MATERIALISED: Form Follows Context
Santilli’s presentation focused on the physicality of objects, how designers work with the notion that materials can resonate with cultural meanings and how they could be read within a spatial context.
Quite uniquely, the chair represents a furniture typology that relates person to place. Literally, being a body-sized object, it can choreograph us to be somewhere and to face something. That sense of purposeful occupation is emphatically staged by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe within the architectural tableau of the German Pavilion for Expo 1929 and his Barcelona Chair continues to occupy theoretical spaces in mercantile HQs as objects of status – objects of standing rather than sitting. Far less intimidating but equally resonant proposition is offered by Jan Konings and Jürgen Bey as a precisely located ‘Robinia’ wood bench (1993), partly immersed in the shallow waters of Barsingerhorn, signalling a resting place with nature and a complicity with two sets of damp legs.
Through our casual familiarity as designer-makers and the intimacy with the size and form of the chair, we develop expectations and a degree of expertise. Therefore, provocations outside of the norm can become potent tools to communicate otherness. By dramatically reducing the scale of the ‘Chair’ in a gallery space (1973-74), Joel Shapiro observes a condensing not only bodily, but also experientially as ‘the chair evokes physical memory’. In juxtaposition, that hard wiring to our grounded reality is explored by Richard Artschwager. Exploiting the accessible language of furniture objects in ‘Table and Chair’ (1962-64) as his ‘medium’, he explained: ‘I wanted to make an image in space that didn’t need a privileged space like a painting, it was a kind of credibility I could live with’.
And what of another 1000 chairs? The relentless pursuit by design professionals and students to contribute something to the mix, to be lighter or easier or more ‘appropriate’? Maybe, in the current climate, we should urge that form follows context, that sitting will not principally be allied to working but, like Olivier Peyricot’s ‘Body Props’ (2001), engage the user directly with landscape and be truly grounded.