American Design Hot List 2018
Brecht Wright Gander
New York, birnamwoodstudio.com
Since going out on his own in 2017, Brecht Wright Gander has been practicing both under his given name (for conceptual work like his lumpy black collage furniture and glittery vases with Todd Merrill) and as Birnam Wood (for more commercial editions like his line of graphic umbrella holders, side tables, and magazine racks). Adding it all up makes for an exciting new voice in American design.
What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
I don’t often think about design in terms of its Americanness, but one thing I noticed is that there’s more state support for the arts in Europe than in the U.S. Consequently, their work is less directly dependent on its commercial viability, and there’s an unburdened freshness to the experimentation. I’d say the inverse is exciting about American design. Capitalist energies drive towards chaotic extremes. There is a wildly kaleidoscopic mash of proliferating, thrumming design here. Some of it unnecessary and wasteful, but one thing America does well is abundance and excess. If you start researching faucets you’ll find there’s a whole galaxy of designs – just an absolutely overwhelming swarm of gorgeous, ingenious, ugly, and absurd faucets. So too, staplers. So too, anything. This unhinged energy is exciting.
Another thing I like about design is that it is becoming a refuge for artists who are disillusioned with the art world. What many artists are discovering is that they can explore color and shape and form and texture and haptic sensation and humor and ambiguity and whatever it is that interests them in the fine arts, but in design. They can skip directly to making things that spring out of their curiosities and loves, because a “function” liberates the object from the overbearing, overeager, overactive intellect, and from the need for justification and apology. I read something Noguchi said about this after finding his early art commissions were all for stone busts and heads: “I was willing to do almost anything to get out of my rut — to find the means to practice an art I did not have to sell. By a curious switch I thought of commercial art as less contaminated than one which appealed to vanity.”
What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
Bigger. I want to make ginormous things and I want to make lots of them. I haven’t been able to afford that before. I’d like to make a pen holder that takes up an entire wall and weighs a thousand pounds. A lamp that can only be turned on through immense, sweat-inducing, spine-wracking effort. Assemblies of dollar store junk with exquisite handworked finishes and coatings. That kind of thing.
What inspires or informs your work in general?
The absurdity of making functional objects. The absurdity of even imagining a new chair could in any way be plausibly justified as functional in a world with a million serviceable chair designs. Also the beauty of dirt. The same dirt we’re born of. The same dirt of our deaths.