Summer of 2011 was a rather uncertain time in Greece. It was when Vasso and Costas had returned from abroad and started rediscovering the centre of Athens. Through their walks, observing people behaviors and everyday scenarios, they were wondering how design could intervene to create new opportunities. Loukas, still based in London, kept them in the loop with the latest and greatest design news from a location where creativity is already embedded as a tool in contemporary culture.
A few weeks later, all three met and started discussing ways to expose the new directions in design to the public. In the Greek scene where design is mostly connected with furniture and interior, there seemed to be plenty of space to start talking about new genres such as critical, service, innovation and experience design.
To make their ideas travel, they decided to create the first no-budget airline and called it Papairlines. Fleet made of paper and ideas ready to materialize, they set out to communicate the role of design as a catalyst for change in all aspects of our everyday lives. Sounds grand? Well actually, they are taking one step at a time. The airline concept is indicative of budget limitations but full of creative energy to spread a positive message. Paper planes carry a childhood reference, a time when all was possible and thinking was unbiased.
For their first initiative they developed and curated an exhibition where Greek and international designers would respond to a common brief; to create and construct unexpected functional objects made out of the iconic green-yellow kitchen sponge. The project was called ‘Once Upon A Sponge’. Not knowing what to expect in response, they trusted that designers would be intrigued and get creative. The designer submissions revealed that design thinking offers realistic answers to everyday situations, not just on form and function, but also on emotion, social behaviors and underlying meaning.
Papairlines had been invited to present the project in metamatic:taf, a gallery in Monastiraki, the heart of Athens, that doubles as a cultural and social space for Athenians and tourists alike. Baring in mind that papairlines crew had the expectation to produce a rich visual and emotional experience for the public and budget was limited, things got interesting.
On these grounds, papairlines set out to look for sponsors, volunteers, people in a mood to help and creative solutions for the whole setup. Unsurprisingly, sponsorships came easier in kind rather than cash, which made for an intricate exercise in resourcefulness. They ended up with 40 meters of uncut sponge, 1200 single kitchen sponges and 20 of so electrical appliances to play with. The uncut sponge turned into sofas and wall cladding, the kitchen sponges into ‘pixels’ for an interactive installation and appliances took center stage to become plinths. Whitewashed to retain a domestic and fun feel, the electric appliances, which were on their way to the recycling factory, made a one-month stop in the gallery space before being disassembled.
On the press and communication side of things, Papairlines teamed up with a music TV channel and an online portal, both of which promoted the exhibition on a regular basis. Papairlines developed a form of barter with parties interested to contribute, exchanging services without exchanging money, helping each other even in times where means are scarce.
‘Once Upon A Sponge’ was carefully crafted to offer visitors not only a complete experience but also food for thought. The exhibition identity, graphics and layout were developed holistically. The presented work, as a collection, highlighted the process behind design and the diversity of design thinking regardless of the material-based common origin. The exploration of material properties and manufacturing techniques offered visitors an insight on ‘how things are made’. In a wider sense, the project outcome illustrates how design can be used as a research tool to create new stories and scenarios around a specific constrain. Collectively, creative thinking generated a positive impression to the visitors, evident by the feedback received through social media and Check-in message board interactive installation pictures. A casual reading room with relevant literature was also at hand for anyone requiring more information on the theoretical background of the project.
The exhibition run from the 10th of May to 16th of June 2012 at metamatic:taf and was afterwards presented at the ‘Santorini Biennale of Arts’ during the summer. For the Biennale, the setup concept moved along the same lines, using found materials and available resources; fortunately a few cable reels did the job. The project was also presented in the international conference ‘Artist in Industry: the role of design in the digital age’ in Bucharest discussing how an object can tell a story, how creative thinking can contribute to solving everyday problems, whether constraints can act as a stepping stone for something new and if design today can take on a more active role.
‘Once Upon A Sponge’ was developed with a shoestring budget and plenty of love, gaining loads of friends and fans along the way. Its success and outreach not only comes to prove that one has to be resourceful, proactive and sometimes embrace uncertainty to make things happen, but also that design can be used as a creative and strategic tool forming an integral part of our everyday life.
Costas Bissas, Vasso Asfi and Loukas Angelou are papairlines co-director – firstname.lastname@example.org