Attend an event like the Stockholm Furniture Fair, which is packed with designs by fresh-faced students and recent graduates, and you’re bound to see furniture so conceptual it borders on fine art (if not naiveté or cliché). That’s because students at some of the best design schools around the world are taught not just how to make things, but also how to think creatively and develop narratives — Stockholm’s Beckmans College of Design among them. Thirteen members of its current graduating class exhibited together at the city’s furniture fair this week, and rather than developing a suite of beautifully variegated chairs like a neighboring booth from the Lund Institute of Technology, they did some serious and deliberate navel-gazing in an attempt to develop furniture capable of manipulating its own emotional connection with users. Called “The Matter of Things,” the project asked each of its participants to choose an abstract problem to solve — like bonding, treasuring memories, or making physical contact — and embody it in a not-quite-as-abstract form. Not all of the results are particularly life-changing, but they do demonstrate the kind of thought processes that eventually lead to greatness. We snagged photographs of the pieces taken prior to the show, and annotated them with excerpts from its catalog that describe those processes in more detail. Stay tuned for more coverage of the talents we uncovered in Stockholm.
The Matter of Bonding: Lamp by Anna Glansén "The machinery of this walking floor lamp, though cleverly built, is in fact low-tech. The subject, then, is not artificial intelligence and robot housemaids; this ambling little fellow is first and foremost a lamp, albeit with a special ability. It is an object to play with, and soon enough you will feel the impulse to talk to it."
"This is exactly what Anna Glansén wants us to do. Not necessarily engage in conversations with lamps and sofas, but to connect or bond with the objects we own. Since bonding is a process that takes time and is an achievement, the objects that are really going to mean something to us will be few but precious. By limiting our collections of objects to the really meaningful, a more responsible consumption is achieved."
The Matter of Treasuring Memories: Display Cast by Sofie Samuelson "It is natural to think of memory as a kind of storage room. When everything pans out as it should, there is order in the drawers of our mind. But sometimes, we seem to misplace things, the memories appear to have been put away in the wrong place and we can’t find them – we forget."
"Sofie Samuelson has witnessed the erosion of both memory and personality of a close relative suffering from Alzheimer’s. Parts of the memory cabinet Sofie Samuelson has built for her grandmother are inspired by elements of furniture from her grandparents' home. The cabinet is intended to aid and comfort, but it is also a metaphor for (the wounded) memory."
The Matter of Symbiosis: Chair and Lamp by Eddi Törnberg "Inspired by self-sufficient societies, Eddi Törnberg has investigated new, unexpected, and eco-friendly ways to produce energy. He focuses on situations in our daily life where energy is generated as a by-product of some activity."
"He has generated electricity from the heat created when sitting in a chair and used it to power a lamp. Also, he has worked on the possibilities of deriving energy from the radio waves of cell phones. The result is a mix of different techniques that are as harmless to humans as to the environment, yet are enough to power all the lighting in a household."
The Matter of Martin: Table, Chair, and Lamp by Martin Ku "Martin Ku calls the chair, table, and lamp he has built a self-portrait. The chair represents the past. The repeated layers of backrests stand for fragments of memories and stories. We can’t escape our past, it’s there, always, just behind us, and our stability depends on it."
"The table, with its cushioned surface on which everything rests softly, is an image of future. It is supposed to create a feeling of lightness, meditation, curiosity, and have an expression of self-confidence. Squeezed in between past and future is now, symbolized in the lamp fixture that rests on the thin glass bulbs, either on the floor or against the wall. What is now is frail and vulnerable. The past must be accepted, although there is a measure of potential change in the future."
The Matter of Physical Contact: Handrail by Kaja Solgaard "The starting point for Kaja Solgaard’s casted handrail has been an interest in the significance of physical touch. Touching is not only a way of expressing care for someone or something. It is also through touching, holding, and feeling, that we learn about things: their texture, weight, material, and temperature."
