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Ania Jaworska’s furniture is a 'SET' of contradictions

The work SET by architect, artist and educator Ania Jaworska redefines typologies of coffee tables, chairs and cabinet in furniture design.

by Zohra Khan Jul 11, 2019

“This is the type of furniture that makes you feel like a superhero,” said Jaworska, when I asked her to define SET to me, in a manner, as if I am a five-year-old. In reality, however, SET came across to me as objects of menace, alarmingly distorted and on the verge of busting, to reveal the spirit animal that each one has been hiding for years. Now, think of being surrounded by these every day!

All of the pieces are finished with mirror lacquer surface, that brings to mind furniture from the 20s, 60s or 80s eras. The typologies are quite typical – coffee tables, chairs, cabinet, but their geometries either reference known domestic forms or forms found in architecture. – Ania Jaworska

Simple and complex. Funny and serious. Known and unknown. SET is an intriguing body of work by the architect, artist and educator, Ania Jaworska, which brings together an interesting collective of contradictions. It is a series of eight pieces of furniture, except; it is everything, which your typical furniture is not. Each ‘unit’ (as Jaworska refers to it) is a monolithic entity built out of slabs and cylinders in different scales and proportions. While slabs, made of wood and aluminium, render themselves demure and meditative, cylinders composed of wooden pegs, plywood tubes and moulded fibreglass appear bossy and extrovert. A lacquered finish of crispy slick black unifies them in the encompassing white of the gallery space.

  • U-shape of the armchair resembles large steel pipes or pool noodles| SET| Ania Jaworksa| STIR
    U-shape of the armchair resembles large steel pipes or pool noodles Image Credit: Courtesy of Volume Gallery
  • At the dining table, four large legs exclude side and corners from being used, focusing the interaction between people to the centre of the table| SET| Ania Jaworksa| STIR
    At the dining table, four large legs exclude side and corners from being used, focusing the interaction between people to the centre of the table Image Credit: Courtesy of Volume Gallery

“Respective units act and appear familiar, sharing common traits with well-known domestic objects as well as ambiguously recollecting visual references set in our memory,” says Jaworska. The collection penetrates deep in the silence of the space where each unit, like a self-aware entity, creates a bold and a powerful statement. Merging the bounds between art and architecture, the products are abstract and sculpturesque and at the same time very relevant and functional. Here, when one unit shows a seemingly rhythmic pattern of the tubes dancing up and down, another looks like an assembly of lean soldiers standing upright in unison. Flat, bent, twisted, wrinkled, curled and folded – each unit manifests a sharp language of art that opens doors for diverse interpretations. When asked what has been the strangest or perhaps funniest comment that Jaworska has ever received from her art discerning audience, she replies, “It (SET) looks like a rendering in real life.”

There is a compositional strength of two identical elements in credenza that ties to architectural typologies, like industrial silos, concrete structural columns, or towers| SET | Ania Jaworksa | STIR
There is a compositional strength of two identical elements in credenza that ties to architectural typologies, like industrial silos, concrete structural columns, or towers Image Credit: Courtesy of Volume Gallery

While some units get instinctively registered as pieces of furniture, some require a keen evaluation by the viewer. A bent cylinder perched above a slab with four stunted legs is the armrest of a chair. A slab balanced by four enormous cylinders, one at each of its four rounded edges, is the top of a table.

On closer examination, this act of seeing and acknowledging gets a tad unsettling. One of the units features two large and imposing vertical cylinders, a little taller than an average man’s height, that sit atop a low-lying platform. A giant, rounded structure with no visible traces of segregation creates a manner of surprise in the air. One wonders what good use could this be?  Well, wait for it.

For the side table, the pegs are four inches in diameter, large enough to position a coffee mug, a small plate, object or a lamp. In addition, one can even compose objects in between| SET| Ania Jaworksa| STIR
For the side table, the pegs are four inches in diameter, large enough to position a coffee mug, a small plate, object or a lamp. In addition, one can even compose objects in between Image Credit: Courtesy of Volume Gallery

SET contradicts the fact that furniture design has mostly to do with physical and visual comfort. It reveals what it is like to be around objects that do not fit in our frozen subconscious. A far cry from the familiar typologies of furniture that each unit references, a narrative unfolds that sets the stage for specific actions, behaviours and attitudes. “The true understanding of the furniture’s power is in its nuanced dimensions, proportions and finish. In order to know it, one needs to experience it,” says Jaworska.

Arm Chair, one of her easily recognisable units had the most interesting reactions from viewers. “Men prefer it without a cushion, as they can situate themselves in a very powerful pose. Women prefer an armchair with a cushion, as you can wrap yourself in it and feel safe and separated from the outside,” she explains.

Talking about the production and assembly of the units, she adds, “While I fabricated most of the pieces myself in the wood shop with the help of my student assistants, the lacquer was done by a small refinishing shop outside of Chicago. The process of applying lacquer and buffing it to the mirror finish is very time consuming; and because of the nature of the forms, the pieces were lacquered prior to the assembly of the final objects.”

The coffee table made of vertical pegs and cylinders can be used as a piece on which one can place books while its pegs allow to comfortably support a book, tray or laptop horizontally| SET| Ania Jaworksa| STIR
The coffee table made of vertical pegs and cylinders can be used as a piece on which one can place books while its pegs allow to comfortably support a book, tray or laptop horizontally Image Credit: Courtesy of Volume Gallery

An oeuvre that spans art, design and architecture, Jaworska’s works are experimental in form and experiential in nature. She uses ‘reductive use of form’ to create conceptual and spatial impact with familiar objects. “My work is a complex and nuanced exploration of the power of form, symbols and the influence of the built environment, that at once is inspired by, challenges and builds upon a broad spectrum of architectural history. However, through humour and presentation, it functions on many levels communicating equally to the architectural insider and general public,” she explains, touching upon her multi-disciplinary practice.

I am interested in architecture’s and object’s ability to exhibit and perform certain qualities, like power or playfulness. The furniture renders itself powerful and perhaps intimidating. In fact, the pieces demand attention and interaction. – Ania Jaworska

Jaworska has put across critical questions such as ‘what is it that translates an object into a piece of furniture?’ ‘Is there any pre-defined mould that fits one and not the other?’ ‘Is it just the surface aspects like form, function and aesthetics that lends furniture its identity in space?’ Perhaps, as one experiences SET, one realises it is nothing but one’s own conditioned psyche that visualises and renders objects with a meaning in space. She has rather built the right contradiction, with the right medium at the right place.

(This article was first published in Issue #20 of mondo*arc india journal – an initiative by STIR.)

Ania Jaworska is currently working on her second solo exhibition with Volume Gallery in Chicago. A collection of furniture that oscillates between architectural references and popular culture, the exhibition will open in 2020.

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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