The beauty of the brush hanger – contemporary design at the Somewhat different exhibition
When is a chair a chair? When it is used for sitting on, obviously! Yet there can be more to a chair. If you put glasses on it, it becomes a table. And if you stand on it to reach something on the top shelf, then you are using it like a ladder. This is precisely the starting point of the exhibition Somewhat different in Jakarta.
Utility items as works of art
According to another principle, if the chair is merely being observed, then it is either a broken chair or a work of art. The capacity of an object to be transformed from everyday status to that of art was demonstrated nearly a hundred years ago in French artist Marcel Duchamp’s famous piece entitled Fountain. Duchamp simply took a newly manufactured urinal, signed it and declared it at the museum to be a work of art. Consequently, the object lost its original reason for existence, i.e. its function. Time and again, the exponents of different disciplines – design and art – have tried to reach agreement on the specific function and definition of an object and thus stake out their own territory. However, as the exhibition at the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) in Jakarta demonstrates, this is no easy task. The exhibition is entitled ‘Somewhat different. Contemporary design and the power of convention.’
Plant pot doorstops and brush hangers
One of the 150 or so objects that make up the exhibition is made entirely of plastic and can be used for different purposes: a plant pot doorstop. It is white, resembles a pot and has a deep groove in the side that can accommodate a door edge almost perfectly – if it wishes. If not, the object can fall back on its other talent, that of being a plant pot. It can therefore switch quite confidently between doorstop and plant pot. Another example is the cross between a brush and a clothes hanger to produce a brush hanger! Many of the objects in the exhibition embody this two-in-one principle, although many design objects are of doubtful utility and appear to be more of a sculpture or a picture derived from mere wordplay. Take the ‘Nail brush’, for example – a brush with an outsize nail for a handle. Even a humorous play on words can take material form.
Sometimes more really is more
The exhibition catalogue contains some well-researched background articles and offers an eclectic insight into the history of materials and technology that includes the origins of the Rimowa suitcase with its characteristic grooves, now a design classic. Based in Cologne, the German luggage maker Rimowa had to deal with a shortage of materials during World War II. After the warehouse was bombed, all that was left was a stock of aluminium. The company decided to shift production, and the result was one of the lightest and most robust suitcases ever made.
The exhibition ‘Somewhat different’ covers many interesting design principles, with utility value taking second place to the experimental use of materials and haptic aesthetics. The designers have opted for new concepts such as function shifting, satirisation and the individualisation of objects. Sometimes they even refuse any possible application for their creations and thus transform their ‘everyday objects’ into works of art. Isn’t it quite understandable if they want to do something more – be an attractive household friend, embellish their surroundings, please the eye or just make people happy? So after all, more sometimes really is more.
Have you seen the exhibition? If so, can you tell others about it? Or have you seen another art exhibition recently or visited an art museum? If you would like to share your impressions with other alumni, we’d like to invite you to join our discussions in the community group entitled KULTUR – CULTURE.