Friday, January 7, 2011

The Material Issue

Material and its surprises:

A couch constructed from a solid piece of poly-foam. Here, the material not only allows the designer to test new possibilities with a new medium, it allows him/her a means to experiment with conceptions of traditional shape and form.

Non-traditional materials allow dialogues with new layers of undiscovered subtext. To wit: Lamp shades made from beet and cabbage leaves...

...dry pasta...

... and milk bottles.

Cowhide chairs: Molded and formed wet, then dried into the desired shape and structure from a single hide.

Described as a piece of hell frozen in space, designer Charlie Davidson has fashioned these "Black Lights" from layers of foil. Light eminates from the center and passes through colored gels.

Davidson then brings Hell back to earth in the form of his "Crunk" chair (below). Similarly constructed as the Black Lights but with added reinforcement. As described on Charlie Davidson's website:
Formed over a simple wooden buck from a giant sheet of aluminum foil measuring 5 meters square, the final shape was filled with self hardening polyurethane foam.

The cabbage chair by designer Oki Sato, otherwise known as Nendo. Fabricated from many layers of coated paper. For details and a demo on construction go here.

A chair of hemp rope coated in resin.

A table formed from hardened dollops of heated rubber.

Gary Harvey, a multi-hyphenate designer/businessman with a résumé that includes creative director at Levi-Strauss and Dockers Europe, plays with perceptions of elegance as well as material. For a vision he calls "street-tough glamor" he has developed a
line of ball gowns constructed of recycled textiles.

For Cinderellas who rave on both sides of midnight, a dress made from black rock t-shirts:

And another of re-adapted laundry bags:

For a hair salon, an thematically constructed chandelier.

Canadian artist Brian Jungen juggles subtexts like flaming sticks of semiotics in his recreations of northern indigenous images. The material: Nike Air Jordans.

On his work, Jungen writes:
"It was interesting to see how by simply manipulating the Air Jordan shoes you could evoke specific cultural traditions whilst simultaneously amplifying the process of cultural corruption and assimilation."
Jungen's choice of Nike wasn't arbitrary. Besides producing shoes specific to the fit needs of native peoples (apparently, width is an issue) as well being the makers of the Nike Air Native, the Air Jordan's color scheme of white, black, and red is also the traditional colors of the Haida, an indigenous peo­ple of the Pacific Northwest coast.

As in all of the work above, maybe the act of "simply manipulating" material does indeed amplify the corruption. And perhaps it's this "corruption" that's not only at the heart of innovation, but modernism itself.

Leaving the material comfort behind may be the way forward.

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