Approaching Mike Meiré’s Farm Project from the street, one follows signs into a rundown parking garage with a partially blasted-out ceiling; the blustery, bitter Cologne weather is kept out by a protective tarp to form an ad hoc alcove outfitted with bales of hay for seating and heat lamps for warmth. The inviting glow of the installation contrasts appealingly with its cold gray environs; inside, animals both live and stuffed crowd the
walls, plants grow straight out of the tables, goats and fish coexist happily, birds chirp in their cages, china bowls serve as sink basins, and food is piled high on all manner of shelf. It is, in a word, enchanting.
Meiré began thinking about the Farm Project installation back in 2005, when Dornbracht, a company for whom he has directed brand strategy and marketing for nearly 15 years, asked him to help position them creatively in the kitchen. (Dornbracht and Meiré have long held aesthetic reign in the bathroom.) “What makes [Dornbracht] interesting is not only the design, it’s about how [the company] has become involved in contemporary cultural movements,” explains Meiré. “People are refusing to be so disassociated from their food, and people are more concerned about where their food is coming from and what they’re eating; the kitchen is where this all comes together.”
Upon first glance, Meiré looks the part of the German creative type—the glasses, the black clothes, the skull cap—but his ebullience belies that stereotypical Deutsch austerity, and his enthusiasm is reflected in every corner of his installation. “I realized that minimal is taking over,” Meiré explains. “And I like minimal design; it’s not really that I’m questioning it, it’s just that [it can be] too much. This strategy is wrong for the kitchen because this is the room where life really happens.”
Meiré, as it happens, has a very full life—his wife and three kids, whom he endearingly never fails to mention, were a great inspiration to him with this project. “I have kids, I am married, and my kitchen is a socially dynamic place,” explains Meiré. “This is the place where you let life really happen, you create all these crazy juxtapositions. When you travel through the world, you bring food from other places, you find nice objects, and so on. [You] don’t want to hide all these things in the cabinets.”
While Meiré was imagining this environment, various tragedies were playing out in the global one: Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in southeast Asia loomed large. “There were so many disasters and catastrophes taking place…and they stuck out in my mind. Normally people try to put everything in order [and] try to keep [chaos] from the surface, but what happens with disaster— a flood, an earthquake—is it takes this structure away. It brings everything to the surface and then suddenly every material becomes equal: You have plastic next to chrome next to high-tech material; you have cheap next to rich materials. I thought, If these images are published everywhere in the world, it is somehow affecting the way we look at things. And I thought, If I am to create a kitchen which reflects, in some sense, what’s really happening now, then I have to have respect for these kinds of structures, disaster structures—when you see disasters, you see afterwards that people want to and do survive.”
While his initial concept was to “curate chaos,” what Meiré ended up creating was a “heim”—a home, an asylum, a hearth—through the marriage of diverse and surprising materials: vegetation, foodstuffs, animals, warmth and sound. “[At the opening in Cologne] the thing that really stuck with me were people’s smiling faces; I have never seen so many smiling people. I think this is important for architecture and design: to make people smile. Sometimes, I think, everything has to be so sophisticated, so intellectual, so serious. We are taking ourselves so seriously that we forget to smile somehow.”
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