If a well-known chair was a drawing, its outline could be projected on anything. And – of course – it wouldn`t be a chair anymore. If a shape starts to circulate in various forms, it will be shared among different contexts. While some forms might become a rather generic reservoir of images through a permanent flow on websites, social media accounts or in magazines, others stay specific in their particular way. Relating to design, the shape of a well-known chair might persist less through its originality, but more with the cultural background that it evokes. Even, if you aren’t familiar with the details of a design history icon, you would certainly have come across its appearance by browsing through booking platforms or someone`s photo stream. Design – through its omnipresence in how we imagine the space that we are inhabiting – seems to be a widespread, but specific phenomenon at the same time.
Emergent images, as David Joselit has once called circulating visual material in After Art, are mostly generated within informational networks and therefore do not point to any origin outside of this flow. Might this be a different case with images of design – especially, if we think of images not only as pictures, but also as notions in a broader sense? The framework of a particular category of design – public billboards – is stripped down to its functional basis in Stéphane Barbier Bouvet’s FYI (Mondial), 2015. It could support any advertisement image, but also deploys a specific imagery of public announcements. The plexiglass slabs of Athene Galiciadis hardly recall the very interior object mentioned by their title: Stool (triangles looking up and down), 2018. Even if you could sit on it, the transparent case rather functions as display for a geometrically-ornamented vessel inside – a display that slightly changes the viewers perspective through neon-colored edges. Benjamin Hirte’s Backbone, 2017, offers no solid seat at all. The synthetic leather object seems not only too soft to support anything, but somehow out of balance at the level of meaning – a hybrid between letter, body part and furnishing. If we encounter the clothing displays of small businesses or improvised fairs, products are often arranged on simple constructions mimicking the human body. Daniel Jacoby takes this observation even further – his works appear as if absent figures have performed certain postures to show the properties of merchandise, but all that now remains is a signature of movements.
Icons of modern furniture – such as Arne Jacobsen`s Egg and 3103 chairs outlined in Henning Strassburger’s Stühle 1, 2 & 3 – still represent the most obvious images of design culture. Modernity`s program to unify aesthetics, technology and industry in organic shapes is still present there – if just as a vague recollection, partly clouded by the color application on the paintings. Today, we rarely find a Coal Bunker or a Cooling Tower in post-industrial urban neighborhoods. Cast in clay by Studio Mieke Meijer, three vases are shaped like these monuments from the heydays of the Industrial Revolution – monuments that we primarily know today from Bernd and Hilla Becher’s famous photographs or from places were production facilities turned into museums. The Bimu lamps – designed by Dimitri Bähler in 2016 –, might also carry this kind of anachronism in their mechanical shape. But by employing organic materials and an artisanal finish at the same time, they also incorporate a critique of industrial production – a critique that has already informed the beginnings of the design profession in the 19th century. By presenting a shelf made from standard particle board and sophisticated, but distorted hand-made ceramics, Aubry/Broquard explore a precarious balance between different modes of fabrication, work and authorship. It seems that the distribution of design itself is a rather contradictory issue: We could, for instance, spend much time by arranging industrially produced decoration articles for the reason of recreation from work – like the glass jewels of Kaspar Müller’s Mandala, 2016/2019, whose layout refers to visual patterns recommended by an internet service for relaxation.
Contributions by: Dimitri Bähler, Stéphane Barbier Bouvet, Dimitri Broquard & Bastien Aubry, Athene Galiciadis, Benjamin Hirte, Daniel Jacoby, Kaspar Müller, Henning Strassburger, Studio Mieke Meijer
Exhibition space: Galerie BolteLang, Limmatstrasse 215, CH-8004 Zürich