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Friedman Benda's latest exhibition presents furniture from Creative Salvage movement

STIR speaks exclusively with Ron Arad, one of the designers showcasing his Creative Salvage furniture pieces at Accidents Will Happen: Creative Salvage, 1981–1991 in New York.

by Almas SadiquePublished on : Feb 02, 2022

The latest exhibition at New York-based gallery, Friedman Benda, showcases some of the early and impactful works by leading figures from the creative industry. Titled Accidents Will Happen: Creative Salvage, 1981-1991, this showcase is the first time that the Creative Salvage furniture will be exhibited internationally. The event also marks the eighth edition of the guest-curated exhibition that Friedman Benda holds annually. Curated by Gareth Williams, the works of Ron Arad, Mark Brazier-Jones, Tom Dixon, André Dubreuil, Danny Lane, Jon Mills and Deborah Thomas occupy the spaces of the Friedman Benda gallery. The exhibition is on view until February 12, 2022.

Ron Arad’s showcase at Friedman Benda gallery. Photography by Daniel Kukla. Photography by Daniel Kukla | Accidents Will Happen: Creative Salvage, 1981–1991 | Ron Arad | STIRworld
Ron Arad’s showcase at Friedman Benda gallery Image: Daniel Kukla; Courtesy of Friedman Benda

Populated by objects made by creative stalwarts, the exhibition showcases several functional pieces, all of which carry a distinctive style. As is apparent from the title of the exhibition, the pieces that dot the gallery space were all created using discarded materials and rudimentary equipments between 1981 and 1991.

In order to establish a better understanding about the Creative Salvage furniture pieces being displayed at the gallery, STIR had an exclusive conversation with British-Israeli industrial designer, Ron Arad.

Almas Sadique (AS): We know that your products Rolling Volume Prototype and Horns Armchair have been featured in the exhibition Accidents will happen: Creative Salvage, 1981-1991. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind these products?

Ron Arad (RA): At some point, I had the idea of making volumes out of metal skin, so there’s no skeleton, just skin that describes the volume and contains the volume. I made a sketch many-many years ago, in the 80s, with this idea of pieces that I can do with the volume. We made physical pieces of all the sketches except one. I thought why should everything be perfect? Why can’t you create sketches that are three dimensional? And, so, we created furniture that had no skeleton, but only skin. Later, when we got better at making it, we changed the lyrics. We thought: Why can’t a piece of furniture be like jewellery? Also, another thing to play with is the weight. When you have an empty volume, you can decide how it stands. I put sand inside it so that the weight is not in a fixed place. You can tilt it and the centre shifts and the balance shifts. But, later, in the following ones, I decided where I wanted the weight. There was something nice about making it different with different uses, but then I thought I wanted to decide where the weight is, so, and then it led to other pieces that have a lot to do with weight, like the Looming Lloyd armchair and the At Your Own Risk chair. Later, I also used this concept in cutlery.

The two elements of it are, one, the volume made out of the skin and the other one is placing the weight. And this is not to say that later I thought what if there is skin without volume, which means there’s only skin and no volume and it has its advantages.

Horns Armchair, 1985 by Ron Arad at Friedman Benda gallery. Photography by Daniel Kukla | Accidents Will Happen: Creative Salvage, 1981–1991 | Ron Arad | STIRworld
Horns Armchair, 1985 by Ron Arad at Friedman Benda gallery Image: Daniel Kukla, Courtesy of Friedman Benda

AS: How do you think the products fit in with the theme of the exhibition Accidents Will Happen?

RA: If you talk to them about it, ‘accidents will happen’. Things happen and you get an idea. I think it is clearly an accident, the pieces there in the show, what an accident! I mean curators make the selection that suits them, makes sense for them. For example, I was invited to be part of a show in 1986 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Centre Pompidou. I was the youngest person there. They wanted to celebrate all genres in design and they thought that I represent what they called Ruinism. I didn’t see myself as a Ruinist. I thought that when I chipped concrete, I am doing it to expose beauty, I did not think I was ruining anything. I think it was a wrong interpretation of what I do, but the accident was that I was invited to be a part of this very big show, and I was an outsider, I was the youngest, and was called a Ruinist and I am not complaining about this accident, it’s good. I did not say that I am not a Ruinist. If that’s what the curator sees and says, you can’t argue with it. Instead, I took this chance to make a really interesting piece, a machine for which I invited the Parisians to the Pompidou Centre with their chairs and then put them on the conveyor belt. It came out squished as a cube.

With this Creative Salvage thing, I felt like I am the odd one out there because other creators salvaged not only things but also some baroque notions. My first Creative Salvage piece in 1981 was the Rover chair that I made from materials picked from a scrap yard. This was my first furniture piece. I did not think that I was saving the world. But, after it got its success, a magazine called Friends of the Earth, an ecological magazine put this piece on the cover as a good example of how we can recycle things. I really liked this interpretation, even though it was not my intention. I did not want to save the world but I am glad that it also has this take on it, I am glad it became a part of it.

Rolling Volume Prototype, 1989 by Ron Arad at Friedman Benda gallery.  Photography by Daniel Kukla | Accidents Will Happen: Creative Salvage, 1981–1991 | Ron Arad | STIRworld
Rolling Volume Prototype, 1989, by Ron Arad at Friedman Benda gallery Image: Daniel Kukla, Courtesy of Friedman Benda

AS: How was your collaborative experience with Friedman Benda?

RA: They used to be my gallery in New York, but for many reasons, not anymore, although we have a very good relationship and they have some of my work in their collection. They did an exhibition of mine recently. I was not involved in the process, but I was invited. I could not visit, but my daughter who was there, visited.

I have an issue with galleries that devote themselves to design art. I think some photographers are great artists. They don’t need to exhibit their work in a photography gallery, they can showcase it in an art gallery that showcases all sorts of things. About what I do, I have no problem designing a chair that is for production, to be sold in a furniture store, but the work that I do has a different destination, different considerations and probably the best place to show it is an art gallery, not a gallery that’s devoted to art.

AS: Is there any philosophy that you live by?

RA: No. I mean, it’s all to do with curiosity. If you are curious about something, you ask yourself what if I do this, what if I don’t do this. What if I do a ping pong table that’s like this, not like that. What if I put sand inside a volume that means that I can change the balance.

The whole thing is, look, culture is surplus to requirement. When you don't have enough food, you will eat anything. When there’s enough food, you start looking at cookbooks and recipes. And when you have nowhere to live, you will live in any cave. When it’s not like that, you’ll talk about what style. When you’re drowning, you shout ‘Help’, and when you’re not drowning, you’ll be like the Beatles: ‘Help me if you can, I am feeling down’ and you make a rhyme. So, culture is surplus to requirement. It is why we require culture.

The exhibition ‘Accidents Will Happen: Creative Salvage, 1981–1991’ is open to the public from January 13, 2022 to February 12, 2022 at the Friedman Benda gallery in New York.

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