Friday, May 30, 2008

Habiendo Diversión

This here post is about a company from Spain called Stone Designs.  I found them by way of RS-Life, who've recently merged with them, and who I'd like to mention separately, because their website is one of the best-designed websites I've seen in a long time.  It really should be nominated for some kind of web design award.

RS-Life is doing some fancy foosball tables and some other items using the foosball player figures, but I really liked their picnic tables (click for larger):

I really like them.  They're very graphic and playful without being tacky or childish.

Stone Designs, in general, are doing some extremely interesting and beautiful work, all around.

First, for the Beautiful, we have "Burger":

There's a wider version of this called "Hot Dog," but I thought this one was more successful.  The wider version is probably a two-seater, but it doesn't look like the backrest is bigger enough to accommodate both people, and is still in the center, so it seemed less practical to me.

Here's "On the Road":

The symbolism this exploits is so interesting.  Knowing the name of it doesn't hurt, but it connotes the outdoors not by mimicking natural forms, but secondarily, by using visual references from gear, instead.  Very smart, and I've not seen something quite like this before.

Here's the hypermodern "Tuy Yo":

Sort of a piece of installation art for lounging, a somewhat bizarre and fully striking take on the conversation nook.

As for the Natural, we have "Bee":

Even here, they're using organic forms in wholly uncommon ways.  This totally reminds me of Wright's Johnson Wax Building:
It is kind of a shame that the stool component only works so well on a white floor.  Very few of us have white floors, and otherwise you'd see the platform base very noticeably.  This is still very cool though.  You may not be surprised that I love the contrast here between the Modern/Synthetic and the Natural.

Same with "Drops":

Inspired by the waves caused by drops of water.  A glamour shot of these in the middle of a shallow, stony stream reminded me how great these would be next to a swimming pool.

As "Nenufar" would be next to a pond:

This almost looks like it was bent out of one solid circular sheet of metal, which would be really interesting, but I'm not sure that's geometrically possible.  I'd have to see it in person, and I don't believe they had these at the show.  Anyway, calling on natural forms, but--especially with the white ones--in an extremely subtle ways.

There are also a lot of pieces from them for the Clever category, like "Bon Voyage":

Shelves that hint at marine forms, maybe even surfboards.  And it's difficult to see in this photo, but this one also contributes to that trend I mentioned earlier of objects that dissolve or disappear into the wall, on its left side.

Here's their "Casper" Collection:

Knowing what this one is called makes it very funny, actually, but I don't think you'd think "ghost" right away.  Rather, stools, etc. that appear as if they're draped with fabric.  These really remind me of this stool that's been around in my parents' houses since before I was born.  The one from my childhood is more elaborate, but it's in the shape of an upholstered, tufted, and ornamented stool, executed in glossy white porcelain.  I like the tension between hard and soft here.

"Equilibrio" has it where it concerns flexibility:

The large casters and metal support--aside from breaking up the visual monotony very simply and nicely--first of all makes the piece easier to move around at will, and secondly responds to the fact that books need to lean.  This bookshelf will stay neat without needing bookends.

They had their "Guerrilla Containers" at the show, and I think this is such a great idea:
They're based on the sandbags used in trench warfare.  This really has so much.  It has flexibility, because you can throw them around and stack them, pile them as you please, where you need them.  It has the dual purpose of being both floor pillows and storage at the same time (a combination I don't think I've ever encountered before).  And above all else, it's poignant, expressive, and even somewhat disturbing in its symbolism.  I had to show you the glamour shot, too, because for some reason it made me grin:


Last but not least, when I first saw the "Linehouse" pieces, I kind of thought "uh, oh, reform school furniture":

Ouch, better have a fluffy pillow if you're going to lean on that bar to watch TV.  But you have to see what they've done with this whole room concept, because it's really extremely cool:

It comes from the trick of drawing a picture in one continuous line without ever lifting the pencil up off the paper.  So every piece of furniture in your room is actually connected together in this single conceptual design object.  I think it would be extremely fascinating and so visually dynamic.

