One piece of the permanent exhibition at the Stedelijk that stimulated some form of internal reaction was ‘Cow Chair’ designed by Niels van Eijk in 1997 for his graduation project at the academy in Eindhoven.
At first glance it appears to be a thick legged kiddie chair with a cow hide pinned onto it, which is nice enough – I remember thinking how well it would go with my new old cowboy boots – however, much to my astonishment, as I drag my feet past the seat to check off the next object to admire that it was obstructing I sneak a peek into the chairs insides, where to my amazement was in fact no such chair supporting the skin! I began to pace from one side to the other, pushing my face as close as I could to the void within without drawing the attention of the eagerly hovering security, reassuring myself that it was truly self-supporting.
Curious, the way that it looks so flexibly drawn around a form, with bunched creases contrasting with the tautness in the extremities yet still feels that if you were to sit on the cloth would fall beneath you like a loose rag. When considering the properties of a hide I had no reason to consider that it was it’s own shape, rather than taking the form of a structure beneath it; after all, isn’t that what skin does? My perception of the design changed completely; a hollow, anorexic skin made rigid by the last moistness of life being drained from it, locked together by savage stitches pulling at the skin as both leathers shrink in opposition.
Rather morbid, really.
As oppose to being a complex object that requires calculated thought to attempt to understand, such as an optical illusion or some form of puzzle, this intense feeling of pure confusion is induced when a seemingly mundane, daily object or situation is not how you automatically assume it to be; so automatically that you don’t even think about it, that’s what really puts you out of whack. This sensation is one that has fascinated me (or haunted, in some cases) since I can remember. One chair related experience almost brought me to tears, it was such bedlam. On a morning no different to any other I took my usual seat at my dining room table with my tea and toast, but as I slid my chair under the table the top of my thighs brushed against the underside of the wooden table; this never happens! I was simply overwhelmed, I just didn’t know why it had happened. I called to my mother to seek an answer, ‘oh, well it must be because one of the chairs is slightly lower than the others, they must have been switched’; what a cruel trick to play so early in the morning. It was such a minute change that upon reflection such a reaction could easily seem somewhat overdramatic, but in the heat of the moment it truly felt like the world was crumbling around me and the chair.
The experience with the cow chair was less of a painful confusion and more of an intriguing, encapsulating.. confusion. An object to eradicate all other drifts of thought. To be noticed above all other things, even if the intention of the design is to be discreet . To create an object capable of such engrossment is surely the target of all designs? I find it so refreshingly satisfying to experience such a concentrated distraction, allowing you to grant all focus to the subject at hand, being lost in thought for something that is really real. After all, how can you think in an unclouded manner when you’re constantly mentally multitasking?
Niels and Miriam, hangin’ out.
Mr. Van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe have been partners in design (and in [x] their personal lives) since they graduated from the Sandburg institute, leading them to found their design studio in 1998, which lead to their own label: Usuals. Whilst managing not to come close to making the same thing twice, these two capture Dutch design by collaborating humour with vast imagination and experimental works, ranging from spacial projects to product and furniture design; this creative combination attracted numerous museums and other collaborative design companies such as Droog, and many others.
‘Poodle Chair’ 2002, another example of humorous chairs by VEVDL.
The design was of pure inspirational birth. According to ‘Subjects’, one evening whilst Niels was admiring his shoes he was captured by the way the leather formed so beautifully around the point of the toe he thought ‘if this is possible, it must be possible to make a whole chair this way’. This notion developed my opinion on the design even more so; I like a good lump of leather around my feet and can absolutely empathize with the new found pointy beauty that the chair possesses. Why, I just want to wrap myself up in a crispy point of leather.
Although I am a great enthusiast in the field of pointy-leather-beauty, I can’t help but feel a mild disappointment towards the lack of confusion in the way the design was conceived; it all seems a little too cosy. Alas, perhaps only few are subjected to the level of intense confusion that taunts me so heavily.