I fretted and stewed over what to write about first, as though the first move I make defines the entire project. I soon realized that writing for me is sort of like design, it will evolve and revolve, come around to full circle and then eventually pass it. So it doesn’t matter where I start, it will go where it goes. So I will write about what I’ve been discussing with my students in class.
I want to show you a series of chairs from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, by different designers. They may not seem to have much in common, but that is what will come to define the deeper question of this post.
Verner Panton, Living Environment, 1968
How does one sit on this thing? One of the points of this chair is to get the observer to question what furniture is. How does
one sit? Does it need to look like a chair to sit on it?
We consider how to use this piece of furniture. Panton is begging us to interact with it, to allow us to free our inner child and see what we
can do with this thing that confronts us. Imagine that this is what any old sofa looks like to a toddler.
Gaetano Pesce, Up 5 and Up 6, 1969
This chair is interesting to this discussion for two reasons. First, when shipped it is vacuum packed in a box to 10% of its final size. The chair doesn’t just arrive, it happens before your eyes.
Second, it is furniture as social commentary. Its form is obviously that of a woman. It is connected to the ottoman. We can read this in many different ways. Are we to curl up in her womb with our head between her breasts to receive comfort? Is she just a receptacle for us for a moment? Has she just given birth and created new life? Or is she shackled to her responsibilities? Pesce wants us to decide who this chair is.
Shiro Kuramata, How High the Moon, 1986
Materiality and form are explored. It is a tremendous volume without any mass. Occupying space without blocking the view. Kuramata made this chair as much for contemplation as for use.
Wendell Castle, Chair with Sport Coat, 1978
The act of craft is thoroughly on display. It makes sense that this chair is carved as one piece, it design is impractical and impossible for mass production. Castle uses the chair as a medium.
This brings me back to my question, “What do these chairs have in common?” For me, it is one thing – is a chair art or is a chair furniture? We are invited to contemplate these pieces more than we are asked to sit in them. They were conceived and exist as more than just functional objects. Can all chairs be viewed in this way?
I look forward to your comments and continued discussion on the matter.