Stone Designs
(Barcelona) 3493-658-9503

©2008, Ryan Witte

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Yes, You Wood


I got a chance to hang out with Eric Manigian again (subject of the first post ever, here on the blog).  I had quite a nice time chatting about architecture and design and all sorts of stuff.

When I walked up, a visitor to his booth was remarking about the reddish color of one of the woods in the table on view, how interesting it was that it was stained red.  "That's the natural color of the wood," he told her.  It's called Purple Heart, and it's pretty astonishing, actually.

Another new piece that I'm liking a lot, though it wasn't at the show, is this "Continuous Bench":

The surface is made out of one full length of walnut, but cut into pieces so it can be used as a full bench or as individual stools.  The cushions are uphostered in an incredible silvery cowhide with the hair intact.  I think the almost metallic looking upholstery is the perfect complement to the natural wood.  This is really smart, too, because it would look so unimposing on the side wall, but would provide additional seating in emergencies.

He had the "Ruskin Chairs" at the booth:

I was sitting in one for a while and I can assure you, they're unbelievably comfortable.  As I said to Manigian, the backrest hit my back in just exactly the right height for lumbar support.  You can see the backrests reveal the natural edge of the wood.  They're amazing in profile, too:
The lines are just perfect.  For someone who is so conscientious about harvesting only fallen or diseased trees in his work, I was kind of surprised he'd used cowhide, so I asked him about it.  He said he eats meat, so he feels it's better to use all the products from the animal rather than letting them go to waste.  As a determined carnivore, I can't help but agree with this.  In the end, it's still about paying respect to the sources of the materials, which is why he's left the hair on it.  That way there's no pretense about where this material came from.

Eric Manigian

©2008, Ryan Witte

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What Was That Promise That You Made?

I walked up to this booth, for Jackson, MS company Visual Reference Studio, and the "Swamp Lounge" on display had a sign on it saying "Please Touch Me."  I thought that was kind of funny, so I touched it.  Unfortunately, my hands were cold.

Had I been hot blooded that day, I would have left a hand-print:

The polyurethane fabric has a thermo-sensitive coating, so it records the heat with which it comes into contact.  Here's the "Swamp Bench":

All their forms are derived from nature at this point (the other two lines are called "Duckweed" and "Cypress"), which I think is valuable to this work.  It makes the pieces less about the use of interesting chemical technology, and more about how that technology responds to and interacts with natural processes.  In that vein, it's really exquisite how the pieces respond to shifting sunlight from a nearby window:

I'm really excited about this, and I was sort of thinking out loud with the one designer, Erin Hayne, about the potential of light sensitive technology, how you could actually project an image onto the piece and it would remain.  She nodded enthusiastically and added that her partner, Nuno Gonçalves Ferreira, was looking into pieces that would start out opaque and respond to the heat by turning transparent.  I mused about inflatable furniture, but we both agreed that's not a very good idea.  Too kitschy.

In any case, I think the possibilities this opens up are wonderful.  They're also doing wall panels and pillows, by the way.

Visual Reference Studios

©2008, Ryan Witte

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Further South

Here's one of a group of designers from the El Salvador. The group of them call themselves Fresh from the Tropics. I'll have to admit, I don't think I've seen any design work from El Salvador before, but their stuff is quite interesting.

The pieces are by Harry Washington and Claudia Vásquez of Due Estudio.

This one is called "Lola." They didn't have this at the show:

I love the warm, soft, handcrafted quality of it.  It looks very comfortable.  The way the two pieces fit together is suave without being pretentious.

