifully maintained those sacred buildings are and how African women, almost obsessively, tend to their own homes. I saw how for my mother’s generation of women and the generations that came before, their homes have always been their cathedrals. The detail and care they put into their homes and the way they treat them creates a sacred place. At the same time, it occurred to me that things, beliefs or cultures that are too sacrosanct – thought too important or special to change – don’t survive.  In Rome, the fact that the cathedrals are open to the public and promoted as a tourist attraction is what keeps them alive. As South African designers the parallel is that we keep our beliefs and the cultural heritage we treasure alive by telling our stories through design, taking what is ‘sacrosanct’ and expressing it in contemporary ways so that current generations can relate to our cultural heritage, keeping what is ancient alive and breathing contemporary life into it.”

In ‘SAcrosanct Hut’, Mjo invited visitors into a uniquely designed space devoted to South African designers, as well as two of her own designs; the Potijie Server (made in collaboration with Qaqambile Bead Studios), and her Tutu 2.0 floor-standing light, a design which has won prestigious awards from the 100% Design SA and Design Foundation, and won Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at the Design Indaba 2018. Other selected works included handwoven Sankara and Imitha rugs by The Ninevites, The Oromo Chair from Urban Native by Metallurgical engineer and designer Mpho Vackier, woven mirrors by Candice Lawrence of Modern Gesture, cork stools by Laurie Wiid of Wiid Design.

Overall, this highly intimate and curated collection of works created an almost religious experience and atmosphere of its own — “We had people literally crying because they were so moved,” explains Mjo. “One lady even knelt in front of the server inside the installation and expressed just how emotional she felt being in the space. It went very well. We were moved by how moved people were. We managed to start a conversation about South African design and introduce people to what is happening in the design scene here. We’re excited to see what other opportunities will open up because of this installation.”


Named after a pure botanical fragrance composition, this installation created a physical playground of an immaterial and often (on our part) unconscious element in our everyday lives; smell. Made up of over 100 pieces of Meranti wood that were hand-infused with the top, heart and base tones of the pure botanical perfume ‘ATMOS’, visitors were treated to a ‘deconstructed personal scene expedition’.

The people behind the installation, named after one of their own perfume scents, are none other than the Dutch perfume company SOM (which stands for Sensus Opus Materia) Tales of Perfume — made up by founder and ‘inspirator’ Mariëlle Robbe, Fragrance Composer Juliette Wermenbol, Artist and Designer Sjaak Korsten and Senior Creative Director Yves Dupuits. The belief that drives this three-year-old niche perfume company is that the future is one that is not only personal but four-dimensional, as they make scent the invaluable tool to complement and complete a truly memorable sensorial experience: “Maybe you are not really aware of it, but part of your perception and communication is created by smelling. Communication and interaction becomes more lively and meaningful by smelling when we hear, see or feel. Our mission is to create the interactive olfactory experiences of the future to enhance communication”

On their futuristic and unique approach to combining design and scent, Marielle Robbe stated: “The future is experiential: people are looking for personal experiences and want to be part of it to make it truly memorable physically. These experiences that can’t be downloaded or streamed, because people now want all dimensions to be present, not only two or three: they want to experience everything not from a fixed perspective, but their perspective. That’s why we also collaborated with different artists and designers during Milan Design Week 2019, to broaden the use of perfume in all kinds of experiences”. One of the exciting collaborations that came out of SOM underwent was with Creative Chef Jasper Udink ten Cate with whom they threw a perfumed dinner party. As all of the perfumes they create are 100% organic and botanical, the ingredients are also edible — leaving people to experience an extra dimension of scent by combining it with taste as they eat specifically designed perfumed food.

Looking back at the crowd’s response to the installation, Robbe stated that the most crucial part of the exhibition was that it invoked some type of communication. She continued: “Some people didn’t understand what they were witnessing or were too impatient or restless to let the experience sink in — others were surprised by their perceptions and were moved by the way they connected to the scents — sharing their memories and stories with other people. Any way of experiencing it is okay with us. We had a lot of beautiful conversations about culture, personal perception, science and future design. For us, it was a great success, and we feel we have accomplished our mission to let more and more people understand how the right fragrance is key to a memorable experience.”

Photo: Max S. Volonté
Nkuli Mlangeni, Mpho Vackier and Thabisa Mjo infront of SAcrosanct Hut
SAcrosanctHut Photo: Max S. Volonté
SAcrosanctHut Photo: Max S. Volonté
SOM Tales of Perfume (founder and ‘inspirator’ Mariëlle Robbe, Fragrance Composer Juliette Wermenbol, Artist and Designer Sjaak Korsten and Senior Creative Director Yves Dupuits)
Perfumed Dinner Party, SOM collaboration with Creative Chef Jasper Udink ten Cate
ATMOS, Photo: Max S. Volonté
ATMOS, Photo: Max S. Volonté

Articles you also might like

For the 2024 Milan Design Week, contemporary artist Naoki Kawano presented “Skins Concept” a new project specially designed in collaboration with Pierre Frey.

Heritage(s) Surrealiste(s) was an exhibition curated by Jean-François Declercq for Milan Design Week and presented at the Baranzate Ateliers as part of the Fuorisalone.

For the 2024 edition of Milan Design Week, Roca showcases their company-wide initiatives for decarbonation and circularity with an installation titled “Sparking Change”, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects.

From April 15 to September 15, 2024, the Triennale Milano is presenting the exhibition: Inga Sempé: La casa imperfetta. Curated by Marco Sammicheli, Director of the Museo del Design of the Triennale Milano, the exhibition opens to coincide with the museum’s programming for Milan Design Week 2024.