Telling Tales: Designer interviews

Is there such as thing as design-art? Furniture designers Studio Job, Jurgen Bey, Kelly McCallum and Tord Boontje have their say

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Video Transcript

Gareth Williams

Telling Tales has objects by people who trained as industrial designers, generally speaking or product designers, rather than as fine artists. But here we see them using their design training to create pieces which are really more symbolic than they are functional, often - which are very decorative. They are not prototypes for mass production, but they’re more like personal statements.

Since the 1990’s there’s been a strong interest in the sort of conceptual value of design and designers have learned to act very independently and to think very independently and to make personal manifesto statement pieces, rather like artists may make their own personal works.

I particularly chose works for this exhibition which seemed to have some kind of narrative content or references to history or in this particular room where we’re standing, references to fairy stories or more kind of general, universal stories. Why do designers go back to this kind of content? Well I think that they realize that design works are able to carry an awful lot of meaning and that they can communicate very well as design objects because we read them as the functionality of it. We understand it in some kind of fundamental way. And people can be touched by the content of these universal truths, I suppose.


Job Smeets

When we started off we just thought that we didn’t want to be in line of all the producers hoping that we could produce an industrial product for them. You know and we tried to, the only thing we wanted to be is as free as possible in a creative way. So not linked and not limited to production processes and not to the market and not to clients not to commercial aspects. Just only to be dependent on your own mind, to be the curator of your own mind. Nick and I thought it would be kind of funny to imagine ourselves in lets say an office of a very bad person, you know, a person who makes the money over the backs of the poors. I think that’s kind of satirical yes. But also that doesn’t mean that satirical can’t be beautiful. I think that also they also have this cultural quality, which is important to our work.


Kelly McCallum

For me its using certain sort of techniques or using certain sort of craft is a way of getting across, as he said a story and kind of having people look at objects in a new way. And you know for me because I’ve always been sort of inspired by these specific objects it’s about looking at their story and sometimes creating stories about them and then telling those stories to other people.


I found this old fox and its ears were already very broken and sort of disintegrating. It was sort of the damage that it had already sustained through its life as an object that inspired me to sort of create the idea of the golden maggot. Which is, you know, for me a lot about the process of you know life and death and not looking at maggots as a sort of disgusting creature which is how they’re usually viewed and by sort of recreating them in gold. It gives them sort of a new life and a new way of looking at them.


Tord Boontje

We work in this context of design, industrial design, which is kind of been hijacked by a minimalist agenda, which stylistically is very strong, but in terms of content very meaningless. I think just like myself there’s other people who kind of felt there’s something missing in that. We want these things too much more relate to our lives and how we see the world and really become expressions of our own mood.


Around here, 2000, 2001, I became very interested in the whole idea of decoration. I realized that this was something that as designers come through industrial design, art school, decoration is something we are automatically thought not to do. I kind of started to realize well, why not and there is something very interesting there. I started to look at Pre-Industrial Revolution design and much more handmade crafts products. And I actually spent time here at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Come to the Embroidery Collection looking at metal work, wood carving and I really realized that there’s something that’ sensuality that we’ve loosed in this very bland world that we live in and I want to create something that’s much richer and also more narrative and storytelling in that sense.


Gareth Williams

Well there is a term that’s been around for a few years now describing this kind of work as design art. I think that it’s a very contentious term and not really a term that I particularly like because it’s very loaded. But I think there is definitely, what we have here is a group of designers who appear to be acting rather like artists and certainly with a similar kind of ambition as contemporary artists. But I really do think these are works of design first and foremost.


Kelly McCallum

I think that this type of work has really hit the forefront now possibly because people are interested in having objects that are more interesting than just everyday design pieces. They want things that are artistic and more conceptual, but still are things that they can live with and experience on a day-to-day life.


Jurgen Bey

Did this whole notion of art design art?  For me, it does not exist.  I am a product designer, I am trained to be a product designer and that’s what I do and I don’t believe that I’m an artist. I still have all the ideas like an artist who is digging, asking questions to the world. I would almost say like an elementary scientist.


Tord Boontje

The notion of design art seems very irrelevant to me. I myself see these pieces which are on the high price class and what I do in my studio, much as experiments that lead to production ideas and I think its actually quite dangerous to start to take this design art market as something completely serious.


Job Smeets

So in the end there will always be a selective you know era and that’s a good thing I think because you don’t need this all over the world. Can you imagine if all the designers in the world would start to make unique pieces and to make these kinds of expressive pieces? Tomorrow you wouldn’t even be able to go on the camp anymore.


Gareth Williams

I think underlying all of the content in the exhibition is a certain ambiguity and a feeling of uncertainty so even when we’re in the forest glade in this sort of childlike innocence that’s still undercut by sense of threat or double meaning. So, its shifts of sounds isn’t it? I think there’s still this sense of uncertainty and perhaps that’s what the designers in the exhibition are telling us about our own times that we’re in shifting and that they are no certainties any longer.


'Telling Tales' examines the emergence of a generation of designers with the ambition to shift the boundaries between fine art and design. In this film, shot in the exhibition space, curator Gareth Williams and several of the participating designers discuss their work, their preoccupations and the concept of design art. Among the contributors are Studio Job, Jurgen Bey and Tord Boontje.

'Telling Tales' examines the emergence of a generation of designers with the ambition to shift the boundaries between fine art and design...

Telling Tales includes fantastic  lighting, chairs, beds, tables and ceramics, many of them tackling themes rarely explored through the medium of furniture.