MANIERA invites artists to develop furniture and objects for use, offering them an excursion from their usual practice and an opportunity to turn their attention to questions of design and functionality.
The Belgian artist Sophie Nys ’s furniture series is titled ‘Onkelhaft’ (Avuncular, 2016), a reference to the figure of the uncle, which she sees as simultaneously reassuring and threatening. The family of objects allude to historical furniture Nys has encountered in person or in photographs. She guesstimates dimensions and designs and adapts them to contemporary use.
Table / Chair (Wolo) is a convertible object, reminiscent of American colonial hutch tables, while Kneebench (Wolo) is an intriguing wood and leather platform, based on a museum object whose use is unknown but could be related to prayer or to household activities. Bench (Wolo) is the reinterpretation of a narrow settle Nys once saw in a digital image and which was described as a ‘primitive 18th-century bench’. Corner Cabinet (Wolo) is inspired by a similar object the artist encountered in Lebanon. Onkelhaft is completed by Mirror (Wolo), a version of the mirror Nys has in her studio at Wollishofen in Zu?rich, a constant witness to the pieces in the making.
By giving all the pieces the second name (uncle) Wolo, Nys refers to their place of production and links the objects together. The furniture is all hand-made and straightforward, for the simple Alemannic – all men’s – way of living. They are logical, modest and economical. Obvious visual references are Donald Judd, H.D. Van Der Laan, Max Bill, the Shakers and colonial America. Nys uses modest wood: yellow pine and oak. In Bank and Hoekkastje, the wood is hand-painted in the opaque brown wood stain found in traditional interiors in the Swiss mountains. By covering the pieces with a thick and elastic paint, they seem to carry a heavy atmosphere within them. Through this gesture, the artist strives to capture the history and references of objects.
Sophie Nys enjoys the use of furniture as an element for expressing thoughts. Richard Artschwager once referred to furniture as “things which celebrate what people do”. Nys’s furniture may be understood as celebrations. And perhaps the Onkelhaft series is an attempt to perfect “… the art of being happy among ‘small things’, within the space of one’s own four walls, between chest and bed, table and chair, dog and cat and flowerpot…” (Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition, 1958).
Valerie Mannaerts ‘s Arbalette consists of two creations: an elegant garment (a drawing to be worn) and a rack (a sculpture to be used). The inspiration for the pieces came from the Japanese kimono and the traditional holder it is hung on. As an autonomous piece, the pictorial kimono cloaks the body. In combination with the rack, the garment is a wearable space divider.
The symmetrical, rigid and characteristic view of the hanging kimono is reinforced by Mannaerts’ exuberant drawings, sumptuous compositions printed on silk and cotton. The outer side of the garment is adorned with a drawing that suggests dense feathers, a thick fur or perhaps light leaves laying on the ground. The association is left free to our imagination, though Mannaerts controls the feeling of being covered, protected and enveloped. Inside the kimono there is a more complex drawing. It evokes the interior of the body and the organs it contains.
The core of the work is the moment of spatial change, both physical and mental. The artist primarily focuses on the private space that the garment makes possible by being worn. Once the kimono envelops the body, the outside world is left behind and the owner’s intimate, personal, interior space can unfold.
Arbalette is appropriately accompanied by a trio of clay pots sculpted by the artist. Both pieces are artworks that are functional and functional works that are artistic. They are obvious relatives of Mannaerts’s previous and subsequent artistic production. The works also share the notion of embracing living organisms. As the kimono envelopes a human body, the clay pots contain plants and thus become growing sculptures. Installed together in a space, the garment, rack and pots with plants generate a warm, coherent atmosphere to which one can retreat in confidence, a trusted environment as in ‘a room of one’s own’.
(1) Derived from Wolo, an Alemannic who belonged to the tribe that crossed the Rhine to settle amidst Roman ruins in the 5th century AD on the shores of Lake Zürich.
Text by Asli Çiçek