Body and Mind: The Tradition of Sitting
The focus of the project is the cross-examination of traditions of sitting. It will involve international partnerships and teams of design academics, design students, invited design professionals and industrial collaborators investigating the comparative historical, cultural and metaphorical differences the chair embodies as an artefact and a functional object in Japan and Europe.
Through contemporary interpretations and responses to cultural, material-technological studies, the project will explore the chair and its archetypal-typological credibility in representing trans-cultural concepts in spatial design, human comfort, materials technology, structural design and craft. New insights will be developed through comparative studies of the distinctions in the tradition of sitting and in the design and use of chairs in Japanese and European culture. Explorative approaches to sitting will be supported by studies in ergonomics, spiritual well-being and interaction, material processes and ideas in production, leading to an inter-cultural collection of chair designs representing ideas and processes developed during the project.
The project will branch out into three key areas of investigation by situating the chair into particular fields of reference. Participants are invited to establish their individual critical frameworks and contextualise design in relation to the following themes:
Chair in the domestic and public landscape
• Seating as a defining factor in supporting the functionality of the space
• Chair design and its potential to enhance the experience of the space, daily/domestic rituals and human interaction
• Chair as a spatial organiser, signifier and intensifier
Body and Mind, Posture and Ergonomics
• The technique of sitting: activity, purpose and function as defining factors of the design
• New visions of sitting: work, leisure, interaction and communication
• Human comfort: body-conscious design and spiritual well-being
Materials Culture and Production
• Tradition – material and making
• Enabling technologies
• Design for a Changing Climate: Regional - Global
Kermik extended his introductory presentation with a discussion which concentrated on the chair as a type object with a cultural significance capable of revealing material-spiritual differences and connections between Japanese and European culture. The distinctiveness of the object in carrying cultural heritage is coupled here with its ability to represent developments in the technique and culture of sitting at a universal scale. ‘No other object is so intrinsically linked to man himself and his measurements. No other object has as diverse connotations as a chair’ (P. Overy, 1993).
Comparative studies into the development of the type object and its social significance relate to the hidden heritage of production and use which need to be revealed: ‘... our current ideas about seating originated in the past, understanding contemporary chairs requires an appreciation of their social history, ancient and modern’ (G. Cranz, 1998).
Kermik concluded his keynote by cross-referencing examples of designers who have engaged in cultural exchange in the past. The inspiration that designers in Japan and Europe have found in each other’s cultures has a long history, though less attention has been paid to how this exchange actually takes place and the critical role that the understanding of design processes plays in this cross-referencing. Eileen Gray, one of the most influential furniture designers of the twentieth century, pursued her interest in the art of lacquering through direct contact with Sugawara in Paris. Decades later, Shiro Kuramata’s chairs of the mid 1980s, pay direct homage to the Viennese modernist Josef Hoffman, and speak of a similar immersion in the design values of another culture.