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Daniella On Design - Against The Grain

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Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design

In furniture design, wood is considered the most traditional and therefore the most conservative of all materials. After all, the ancients crafted their furniture out of wood and it has been the principle furniture material for centuries. A new exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design, which I visited last week, offers a dramatic and new perception of wood, presenting it as a cutting-edge material in contemporary art and design.

Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft, and Design features objects by artists, designers, and craftspeople from all over the world that harness new energy and fresh thinking. In their hands, wood is far from old-fashioned, but rather it's a progressive material, full of creative drive. These artists represent a spectrum of philosophy, but they all embrace wood to create fascinating, radical, and forward-looking objects.

The section devoted to political statements is particularly intriguing. Malcolm's Chicken I, which Willie Cole created from matches, wax, and brooms, alludes to the inflammatory rhetoric of Malcom X. Grapes, by the Chinese activist and architect Ai Weiwei, is made of ten Qing Dynasty stools, and suggests a transfiguration of history in response to human rights abuses.

Hugo França carves his furniture by indigenous woodworking techniques, using gigantic trees that he finds throughout his native Brazil. His sensibility allows the tree's character to determine the final design. Wendell Castle, on the other hand, crafted this armchair in the stack lamination technique, which he formulated in the 70s, a technique that has since become his signature.

In 1992, Frank Gehry designed the Pito, a tea kettle for Alessi. Laurel Roth carves wood inlayed with crystals into skulls of chimpanzees and sheep. Bud Latven combines various exotic woods into a spectacular texture. Nina Bruun created a chair that invokes a bird's nest. Matthias Pliessnig revisits the steam bentwood technique and Irish designer Joseph Walsh's energetic shelf celebrates bentwood ash. These artists and designers refresh our conception of wood, generating profound recognition and stunning novelty in the same breath.

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