Is it that? Is it that? Is it that? : Crossover-revamp of tools for body parts and tradition in Cypriot furniture design
Sevina Floridou This excerpt tries to examine some personal thoughts provoked by Eva Korae’s work in contemporary furniture design, as recollected from the exhibition ‘Yes, there will be Vodka!, held on the 30th of May in Limassol, at the Vinegar Workshop. Τhe exhibition consisted of expressive artefacts, made of, by most standards, second-rate materials yet such that have become charged with subcultural meanings.
Examining these items as mainstream and recogniseable iconic design objects of desire, consisting mainly of chairs, tables, light fixtures and ashtrays, they have been produced not with the intent of changing the way they function. One also cannot talk of there being a single concept of approach but rather a range of wildly contradictory activities interventions, and re-placements through re-use.On strolling around the exhibition space, I could hear people milling around me talking to each other, exclaiming their recognition of disparate artefacts that, although recognisable in their re-used form, have disappeared, or else are widely treated as invisible debris. With each such exclamation one becomes aware that the designer has reconfigured the object by giving it a new use, often placing it in a postion which allows it to obtain a new connection to the human body part that it was never originally intended for.
This re-use and lateral reassesment of value seems to re-establish the boundaries between the actor and the role of the material, itemised and re- incorporated into the materiality of each individual piece.The collection is made up of loving cheeky parodies of set pieces. Yet this gleeful onslaught made from the excesses of often collateral consumer overproduction far from adding to it, acts as quite the opposite, a high comedy of playful disrespectfulness showing a love of the traditional which is at the same time sincere enough to stand the test of its own mockery. While many utilitarian original Cypriot- made traditional pieces of furniture aka chairs, three-legged tables, table-cum beds, bamboo-reed spoon holders – all minimal in their design, construction and their local use of materials at hand - speak of social deprivation as much as anything else, the glamour/ social awareness afforded these minimal cross-revamped artefacts on display, unavoidably also reflects the pragmatic difficulty in even talking about contemporary furniture design in Cyprus today. In this respect, the cultural references used and toyed with (such as painted turned carvings-to-be onto solid wood-block legs supporting a ‘Tea-for Two’ seesaw seating arrangement) become a political act in a different sense, a campaign to bring down to the street so to speak, an evolution of the forms and their uses, and to confront the often oppressive norms of cultural object worship that Cypriot society affords tradition when confronting furnishings, especially objects with lots of carving, but little else reflective of its past. Addressing with persistence the discredited elements, their disreputable aspect witnessed in stuff such as supermarket advertising flyers glued with flour and water to make a table top or loose glass marbles rolling about in a three legged table (reminiscent of loosing ones literal marbles in the schoolyard dirt, the village tavla), or else the dart-board table, the fruit-bowl lamp, the hand held egg-whisk candle sticks, all recogniseable items from our –pre contemorary yet not so distant past, these objects are made to question the disproportional acquiescent value of imported conveyor-belt designer pieces which the acquiring of, aims to model behavioural ‘knowhow’ separating the haves from have-nots. The abacus backed and seated baby chair reminided me of baby potty chairs of the sixties, complete with an educational abacus back rest, to keep the child occupied while performing its business, but also with the intent of keeping the child restricted for longer while the minder perfomed other duties. No wonder then, that the proposed design allows one the liberating freedom of rest (albeit perhaps not so comfortable) or else, if desired, of transient contact. The spectrum of furtive objects, or fleeting reminiscent items, is also tackled through a wry, wistful nostalgia in the making – a wryness that will be recognisable to anyone who doesn’t quite fit the middle-class institutional Cypriot cultural stereotype. Cement breeze block, aluminium soda cans, plastic ties and the clip shears, fitted snugly into the breeze block’s cavity, afford the user the power of controlling the tool in a hands on construction of an ashtray. By providing the tool, the item comes as a complete self construction design kit - the designer thus passes from the role of High Auteur to a new role that society beckons/yearns for from both professions that cater to space and taste, both design and architecture - a role that has yet to be invented, since ‘high’ design has waddled into the dead end of its demise in the west, one that has been orchestrated by the free market economies - catering for the mere wealthy 1% of the planet’s population that can afford its material inventions. The argument being that these oddly resilient objects of use, tables, chairs, lamps, ashtrays need to be looked at more closely, just as much as leaving room for thought about the stimuli of design production in a small economy instead of individual creativity being swept ‘under the carpet’ making room for imported ready made ‘designer’ consumerism. But also raising the question of the future of the profession, or vocation, who designs and for whom, and what is it that design is about, is it merely creating objects or suggesting ways of thought? The reuse of found objects does not deconstruct their function neither does their re-use mean moodily arranging them into something else. The ideas are carried through logically, dependent on the assumptions the mean to mock - the connection, for example, between the concrete crush-test cubes, residual items from the burst construction bubble of holiday housing, married to the empty wine bottles of booze binge tourism which the current financial crisis has all but halted on both fronts. Both industries all but halted, their discarded unnoticed consumer fallout material, contemplated in a way that these certain losses seem not to have yet warranted acknowledgment. Flotsam from the burst economy bubbles are reconfigured to serve as ashtrays for group-inhaled contemplation of the financial demise. The aged wood, stainless steel, with old coins tables – to me allude to discarded old hardwood (perhaps from Limassol pier) and the disposal of the Cypriot currency on adopting the Euro – concurrent flash micro events, in the constellation of macro effects, lending contemplative subjectivity to the sleek internationally recognised blueprint of a languid coffee table lifestyle of savoire faire. Yet how is a wider audience expected to pick up these distant references without their being explained? How are such links forged? The playful almost urban grafitti –like or cartoon quality of the designs’ simplicity makes the case rather well. The point being not merely on the inventive design qualities but on the responses they evoke, deriving their power from latent and not manifest content. Thus, finding your own meaning is not only the first step of an adventure but also the way to seeing a cultural reflection of a place in time which may or may not, become a recognisable template of aesthetic experience, even a dissident one, in opposition to official taste. And so, the exhibition at the Vinegar Workshop almost a year ago, far from acting as a display of objects, became an activity - a festive reconnection to and recognition of the dowdiness of found materials, and ones of memory, over the dubious prestige of sleek acquired glamour. A gentle mocking of design without disowning it, both a parody but also very much the real thing.