"The shapes have been created with respect to the hand — what it can do and what it wants to grip, i.e. shapes that feel good to touch. The outcome is an appealing visual appearance with the benefit of sculptural and tactile molding."
The Matter of Small Things: Sideboard, Lamp, and Coathanger by Iina Vuorivirta "Iina Vuorivirta's work consists of up-scaled three-dimensional metallic single letters. The formerly invisible letters stand on their own, with no need to justify their existence by reference to words. After a while the objects may even cease to be letters all together and assume abstract sculptural forms."
"On the hunt for overlooked beauty, she invites us to look closer to see the beautiful curve in a 'T,' or the sturdy legs of an 'A,' or the confident lines in an 'E.' It's a way to restore the dignity of things forgotten or taken for granted."
The Matter of Human Impression: Stool by Hanna Billqvist "Hanna Billqvist’s work deals with the interactions between body and material. 'Why,' she asks, 'do we adjust our flexible and soft bodies to rigid furniture, and not the other way around?' She has created a stool that mimics the features of the human body; its legs come equipped with metal springs that contract under pressure, like knees."
The Matter of Everyday Moments: Kitchen Unit by Elin Hedlund "Studying the heart of the home — the kitchen — Elin Hedlund has made a piece of furniture that can be a workspace, a step stool, a drawer unit, or something to sit on. Thus, it enhances its importance as a meeting point for socialising and sharing moments. It is a multi-purpose problem solver and organiser. It is functional design without a pre-specified function."
The Matter of the Unintended: Chair and Stool by Hannes Lennartsson "People often view an object as if it has a limited function, a single reason for being. But every object has great potential for versatility and alternative uses. This is a fact that may worry the designer. What if the product will not be used in the intended way? Hours and hours of perfecting the function of an object. For no good."
"Hannes Lennartsson embraces the fact that sometimes it's the unintended uses of things, discovered over time, which makes them dear to us. With his chair and stool, he wants to expose the versatility of objects. Deliberately, he has chosen a type of furniture that has a purpose everybody can agree on: It’s something to sit on. The question is, what will people do with the chair that Hannes didn’t think of?"
The Matter of Adding Affection: Cabinet by Julia Schollin "As a child, Julia Schollin used to put stickers on her furniture. Most people think this childish habit makes the furniture ugly and decreases its value. But the motley addition of marks and signs, words and images is a playful and imaginative way of making furniture your own. This is obviously not a careless way of treating the things around you: From it emotional and sentimental value emerges."
"For a generic piece of furniture (in a Swedish context, with great probability manufactured by Ikea), impossible to distinguish from millions of other identical pieces of furniture, the colorful stickers are the only thing that differentiate it. Now it has become a site of meanings, stories, and eventually, memories. The decorations are signs and traces of a person’s life."
The Matter of Making Room: Table by Anni Arnefjord "Anni Arnefjord has attempted to create a table without hierarchies or places of honor, where everybody is given equal room. The result is a hexagonal table whose shape itself helps you to understand what part of the tabletop belongs to you and when you're interfering with your neighbor. A design that makes us aware of the fact that we share a limited space."
The Matter of Perspective: Chair by Gustav Carlberg "Thanks to Gustav Carlberg’s chair, we now have new opportunities to explore the overlooked vertical dimensions of indoor life. But is it even a chair in the first place? Maybe it's actually a chair turned coat-hanger we're talking about? Gustav is engaged in a playful questioning of some of the basic assumptions about what a piece of furniture is supposed to be."
The Matter of Wear and Tear: Table by Nathalie Adenling "The gradual fading and aging of nail polish and, well, all things isn’t always something to regret. An aesthetic that allows for the irregularities of living things is, in Nathalie Adenling’s view, beautiful. Her table is the result of letting the gradual changes in the color of her nails guide the appearance of the tabletop. She repeatedly polished and sanded it, and soon the layers formed a collage of new and old lacquer: a frozen image of change."