The Craft Council’s latest touring exhibition, ‘Raw Craft: Fine Thinking in Contemporary Furniture’ launched at COLLECT last weekend. It features 21 examples of one-off, prototype and limited edition furniture items, in which the method of construction and evidence of craftsmanship is key. Answering a growing demand for design products that are handmade, simple in form, logical and efficient in their functionality, each item is self-reflexive in its design.
The construction techniques and the qualities of the materials used are central to the design aesthetic, and far from being decorative and high-tech, the seven designers ‘reject excess, and employ the self-empowering values of traditional workshop culture. Working in the age of austerity, their work is rich in creativity and intelligence.’
Sustainability is an obvious consideration in this approach, and Fabien Cappello’s ‘Christmas Tree Project’ reflects a strong interest in local resources and the re-purposing of discarded materials. Christmas trees are dumped in their hundreds of thousands across the UK every January, but Cappello breathes new life into them by using their branches, trunks, stands and needles to create stools, tables and chairs. Visible M&W joints show there is no effort to hide evidence of the construction techniques – it is the material and the story behind it that is important here.
Architect and furniture maker Simon Jones focuses on the re-designing of existing ‘classic’ products such as the trestle. Through rethinking the solution to the original problem, and then continuous refining of the design, the result is a more elegant, functional product that is relevant to the challenges of today. These are stackable, flat-packable versions of the trestle based on a scissor joint and few screws. This stripped-back methodology is also evident in the cantilevered, space-saving side tables by Tomás Alonso, and the bench and table by Oscar Narud that utilises the straightforward but intricate principles of wedging. Narud believes that the aesthetics of a piece should be derived from how it is put together, rather than the other way around.
Whilst handcrafting methods are championed in Raw Craft, industrial production is also used as a starting point for a new type of craft. Seongyong Lee has used the principles of paper tubing to create a new, incredibly lightweight material – Plytube – the result being handcrafted items that appear to be industrially manufactured.
Peter Marigold’s collection of pieces are more sculptural than functional. Each bows to the materials’ existing attributes, be they found in nature or reclaimed from some past purpose. We particularly liked the Log Chess Set made from a single branch, and the rather haphazard ‘Split’ shelving unit. Each ‘box’ within the unit is supported by corner joints cut from single logs, on the principle that a log split four ways makes up 360 degrees – thus the sense of non-uniformity is compromised by it’s literal completeness.
Max Lamb’s three items – the granite chair, the pewter stool, and the chestnut stool – perhaps exemplify the concept of ‘raw’ best. His approach and the resulting aesthetic is thoroughly organic, and the relevance of his local Cornish history permeates his work. In Lamb’s own words, his work ‘begins at the origin of the material, or the origin of the process’.
Raw Craft is produced by the Crafts Council with Brent Dzekciorius and Michael Marriott as curatorial advisors. Visit the website for more information on the exhibition and its participants.