‘Ron Arad talks to Matthew Collings about designing chairs, vases, buildings and…’, Ron Arad
Bit of a strange blog entry this one: firstly, it’s a week late, due to my recent travels around New Yoik, (where I bought an unnecessary, but not obscene, amount of books). Apologies for that, but if anyone noticed that I have indeed been putting out an entry a week for the past few months, then I imagine that you’re enjoying this enough that you won’t mind waiting an extra week.
Secondly, it’s about a book I haven’t even read: in fact it’s the review of a presentation at a book event which confused most people there, since it was by a designer and architect, not an author, who didn’t even have a book out. Being blown away by the talk, however, I did end up buying an old, overly expensive, hernia-inducingly large Phaidon book in order to have something for him to sign, (surprisingly grumpily, for a guy who had seemed so jovial on stage).
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, and you really should check out some of the links because some of his stuff, (specifically the bicycle and the Design Museum of Holon), are spectacular, and normal service should be resumed shortly.
Ron Arad at Jewish Book Week, 2012
“So, any questions?” was Ron Arad’s
ice-breaking opening line, and from that moment on he presented a fascinating, hilarious hour-long talk which could easily still be going on. “Five minutes?” he queried when informed that time was almost up. “I need five hours!”
Such is the breadth of Arad’s work, as the designer provided running commentary on a PowerPoint presentation revealing the origins of, and occasional technical problems behind, some of his most famous works.
In science and technology a surprising amount of the things which become part of our everyday lives come about inadvertently, through error or play or unexpected consequences, from the Internet to penicillin. With an infectiously playful personality, it seems that the same is true of Arad’s designs: he says he didn’t even know he was a designer until named as such in a magazine in the 1980s. Ordering a thick, wide strip of metal to play with resulted in his world famous Bookworm bookshelves
; wondering whether the same metal would work for bicycles
resulted in other, equally striking pieces.
And when a company offers you the use of their state-of-the-art machinery to design any chair you could imagine? Arad’s answer was simple: take a block of metal and:
“…beat the hell out of it until it admits to being comfortable!”
The evening threw up a series of fascinating questions: do American galleries have a sense of humour? do Chinese bookshelves need space for scrolls? what is a designer doing at Jewish Book Week? All were answered, to one degree or another: no; who knows, but they’re not happy when a bookshelf in the shape of China doesn’t include Hong Kong; and he’s not sure, and he’s not even a very good Jew.
It also offered a chance to learn about the financial side of design manufacturing when an audience member asked if machinery had to be specially built for each new item. The machines and tools required, he was informed, are the most expensive part of the process, meaning that companies have to be sure that the final product will sell well before they decide to manufacture it. Arad will have few concerns on that count: his first bookworms, originally commissioned by Italian company Kartell “for column inches,” merely to create publicity, went on to be the company’s best selling product for several years.
As time ran out on the evening, after tales of late-night shop visits from an unrecognised Jean Paul Gaultier and the joys of works getting to ‘meet’ each-other for the first time at retrospectives, the audience was treated to a behind-the-scenes guided tour of the incredible Design Museum Holon
outside Tel Aviv, Israel. Arad discussed the project in words, pictures and videos
, as well as providing a tantalising look at a project put on hold in Jerusalem of a sculpture which uses the sunlight to project ever-moving shadows of Jerusalem stone onto the ground.
Ron Arad may have been happy to go on talking for another five hours: the audience seemed happy to listen for another five days.