Again this year we saw loads of chairs and other familiar objects – at a time when many are questioning the need for yet another chair design. Our answer to them is an unequivocal yes, especially in light of the chair and cabinet created by Finnish graduate Tuomas Tolvanen as a tribute to his grandmother, whose intensifying dementia is taking its terrible toll. Why does functional design have to be about inviolable perfection, Tolvanen wonders, when humanity itself is so very fragile? Seen from a distance, his cabinet appears to be made of lace, but a closer look reveals ‘lace’ made from thousands of pieces of industrially produced steel pipe. Thanks to this mix of references, his objects present an argument for both a nourishing relationship with our daily surroundings and a design iconography that testifies to human vulnerability.
A simpler but no less convincing story is embedded in a radiator designed by Bertille Laguet. At a time when most of our mechanical systems are concealed behind walls, under floors and above ceilings, she likes the old-fashioned idea of a visible source of heat in the living room. Laguet’s beautiful radiator fills a space with its striking presence. Richard Burrow’s foldable sewing machine is a harmonious combination of functionality, ingenuity and aesthetics. In contrast to Burrow’s high-tech design is a low-tech proposal from Thor ter Kulve. His suggestions for an alternative use of objects found in public space send the imagination soaring.
Back to the work of Alicia Ongay-Perez, who’s decided for now to refrain from making functional designs in favour of delving deep into the essence of her discipline. She says:
‘Sometimes I think conceptual work is like escapism for me, a space in which I am free from the social atrocities I see all around me. Last night I watched a programme about honour killings in Muslim communities in London; then I did a sculpture of a vase. Conceptual art has been defined by artist Joseph Kosuth as examining the nature of art itself – as an introspective discussion on what art is. Can we define conceptual design today in the same way?’
In addition to her objects and animations, Ongay-Perez showed a series of video interviews with people from her London neighbourhood, including her brother, her mother and the woman who lives next door. She asked them to ‘read’ an object that she had designed. What sort of associations did the strange thing evoke, and what value would they place on her design? After mentioning that the work had drawn considerable praise from her instructors, she heard one interviewee say, ‘Who are these people?’ Asked for the value of the piece, the person in question had another saucy retort: ‘Pennywise?’
Brad Pitt would have the answer.