Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program 2016

100 Chairs in 100 Days interview with Nella Themelios, Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program 2016

0 Comments 17 May 2016

Interview by Jessica Gregory

Martino Gamper’s travelling show, 100 Chairs in 100 Days, has made its way to Melbourne. Wandering through the carpet of chairs assembled from a multitude of objects, a dialogue emerges that speaks of consumption, waste and creative design process. I for one left the exhibition space wanting to discover more. Fortunately I was able to pick the brain of Nella Themelios, the Creative Producer at the RMIT Design Hub, to explore these themes further.

Nella, tell us about your involvement in 100 Chairs in relation to your role as Creative Producer at the RMIT Design Hub.
My role as producer is to work across the curatorial and technical teams to deliver the show. The curatorial elements that are significant in this iteration of Gamper’s show are more about the things that happen around the show because the project itself began in 2007. It’s a collection of 99 chairs that Martino made at a moment very early on in his career. It’s gone to a whole host of other cities before it arrived to us […] the idea being that the 99 chairs travel and in each city, Martino Gamper makes the 100th chair. In one sense the show is static but in a way it is alive because he is constantly re-making the chair in the context of the city he is in at the time.

Was there anything that made the Melbourne version of Gamper’s show different?
The added layer that we have contributed to the Melbourne version of the show is a workshop that we ran alongside the project called ‘Post Forma’. The workshop aimed to engage the research community at RMIT and was lead by Martino himself alongside Melbourne-based graphic designer, Paul Fuog. One of the really unique things about Design Hub is that our remit is really about showcasing design research; focusing on unravelling the process and the research that underlies design practice in all of its forms. Gamper’s entire project wasn’t about meeting a commission, it was a self-directed project about him trying to define what his own voice is as a designer. We try to find ways to find paths into the show that allow for new research connections to happen; this was the idea with the three-day intensive workshop. The participants were designers from Melbourne and interstate who were already practicing but perhaps wanted an opportunity to go back to the more abstract elements of what they do and have an opportunity to experiment because you don’t really get that when you’re practicing. There was a series of constraints and the participants were only able to use a set of materials already at hand to produce a material outcome in three days. There is an exhibition on Level 3 at the moment, which shows all of the outcomes from that workshop.

The exhibition space within the Design Hub is extremely expansive, how did you go about utilising this space? Did it influence how you chose to present the work?
One of the interesting things about the show in terms of the curatorial process was that very early on we spoke to Martino about an exhibition environment. We discussed different modes to display the objects that would take advantage of the space. We talked about elevating the chairs or suspending them or raising them above eye height or even creating an undulating environment. He was not interested in any of it! But, it makes a lot of sense because the project is anathema to that. It’s about thinking and exploring the hierarchy of value inherent in a chair and not monumentalising a designed object but bringing it back down to a very human, everyday level. The show works in the space because the chairs are on the same plane as the visitor, they share the same space and although you can’t touch them you can get very close. In a way the show resisted any kind of curatorial input because of the very nature of it and the kind of ideas Gamper is trying to get across.

The scattered layout of the chairs seems like a curator’s dream! Was there method to the madness?
Originally he [Gamper] did a paper layout, putting images of chairs in groups. So, we laid out the chairs based on that layout but then he came in towards the end of the installation period and just redid everything. That was very much intuitive, he wants to respond to the space and so the groupings are very much based on his own intuition.

Martino Gamper is arguably the Marcel Duchamp of interior design, providing ‘ready-made’ found and unwanted items with new stories in the form of chairs. What is your opinion of this reinterpretation of found objects as a method of communication?
When I’m required to do the floor talks, I have this little spiel. I like to think of him as the Margiela of industrial design. He is not just taking found objects, he is taking quite iconic found objects, cutting them up and reconstituting them into a new whole in a very specific way. A lot of the chairs he has used are not random, everyday chairs but are really quite famous. There’s a chair in which he’s spliced together a Jasper Morrison chair with a Thonet Bentwood chair. Jasper Morrison is a very well known British designer who exploits new technology in his work and so that particular chair was made using a very new technology. On the other side, Thonet was well known for pioneering new production methods and he pioneered a new way to mass-produce chairs out of bent wood. And so, in very deliberate and specific ways, Gamper is putting different designs or histories together within a chair so that a new conversation can take place. For me, it’s the process that’s revealed within the construction that is the most interesting part.

From your vantage point as Creative Producer at the Design Hub, what was your experience of the creation of the 100th chair?
We are very lucky here at RMIT and have some great workshop spaces full of materials that are amazing for making chairs particularly out of wood. Gamper had free reign of our workshops and was able to use a whole range of other materials that people had donated and materials we had set aside from around the Design Hub. He started by pulling apart some of the chairs we had given him and putting them back together before settling on using a broken white desk chair as the spine. It took 12 hours, and from 9am he was working non-stop on the chair, […] making design decisions very quickly and somehow still come out with a beautiful chair. I don’t know why but I was surprised by his skill. The processes of designing and making are often quite separate but in his case, he is actually a very skilled maker.

Finally, do you have a favourite chair in the show?
Yes, it’s called Black and Silver and it’s two chairs intertwined. I like it because they’re not solitary, they’re connected but they can come apart. Chairs are placeholders for people and the body and so to me they are like two little humans.

See photos from 100 Chairs in 100 Days here.

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