Day two of Cape Town’s Design Indaba began very promisingly, with a demonstration of the best that South African animation has to offer. Jannes Hendrikz and Markus Smit from The Black Heart Gang showed their beautiful 2006 short film, The Tale of How. The Black Heart Gang are interesting in that they’re just a trio comprised of a video-maker, an illustrator, and a writer/musician and that, between them, have produced such well-crafted and involving work…
The BHG have also produced a series of 13 prints based on scenes from the film (which was originally written as a poem by Smit). The success of The Tale of How led them onto a similarly sea-bound spot for United airlines, in which a lobster conducts an animal orchestra.
Next up was Commonwealth, the Brooklyn-based studio formed by husband and wife David Boira and Zoë Boira-Coombes.
Impossible to pigeon-hole, these architecturally-trained designers have been responsible for making, or collaborating in producing, all manner of objects where the process of creation often mixes cutting edge technologies with traditional craft.
Furniture is key to them, but they’ve turned their hand (and in some cases their studio-based three axis CNC mill) to a range of work: from record sleeves for Warp, vases with Josh Davis designs, bronze door handles to, most recently, a pair of bright green masks, complete with hand-plugged horse hair.
Boira’s father was an artist and in a revealing diptych, a picture of Boira Snr showed him working on a large canvas; clearly an important echo from the past as, twenty years later, a photo of the younger Boira showed him adopting a similar pose as he got to work on a Commonwealth project.
Indeed, for all their contemporary technical know-how (which is vast) and mastery of materials, the pair reveal an innate love of making things.
They often use animation tools to instigate the design of a project – as in their Fleshless Floor created for a NYC gallery space – but the end result, in this case, also relies on the natural beauty of layered wood and a particular finishing technique that makes the surface look like skin.
Boira-Coombes put it nicely when she said that, for Commonwealth, the “technological tools have given us a change to engage with the traditional processes. They’re a mode for translating your ideas better.”
The studio also challenged the ideas of exterior/interior relationships via a beautiful table and bureau set, that reveals a luxurious, wet-looking, sensual area within each sliding drawer; adding an intimacy to an otherwise minimally designed exterior.
“We sometimes don’t know how to control the things we work with,” said Boira-Coombes, “our best work could be in 20 years. We really don’t know what’s coming.” Whatever is, it’s undoubtedly going to be exciting.
From London, interiors, furniture and product designers BarberOsgerby gave a run through of their working process and induced the first collective “ahhhhh” from the audience when they revealed the final outcome of their Iris Table project for Established & Sons on the big Indaba screen:
Each striped segment is a piece of anodised aluminum. It’s heavy and much, much bigger than it looks in this picture (about four feet across at a guess?). I think the BarberOsgerby boys have collected a fair few new fans in Cape Town.
Dai Fujiwara, creative director of Issey Miyake proved to be an inspired choice for the Indaba line-up.
He explained the genesis of the A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) concept and the intrinsic ‘flatness’ of fabric that, in the creation of a garment, becomes three-dimensional. The A-POC idea is centred around interactivity, with the consumer cutting out a shape for an item of clothing from two pieces of material.
The notion of “hidden stories” also permeated Fujiwara’s accounts of the research processes that go on at the Japanese studio. Color Hunting is one such example.
Fujiwara showed a film of his trip to the Amazon jungle to research the specific colour palette of the environment, to be used in a collection. His team were shown matching colour swatches to giant leaves, tree trunks, flowers and, bizarrely, the river itself.
While such a project certainly raised a few knowing eyebrows, it seemed that – pretentions aside – this was more about the vision of someone determined enough to carry an initial concept through to its conclusion.
Indeed, writing off Fujiwara’s Amazonian Color Hunting as a frivolous exercise was by the by.
What proved interesting was that, rather than one leaf being much the same colour as another, the meticulous colour comparisons revealed a range of “weak greens”, of light beige and, when it came to matching the colour of the river, among the light browns and greys, a hitherto undetected peach tone emerged. Back in the studio the assembled colours looked great and knowing how they were related to one another added something quite special to the work.