These other two are executed on the same frame, but are completely different in character.  The one in leather called "Olga":
This one I did sit on and it's extremely comfortable.  The leather is uncommonly buttery and the shape of it cradles very nicely.  The back of it looks like a Balenciaga handbag:
There's also a matching Ottoman:

The other version is made of strips of recycled rubber from tire innertubes, and called "L'Astiko":

This guy, Washington, was really nice, too, by the way.  I felt badly for them, because when they arrived in NYC, they discovered the L'Astiko Chair they'd had shipped here ahead of them was nowhere to be found.  It was just...lost.  So they redid the Olga Ottoman at the last minute to show how it would look in the rubber.  I do think it's very cool in a sort of like Punk Rock/ Fetish sort of way.  I'm sure the rubber has the same soft cradling effect to it, although I can't help being concerned that it would get sticky on a hot day and rip the hair out of my legs.

Regardless, it's some very nice work and a great start for a young company.

Due Estudio
(El Salvador) 503-7160-3115

©2008, Ryan Witte

Monday, May 26, 2008

Do It Right

I'm still sort of on the cusp between my coverage of BKLYN DESIGNS and the ICFF, so this is a great opportunity to pause briefly and discuss the Olafur Eliasson show at the Museum of Modern Art and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Take Your Time.

I don't always rush right over to see many of these shows the very first day they open, but in a way I feel it's better to be making this post now that the show has been open for a while.  In raving about it to my friends, I've been reluctant to give away too many details for fear of ruining the impact for them.  There were many galleries I walked into and my mouth just hung open in amazement at what I was seeing, and it was one of the main reasons I was so inspired by this show.

On that note, if you haven't been to see the show, but seriously intend to go, I recommend you read no further and just go see it for yourself.

The majority of Eliasson's work concerns Space, in every possible aspect.  How we light, view, and perceive space, how we occupy and move through space, how we enclose space, how our brains geometrically organize space, and mind-boggling combinations of the above in all their varieties.  I'd like to describe the pieces I felt best represented each of these concepts, in my humble opinion.

Mirror Door (user), (spectator), (visitor), and (observer), all 2008.
In these pieces, light from carefully focused spotlights shine in different ways on mirrors, to create simple visual effects.  The resulting spot is always a perfect circle, which requires the lens of the spotlight to have a very specific elliptical shape.  I think (observer) is the most interesting because half of the circle of light hits the floor, one quarter the mirror, and the remaining quarter the wall.  This one in particular raises all these disturbing questions about the way we view light in space.  Never is the circle really complete, in fact the only way it's complete in our perception is because of the "false" half circle we see in the mirror.  And is the circle hitting the floor coming directly from the spotlight, or from the refection in the mirror...or both (both happens to be the answer)?

Approaching this concept from the opposite direction, I think it's worth noting Light Removal, 2005, in which a spotlight absolutely perfectly aligned hits an elliptically shaped mirror hanging perpendicular to the wall next to and below it.  The reflection of the light hits the wall as a perfect semi-circle on one side of the mirror, and on the other, the shadow forms another semi-circle, creating a full circle of half light, half shadow.  Here again, he's questioning the way that light affects our perception of the geometry of space.

The piece after which the retrospective is named, Take Your Time, 2008, is one of the most astonishing things I've ever seen.  You walk into the room at P.S. 1, and there's this ENORMOUS mirrored disk, probably a good 70 feet in diameter, hanging from the ceiling.

--Photo Eudie Pak
The next thing you realize is that it's slowly spinning.  Now, there are people laying on their backs on the floor, taking their time, as it were, so you go and lay down, also.  That's when you realize that the disk is hanging at an angle, so as it rotates, it's slowly canting from one side to the other, back and forth, and along with it, your reflected, upside-down image.  The whole thing is completely disorienting and screws with your sensation of gravity and your perception of how enclosed space works.  On top of that, you're underneath this probably 2000lb moving object, and it kind of creaks and makes these "chuk-chuk-chuk" sort of noises as it rotates.  It's actually a little bit scary.  It's an experience I will never forget.

The best of these, arguably, is Wall Eclipse, 2004.  Here a spotlight shines on a mirror hanging from the ceiling that rotates 360° once per minute.  The shadow from the back of the mirror at one point during the rotation will perfectly eclipse the far wall, while the light reflecting off the mirror completely and only illuminates the wall behind you.  

