Antonia Williams explores a new movement in craft that is an inventive, gestural mashup of ideas past and present. Music loves mashups, and so, in the recent way of things, does design. Contradictory, often quite surreal, with shocking or a little surprising and/or amusing juxtapositions, this is the modern way to mix it up, to take a miscegenous point of view (the new random variable mixed marriages where designers can go wild). It’s about taking the past into the future via new technology, new materials, reimagining.
Certainly imagination is liberated with or without technology. Or craft. And there are fascinating stories to sit on, to eat at, and to stand back and love. And it’s not all about iconic revivals. It’s about reinvention.
There’s many a mashup. There’s design as chaos theory. So don’t throw back, mock up, bash up, mashup, tip up, strip back, thrash back, gnash on and posh up. Think of Carlo Mollino (he demonstrated that anything works as long as it is “fantastico”). And momentarily turn to that forebear of surrealism, the Comté de Lautréamont who wrote mid 1800s: “the association of two, or more, apparently alien elements on a plane alien to both is the most potent ignition of poetry.” Or great design. See what I mean?
New ideas hunting is often more desperate than cool. But first take a look at Hella Jongerius (an emotive design heroine) whose book (Misfit, Phaidon 2010) reveals her serenely inventive, ethical, visible art into craft path or vice versa. Take her major mashup Frog table. A large benign frog, part timber, part ceramic, is clambering upwards. Or her Polder sofa for Vitra, a blankety soft item of Dutch landscape for the interior.
Is this all about the Dutch? Not entirely. Look at the lovely yellow, rather Gothic chair, with knobs on, that Antwerpians Studio Job have just delivered. A suggestion for Shrek? Who cannot get over the glorious good fortune of owning Studio Job’s Robber Baron suite, but whose taste and sensibility may have been seriously damaged by Hollywood.
So where is the design throw back in the room? It may be something so mad and gestural, so pleasurably self-important, so much fun you place a dozen round the dining table and lose your mind, or at least your appetite. So just take the one, and focus. Marcel Wanders might design this, or Bertjan Pot who worked with him on that original Knotted chair made of macramé carbon fibres. Or it could well be the Campana Bros who, growing up in Brazil surrounded by the favela, had both relevant and irrelevant materials at hand. What rich pickings for the kings of the mash pit. Then, of course, there is Nacho Carbonell who has placed a large chair in a big prickly nest of iron twigs. His not quite clodhopping, charming style is definitively his own. His straws in the wind rustic workstations are now being harvested for Vitra.
Inventive Maarten Baas can create a chair of smoky style (when he more than singed his graduation work), another of fragile resilience, a chair of apparently nervy limbs partly composed of carbon fibre. So, tough as old boots, the most contradictory chair in the room? One of his latest is The Empty Chair for Amnesty International (to support Chinese dissident artist Liu Xiaobo). Its ladder back reaches 5 metres towards heaven/sky/wherever. It’s a lark.
But enough about chairs. How about vases? Take the Front design collective, a close-knit bunch of women who, with Renée Padt and Ikko Yokoyama of Editions in Craft, developed five Story Vases with storytelling African women.
There is an intense creativity at work in current design with that extra pressure to perform, to be inspired because we live in such dangerous changing times. We may feel as wobbly as a Baas chair leg can look. But can we recognise the greater feel-good mix and mashup piece that is an inspiration for our particular tricky times? And have the nous not to confuse this with those tawdry at heart mishmashups? And live happily pro tem, if not ever after? Can we save the world and have fun?