Designer Sebastian Errazuriz thinks its time to go beyond esthetics and reason
There is an old piano hanging from the ceiling in the middle of designer Sebastian Errazuriz’s studio. Some of its keys are missing, the white paint is chipping off the wooden frame. When asked if he is not concerned about that thing coming down all of a sudden, he squints and shakes his head calmly. It’s his perhaps somewhat eccentric way of reminding himself about the uncertainty of our fleeing existence.
The cheeky newcomer in the New York design scene became known for his Porcupine Cabinet which can be opened from any side, questioning traditional rules of purpose and function. He follows his own vision of redefining the established order of things and believes that we have reached a point in which we have to apply a deeper meaning, rather than mere aesthetics.
The humorous Chilean enjoys causing the occasional stir with his works. Right at the entrance of his studio, a nondescript warehouse in Williamsburg, one of his visually most striking objects is to be found: Magistral Cabinet. The wardrobe, adorned with 80,000 bamboo skewers, goes beyond its average call of storage duty, acting as a guardian and warning any snoop not to come near.
We meet the designer while he was preparing his latest work titled Occupy Chair for Design Miami hosted in Basel, Switzerland, from June 12 -14.
You are a designer as well as an artist - how does that work?
I love doing both. Interestingly, if you look at history there is no artist or designer who has been acknowledged by critics from both sides. We are so used to being boxed in. Warhol for example was a graphic designer before he became an artist. Le Corbusier was a painter too but his paintings were considered a mere curiosity. I want to be one of those people who help tear down the barriers. You can have artists and designers working in both fields and can get the strength in one area to boost a weakness in the other.
Do you think art and design will essentially become one?
Both are definitely different disciplines and have their own codes and sets of rules. I think design can be an artform. When you are doing design with the rules of art, that’s when the pieces really merge and truly become “design-art” because it fulfills the rules and functions of both disciplines: you get an artistic piece that is capable of evoking emotion and simultaneously fulfills a function.
Does that mean art as we know it might become obsolete?
I think for a long time the golden rule that art is not supposed to be functional has been convenient for most artists, allowing them to look after their own interests and to work on something that is self-satisfying. But it no longer works. Why should art not fulfill a responsible function and suit the artist at the same time?
How would you describe your approach to work?
Knowing when to design and when not to design. I am trying to do pieces that incorporate psychological, existential and sculptural functions; and to get art to actually be functional. From an artist’s point of view I feel it’s not only about what the spectator takes out of it. And as a designer it is not enough anymore to just make a pretty table. It seems we have lost touch with reality a bit and have a longing to get it back.
Where does your obsession with death come from or shall we rather put it “the irony of life”?
I looked after my grandfather before he died. When you are young you are very aware of death. I feel very fortunate to have spent this time with an elderly person and that I got to know his views on the world. I was always sad at my birthdays because it was a year less that I had to live. That has put things into perspective for me: if I do something it better be worthwhile.
What about humor? Do you laugh a lot?
I love humor. If there is a funny element in your work you can immediately share it. Humor also helps to talk about difficult things like death and make people not block it out immediately. When something is funny there is generally some truth behind it. I laugh a lot on my own. Especially about my ideas, which tend to come out of the blue.
When you say “out of the blue” you’re talking about inspired moments, right?
Kind of. I feel like this is one of the most rewarding jobs you could have because I get to experience all my ideas inside my head, even if I don’t realize some of them in the end. It is weird, it feels like I am getting these emails from this unknown friend who is constantly sending me all these amazing and crazy images that reflect what I am supposed to be or I am supposed to believe in. Then I start deconstructing these ideas to understand how complex they really are.
What will you be showing for Design Miami Basel?
The pieces shown are called Occupy Chairs and will be installed on a wall so they become like paintings. On each one I have printed text from banners from the Occupy movement. We all know the “We are the 99%” phrase, and its critique of the wealthy 1% who are living at the cost of others. I wanted to reference the 1% “buying” the critique of the 99% by purchasing these chairs. And I want to question what position I, as the artist, am taking when selling this work.
Do you have a bucket list?
I don’t really...because I do what I like doing. One of my favourite projects was the one where some of my friends bought a cow from the slaughterhouse in Santiago and put it up on the rooftop of a commercial building for a week. The project took almost two years to bring to fruition. We even built a cow mobile to take it through the streets. There was grass rolled out on the building, we put out some sofas, got dressed in suits and drank whiskey while watching the sunset over the city. It was just amazing.