--Photo Artadox
But I found the rest of the rotation to be utterly fascinating, much like another piece called Remagine, 2002.  Both pieces force perspectives using light, questioning the way we perceive depth and enclosure, the conflict between what we know to be the enclosure we're occupying and what we see, that is, imagined depth of space.

A few different pieces examined the nature of walls and windows, and our concept of being enclosed inside a space, enclosed inside a gallery.  The most impressive of these may very well have been Space Reversal, 2007, a portal off one of the hallways which you step into and mirrors reflect yourself and the view out the window into infinity.  Unfortunately the line was so long that I decided not to bother waiting to go inside the portal.  I was also very interested, though, in Negative Quasi Brick Wall, 2003, in which stainless steel geometric "blocks" with reflective interiors are arranged on a large window to give you kaleidoscopic effects of both the inside of the museum, and the neighborhood outside the window.
--Photo DesignBoom

Occupy/ Move Through:
Eliasson's fascination with mirrors is always dissolving the line between Viewer and Viewed, anyway.  Other works are essentially composed solely of light, meaning that if you cast a shadow, you--by way of your shadow--become a part of the piece, itself.  The best example of this is I Only See Things When They Move, 2004, which is a huge room lit in varying, constantly changing bands of colored light.  The light comes from a huge fixture in the center of the room with multiple rotating mirrors and sheets of colored glass.

--Photo Artnews
On the one hand, if you require that there be a physical art object (which most of his work confounds anyway), and consider it to be the light fixture in the center, then as you look at it, the image of yourself is constantly being reflected to your view as the mirrors rotate, making you, the viewer, a part of its visual form.  On the other hand, if you allow that the real piece is ethereal and being created on the surrounding walls by the fixture, then the fact that the fixture is right in the center of the room means there is no way you can experience the piece without casting shadows on the wall, altering its appearance.

Possibly the least visually stimulating, but the piece that most clearly expressed to me what Eliasson's work is about was the Model Room, 2003.  I don't think I've seen so many complex geometric shapes all in one place before in my life.  

--Photo Portland Art
But this room really has everything, rotating mirrors reflecting you as you peruse, light effects, color spectrum effects, everything.  But most of all I was struck by the mathematical, geometric ways our brains (and technology for that matter) conceive types of spatial arrangements and figures.

Another full half of Eliasson's pieces in the show deal with more natural subjects, and in addition to stunning, minimalist landscape photography series (there's much more to it than just that, but I'll spare you), he's also done some Earth Art, as with his Reversed Waterfall, 1998, there at P.S. 1 but actually intended to sit over top of an actual mountain stream, interacting with it.

But I think my absolute favorite piece at the entire show was Beauty, 1993.  At the top of this completely blackened room are a number of nozzles that spray the very finest mist in a sheet down to the floor.  The spray would appear to be just barely heavy enough for the water to fall instead of creating a fog.  This undulating sheet of mist is then lit by a spotlight at a particular angle, forming a rainbow across the center.

--Photo Mobilo Me
Never before have I had an experience like this with a work of art.  I was in the room alone.  I went over, walked around it, touched it, walked through it, became mesmerized by it.  Never before had I experienced a piece of artwork that would fall on me, cover me, cascade down over me, that would stay on me, with me, when I left the gallery.  Not only that, but by running my hand under it and walking through it, I change its form, I become one with this piece.  It has changed my whole conception of interactivity, I may venture to say.

Similar, but in a completely different character is Your Strange Certainty Still Kept, 1996.  This is falling water also, but instead lit by a row of strobe-lights that freeze the water droplets in mid-air like little sparkles of light.

