#1. Illusion and Sensory Experience
Richard Neutra was an architect that defined a SoCal housing vernacular in the 1940s and 50s. Neutra’s work brought natural elements from the environment, inside as a way address the psychological concerns of his clients. Neutra played with mirrors, clerestories, plants and vistas- playing with reflectivity and continuity of indoor and outdoor space.
I visited two of Neutra’s houses in his “Silverlake Colony”, the VDL studio and the Kambara house. Similar to the Kaufmann House (shown above), his VDL Studio used water pools create continuity of sightline facing the reservoir as well as brought the natural reflection patterns of water into the space. In the Cambria House, which is located a couple doors down, Neutra used mirrors in spaces to bounce light from the reservoir. I am curious about how illusion and sensory experience can work simultaneously to enrich a space by incorporating moments in nature.
#2. Found Object
In the work Are We Human, Notes on the Archeology of Design written by Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, they note “The human might the only species that has systematically designed its own extinction, and seems to be getting close to accomplishing the goal”. I am interested in designers who look back into the archives of objects and repurpose pieces into a contemporary context. Green River Project LLC is a research-based furniture company that has speaks to this moment of “universal” design and makes pieces that are expressive, personal and follow a unique narrative. In bringing in the found object, the logic of the object already exists and has its own meaning. Seeing it brought into a new context and function is very interesting. Green River Project has collaborated with another NYC based fashion company who repurposes vintage quilts and textiles, in a very tasteful way. As I begin sourcing materials I want to examine the found object, as they say something about history of place and alternative modes of living.
#3. Materiality and Making
I think wood appeals to artists who feel an infinity with nature and natural materials, you can achieve a realistic representation, and also retains an expressive quality because it is porous and malleable. It is an impressionable material, and the “hand” is present in a very direct way.
Wood is an interesting material that is used in furniture because I think that furniture does say something about the human condition and wood is in itself an organic material that continues to change with time- as it ages, cracks, checks, darkens because it is expanding and contracting seasonally with changes in atmosphere humidity- it is a living material.
I think this found image demonstrates a process that is represents the integral role the hand plays in the development of human intelligence and ideas. I want to bring Juhani Pallasma into this conversation because he was a Finish architect who argued how we value verbalized concepts over embodied processes. I think Pallasma help reframe the act of “making” as a mode of thinking.
#4. Dualism and Symbolism
I have an interest in shared symbols and themes, that the designers or artists I admire have worked with. I enjoy these visual connectors, and it makes me consider this kind of lineage of visual history and how I might contribute to this conversation.
The representation of duality and unity is something that I have been interested in. Even just starting with the common symbol of the yin yang. I have always loved the yin yang because its imagery so clearly describes its symbolism; that contrary forces are complimentary. I like to think about how this can be applied to furniture objects. Other artists and designers have also been interested in this kind of symbolism. Starting with Hilma Af Klint she explored this concept as one of the first abstract artists to combine color theory (Geothe) and symbolic lexicon, the overlapping discs of the painting above meaning unity, and different colours meaning opposing. Then next came Eileen Gray believed in elevated living to a spiritual level. In which I see a lot of Hilma’s imagery and ideas. Hilma painted these huge canvases on the ground and then Eileen made them into carpets. There is kind of this conversation that is happening and you know manifesting in different moments in time.
#5. Experimental Living
I visited Andrea Zittel’s studio this summer, which is located in Joshua Tree, CA. What I find particularly inspiring about Zittel’s work is how much of her life’s work centers around the question, “How to live?”. This is a photo of her Wagon Station Encampments (2004–ongoing), that are scattered along the desert landscape. Both a social and living experiment, these sci-fi pods are the private dwellings of individuals, other creatives to connect with the landscape, and there is a communal kitchen space for self-determined socialization, creating this art retreat campground. What I identify with about Zitell’s work is how she talks about design through art. The experimentation approach to art takes on very utilitarian objects. Design should talk about living, and every living space is a site of experimentation. She invents her own structures for living that are outside the capitalism, globalized market, and has created her own closed economy on her land.
