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Monday 29 June 2009

Is anyone else really into chairs?

I’m pleased to say that at the grand old age of 24, I visited Brighton for the first time this weekend – I felt like I’d found my spiritual home, all sunny café terraces, vibrant market stalls, a fabulous clean (by British standards) beach, and those mesmerising north and south lanes with their clusters of dream shops.

After sunning it up for a while on the beach, I took myself to the Pavilion and the Brighton Museum where I discovered the city’s small but exceptional collection on 20th century art and design. I remember once reading (I’m a little foggy as to where) that the one object which every designer hopes to make his own is a chair. The distinction between one chair and another is sometimes negligible, mundane even, but living as I do with a real chair enthusiast (furnishing 1 small living room = 8 random mismatched chairs, and counting) I’m starting to understand the nature of this fascination, helped along by Brighton’s collections.

The amazing thing was to see the influences of each time and each movement discussed manifested into the chairs. The arts and crafts movement’s deliberating craftsmanship in sweeping organic curves, the roaring twenties’ glistening decadence in art deco’s tasteful classicism, and the incorporation of industrialism in modernism’s clean bent wood and metal. Maybe the chair is the best representation of civilisation, of a society’s values, preoccupations and aims, but these elements can be seen in the objects all around us, our teapots and our lemon squeezers, our cabinets and our lamps, as well as our paintings and our sculptures.

Various fluctuations between form and function serve to distinguish the pragmatism of modernism, from the flights of fancy represented in the surrealist collections. The distinction between art and design and its increasingly confused boundaries is something that we recently discussed in depth with Peter Saville and the visit to Brighton’s museum, showcasing art along the 20th century’s trailblazers of design, emphasised the intertwining between the two. It reminds me of the juxtapositions in women’s fashions, and the medium’s own encroachment into areas reserved for the visual arts through creative visionaries at the helm of the world’s top labels.

My ideal chair? I love the stark metal mesh of Eames’s DKR-2, an existing element of my flat’s collection, but I’d like to combine it with the frivolity of a rocking chair, still on bent metal, but with the bikini cushioning, or maybe something a bit more sixties in fibreglass… I can see how this fascination can grow…

It’s a joy to notice the intricacies and the details of the things around us, the tiny little minutiae which makes something a pleasure or a pain to use. Collections like Brighton’s allow us to stop and take note of the everyday beauty around us, the pieces which have experienced hours at the hands of exacting designers, and if you find yourself with time to spare, I’d recommend a visit.

[Image credits: courtesy of Brighton Museum at http://www.virtualmuseum.info/]


John Bache said...

Chairs can be very powerful. Think of the throne in the House of Lords, representing supreme power in the United Kingdom. Think of the chair in the photograph of Christine Keeler taken in 1963, which helped to bring down the Conservative Government in 1964. Indeed, the word "Chair" can signify a person in a position of authority, rather than an object.

Did you enjoy the Royal Pavilion?

Alexander Sutulov said...

Difficult to think of the departure of art at the moment design became empowered particularly after the Industrial Revolution. More than identifying the “head” of the chair, my concern is in regards to a world of decisions where models of aesthetics have already flown for some time now, completely out of the window. Today the difference between a chair and a tooth brush is almost a question of brand name! Historical reference bonded to rich traditions of chair manufacturing where artistic representation was a common language to identity and sense of belonging has become in the best cases, irrelevant. The more I can use and displace, the less threatening to the homologation of cultures. Not in vain is the evidence of pseudo eclecticism disguised under the rigor of diversity.

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