--Photo Huma3
The stunning thing here is the contrast between the frozen drops of water and the sound this makes.  Beauty is more or less silent, which is one of the things that makes it such an intimate, tactile experience.  This one, however, sounds like a rainfall, utterly soothing to listen to.  So while the flashing strobes are at first jarring, and the sparkles of light off the droplets choppy and stark, after a while it seems to all blend together in this hypnotizing continuous sensory experience.  I feel like there's something here about our perception of weather and the nature of rain.  It would seem Eliasson is somewhat fascinated by atmospheric phenomena, in general, as well.

Now, I have included the photo, to illustrate the piece, but it doesn't really look like anything.  And that's why I've ended the post here.  I need to have a rant.  I don't know why this is such an utterly irritating peeve for me, but once again, 95% of the visitors to this show were too busy snapping photos to even pay attention to the artwork.  And when we got to this room, I just shook my head and laughed at these morons.

You see above what it looks like in a presumably professionally-arranged photo session.  You get absolutely no concept whatsoever of what this piece is really doing or saying.  And guess what it's going to look like in a digital video from your camera phone.  

No, really.  Think about this for a second before you whip that stupid camera out.  

I'll tell you what you're going to get, you're going to get a black screen with randomly flashing points of light--in essence, like snow on a TV getting no reception, in other words, diddly-squat--a lot of indistinct white noise and the sounds of murmuring museum-goers.  In the meantime, you're not even experiencing the piece, you're just irritating ME.  It's going to waste memory space on your phone, and when you get home and look at this wasted video, it's just going to get deleted.  

This is the most idiotic overuse/misuse of new technology I have seen in a very long time, and it's got to stop.  I really wish the MoMA would go back to a "no photography" policy.  Okay, sorry, I'm done now.

Go see the show.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Friday, May 23, 2008

Brass Monkeys

Since my preliminary post was about the importance of good booth reps, I'd like to dedicate this year's ICFF posts to the company with the best representative of all of them.  It was in Austria's booth, and the company is Lichterloh.  It would appear they specialize in antique furniture, originals of design masterpieces and somewhat oddly, antique gym supplies like medicine balls: 

First of all, I walked up and started looking more closely at a couple cute things on this sideboard, where these two reps were talking.  The guy interrupts their conversation to say, "do you need any help?"  I said "no, thank you, just looking."  But they ended their conversation anyway, and the woman went to another part of the booth so the guy could assist me more freely.  Brilliant.  His English was a little bit broken, to the point I had to kind of pay close attention to understand him at times, but his enthusiasm and friendliness were so great that I'd have taken this conversation over a hundred others with reps with bad attitudes and perfect English.

He started telling me about these little animals on the sideboard, and I'm so happy that he did, because it's such a great story.

Evidently almost anyone who grew up in Austria knows about Walter Bosse.  His little figurines were everywhere, and heads of state would even take one of them along when visiting other countries to offer them as gifts to foreign dignitaries and whoever.  

Bosse created thousands of different animals, but for years and years the molds for them were lost, and I suppose thought to be lost forever.  Recently thousands of molds for his figurines were found in a collection rescued from an old factory/ warehouse somewhere.  The owner of them approached Lichterloh, Lichterloh bought them up, and they're now selling reproductions of them.

And oh, BOY are they ever CUTE!  They're really tiny, like a little over an inch high, each.  I'm going to show you a bunch, because I adore them.  Cat:

The Chamois is the animal that sort of symbolizes this one particular region of Austria (I think he said Kitzbrühel, but I can't remember).  And Bosse's Chamois is famous there:

They're also doing a line of them with patinated brass, these were the ones we were looking at mostly:

They had one made into a keychain in the display, but he said they're working on doing more of them as keychains. I think they're just perfect for that.  Things like corkscrews and so on, too, he said.

But the most incredibly awesome part of the whole thing was when we got to the end of the conversation, and he tells me to choose one for myself.  I was so incredulous I actually thought I
must have misunderstood what he meant.  I'm like "you...mean...I can have one of them???"  He's like "yes!"  So I chose this little cat:


I love it.

Lichterloh KunsthandelsgesmbH
(Austria) 431-586-0520

©2008, Ryan Witte