Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pieke Bergmans at the Al Sabah Art & Design Gallery...

A quick sketch (from memory) of one of the designs in the exhibition...


The latest exhibition at the Al Sabah Art & Design Gallery in the Al Corniche Complex is by the Dutch designer Pieke Bergmans, who's exhibiting, what she describes as, 'Design Viruses' - blown crystal 'bubbles', or vases - which are applied, whilst still hot and malleable, onto restored Middle Eastern mother-of-pearl furniture, consequently burning the furniture and marking the pattern and shape of the furniture onto each crystal 'virus'. For this exhibition these 'viruses' have been set onto a number of side tables, various chairs, as well as a large cupboard, displayed evenly around the gallery space.

The exhibition introduces an interesting dichotomy - by making utilitarian objects unusable, and, in the act of burning and disfiguring these precious pieces, blatantly disregarding something usually considered valuable, what discipline - design, art, craft (or anarchy) - do these works actually belong to? Perhaps this question is somewhat of a moot point, as simply engaging with the process of manipulating and adapting these particular pre-existing pieces according to the methods determined by the 'Design Virus' (as outlined in the hand-out) should suffice, however, using one craft - glass-blowing - a very hands-on set of synchronized skills that require years of training to master, to 'disfigure' another craft - carpentry - which in its own right demands thousands of hours to get to grips with, is a bit strange, and it would be nice if the act, which could be described as a form of 'benign vandalism', would be justified a bit more. So perhaps the relationship between the crystal and the piece of furniture is less 'viral' and more about a parasitic, or even symbiotic, relationship, making the combination less confrontational and more about exploring a syncretic or evolutionary design process. It would also be interesting to find out how this relates to other works in the genre, such as Maarten Baas' 'Smoke' series, where he burns and scorches existing furniture classics, or even some of the work by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, where, in his 'Four Movements' collection, he cuts up, and re-assembles, a set of classical Chinese furniture into unusual and unexpected compositions, in the process revealing and granting them a set new suggestive functions that weren't there before.

Thus, at some level, and in comparison to the aforementioned examples, perhaps the work didn't go far enough. Even in comparison to some of the designs included on the designer's web-page, the pieces in the Al-Sabah Gallery are almost timid - their viruses engage with their hosts, but seem to do so in a fashion that only nudge, instead of fully integrate, with the furniture. The viruses only rest on/ by/ inside the furniture instead of changing them, adapting and morphing them into something beyond their origins.

Expanding the notion of craft would also have been interesting in this context. Glass is a fascinating material. Fresh out of the kiln, it's a viscous paste, like thick honey, that's a true challenge to control and shape. It can weigh and behave like liquid rock, or be blown into the thinnest and lightest of bubbles, that will fly off by the slightest of breezes. During its process of fabrication, it can also be deceptive, radiating a slow orange glow whilst still fresh out of the kiln, that quickly fades into its usual clarity surprisingly quickly, it still, however, remains scorching hot, and malleable, for quite a while. On the other hand, once annealed (cooled down) the glass becomes hard and brittle like rock, and very demanding to work with. This stage provides a different set of opportunities, usually through the application of more precision based mechanical tools (compared to the more hands-on means used during the hot stages). The combination of these two, unexpectedly contradictory, stages of the glass fabrication process, is also where some of the intrinsic beauty and potential of glass and crystal rests. It is here where also the opportunities lie in this case. Why was crystal used instead of regular glass? Why clear instead of coloured glass? Why not any secondary shaping/ polishing/ grinding/ etching/ adapting of the glass to match or contrast with the host piece of furniture? Was the lack of finishing and control intentional? It would have been nice to see evidence of more reflection and adaptation that is made bespoke for the included mother-of-pearl furniture pieces.

However, in the end the Al Sabah Art & Design Gallery has to be commended for bringing this type of work to Kuwait, providing the general public with a venue where anyone can be exposed and engage with design and art work that pushes and explores the boundaries of the various related disciplines. To its credit, the work does contain chunks of the '7elo-factor', as the work can be classified as aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes just liking something, without covering it with several plys of analysis, is perfectly OK, and needs to be applauded for the sheer enthusiasm and drive involved in their realization...


Samples of the 'Design Viruses' (photo from the Al-Sabah Art & Design Collection web-page)...

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