#6. The Art Object
Studying art history, I have always more interested history of visual culture then the written one. I think that furniture is the untangling of historical forces and is synthesis of many different points in history, human experience, all coming together. Ruth Asawa stated that, “Art is doing. Art deals directly with life,” and I agree. Both art and design are about actively making, being open to your ideas, and allowing for objects to exist. I chose this image because I love how Asawa is working from inside the metal mesh lobe, as if contained by the physical work. I am really in love with this objects, and although they are not “functional” they do function as these visually complex, sensory objects that really have their own presence and feeling. These biomorphic forms operate in many ways in a space, in its gravitational feeling, shadows and in their delicate/metal form.
#7. The Avant Garde and the Expert
I am inspired by Eileen Gray, who was defined as modernist but her pieces make a subtle critique of the hard functionalism of modernism. In her work she introduced very poised designs and balancing chrome and metal and soft luxurious upholstery, tiles and lacquer. Her pieces have this curious magnetism to them, and always demonstrated a refined mastery of craft and construction as well in art. I chose this divider because it demonstrates her refined lacquer craft. She had an early fascination with lacquer and studied under Japanese Seizo Sugawara. Gray created amazing lacquer hues and colours, from blue to red, that had beautiful low- relief effects and texture. Gray also had a holistic understanding of architecture, interiors and furniture objects believing that they should be completely harmonious, as it would lead to spiritual well-being.
I am inspired by Earthworks because they offer us an alternative mode of experiencing nature and materials, that are outside of the conventional setting of built spaces. I enjoy the minimal gesture in object a large scale intervention. They believe they can heighten your awareness and sensibility to your environment. These two pieces are contrasting; Running Fence, complete by Christo and Jeanne Claude, is very ephemeral in its white nylon fabric that was 40 km long. The structure was designed for complete removal and no visible evidence of Running Fence remains on the hills of Sonoma, CA. This piece spanned over hill sides, roads, and eventually disappears into the Pacific Ocean. Shift by Richard Serra on the other hand is quite a permanent structure, these concrete slabs appear to be wedged into farm hills of King City, ON. Having visited this piece, the visual elements of this photograph are very different when seeing/climbing on the piece in person. You become very aware of the shifting landscape as you walk and as the land contours but the sense of zigzagging is less of a pattern you are aware of.
#9. The Personal Artefact
I have always felt a strong connection with the objects around me, and the intimate connection that they have with our daily lives. I think a way to get even closer to these objects is by conceiving of them and making them. Objects exist in both this really intimate as well as under-appreciated place. Some objects live more quietly, some demand more autonomy, but both can conjure memories, nostalgic feelings, and help define our rituals.
I have always have always been a collector, scavenger, and has always surrounded by trinkets. We were lucky enough to travel as kids and we would always get an allowance to buy one thing and this was always my favorite part of the trip because I always loved picking out the object that I could admired above the rest. I still think objects were the best stand in for memories.
The image I have included is one of the first objects I remember being totally fascinated by. It was a journal that my Uncle bought me in his travels to China. It is completely opulent, has a weight to it, and felt, and still feels, precious to me. It is also interesting to think about its design, because as a journal it is not totally functional, but I still wrote in it every day. I think it is interesting to think about when taste and curiosity, surpass the functionality of an object.
The concept of critical regionalism was explored by the theorist, Kenneth Frampton in his piece Towards a Critical Regionalism (1981). In this piece Frampton argues against the prioritizing the optimization of technology in architecture opposed to considering the local vernacular as a means to preserve elements of tradition. Frampton states, “The fundamental strategy of Critical Regionalism is to mediate the impact of universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities of a particular place”. This is a theory I believe in and also think also applies to furniture approaches. At times the universalization of design feels technocratic, and as Frampton suggests; will lead to an absolute placelessness.
Considering then one of my own regional vernaculars would be Northern Toronto, and my family cottage in Muskoka, ON. Fresh water expanses, and boreal forests, and metamorphic rocks The photo above is the cottage my grandfather built in 1971, and then the addition my dad put on in 2003. My grandfather built the cottage because it reminded my grandma of Sweden, where she had emigrated from when she was a teenager. My family spends our summers up North, and the landscape is home. Spending time in nature teaches raises your awareness of the outdoors which promotes responsibility and accountability.