In the continuing series of posts on the Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair competition, we asked Design historian and organizer of the program Grace Jeffers and Matthew Hebert, SDSU Associate Professor to tell us more about the Mash-Up, one of the exercises the students explored to help encourage their creativity in design chairs for the competition.
“Design thinking is about solving a problem, but art thinking is about feeling your way to a solution. Students put themselves under a lot of pressure to design a winning chair and that pressure often paralyzes them. In planning the chair class I include an exercise to combat the paralysis by encouraging experimentation and play. Each year I select a hands-on exercise using either an art making or crafting technique. This year’s exercise Matthew Hebert and I referred to as ‘The Mash-Up’.
“Years ago, I spent a bit of time with Marcel Wanders, studying his practice in preparation to write a book about him. He was telling me the story of the development of his Ming Vase design when he fell silent, turned to me and said, ‘There are no new things in the world only new connections between things, new combinations of preexisting things.’ Similarly, I had spent time with Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky. Paul was the one who schooled me on the art of the remix, where you create something completely new by combining that which is pre-existing. Both lessons percolated in the back of my mind for a long time.
“When Matthew Hebert and I settled on the theme of borders, boundaries and the mash-up I remembered these comments by Wanders and Miller. And from the art world I thought of the assemblage art of the DaDa and Surrealist artists and the gamut of artists who appropriate imagery from other artists and then re-contextualize it in some way. These inspirations lead to the idea of inviting students to create a new shape by combining pre-made elements.”
Matthew on his inspiration for the project:
“I remember when I was in graduate school, stumbling on the work Studio Boym and was struck by their straightforward approach and striking designs. In fact, they did a project for Marcel Wanders design company, Moooi, called Salvation Ceramics. To create new objects, they culled ceramic objects from thrift stores and glued them together to create evocative new forms. Grace and I were excited to expand the palette and see what students could come up with. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun!
“San Diego hosts some fantastic thrift stores. Matthew and Grace went to the Amvets Thrift Store and filled a cart with a heap of objects. They moved up and down each aisle and picked up every single interesting shape we could find from toys to household utensils to artifacts. The day of the exercise, they spread this visual loot over a large table, randomly split the students into groups of two, handed them a tube of epoxy and let them get to work. The results ranged from over-the-top-excess to bare-bones restraint. The most exciting part was to see the students work together to try to create a shared object. There was a lot of humor, which was partly a result of the selected objects, but also a result of the informal and improvisational context the exercise created. In the end, it was a great means of getting the students to think of the theme without the formal constraints of the chair competition, energizing the design process moving forward!”
The winning chair and five runners up will make their first public appearance at the Wilsonart booth #2039 at the 2017 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York. See you there!