Artist Martino Gamper’s work in "100 Chairs in 100 Days", now on at RMIT’s Design Hub, is about more than just chairs – it’s about society, community, making, unmaking, city and context.
In conversation with Design Hub curator, Fleur Watson, Gamper reflects on the impact of the exhibition on his artistic practice.
Watson: 100 Chairs in 100 Days is a long-term project, initially launched in 2007. What have you learnt from the project, nearly 10 years on, and how has it continued to impact on your ongoing practice?
Gamper: The project has taught me that research is a very important part of a practice.
100 Chairs was not commissioned in any formal way and there was no direct reason or client involved. It was driven by a very simple idea that was self-initiated and by instinct and highlighted the importance of carving out the time and space to continue to research.
It also put me on the design map and communicated a process and approach to design that was quite different to what was shown in design shows and magazines at the time.
Was choosing the chair as a typology a deliberate move, or could it have been another singular object?
Yes, it was deliberate. A chair is an object in our everyday lives. It holds our weight and responds to our bodies. Over time, it can become symbolic of who we are, almost as a reflection of ourselves, our style, age and preferences.
Yet you can also find chairs discarded on the street even when they are not useless. As consumers, we buy, use and then – when we find something we like better – we release them for a new thing.
Chairs seem to go through this evolution very quickly. What you find on the street speaks to the ideas that society has rejected – it reveals something about our culture and the direction that we are taking as a community.
The notion of “making” is very much part of your process but equally the process of “unmaking”. How important is this process to your practice?
Yes, the unmaking is important. Firstly, finding a chair on the street and choosing whether or not to pick it up. Then in the studio I deconstruct them, discovering and understanding who designed the object, how well it was designed, how it was constructed, what the material is, and so on.
You also discover how people fix things by adding screws or string or other materials to find ways of modifying the object. By taking away the layers you can see the intersection of the chair underneath. The process of taking the chairs apart creates a clean slate, or a tabula rasa.
A key aspect of the 100 Chairs project is that you make a new 100th chair (in a single day) for every iteration of the exhibition, and on location in that particular city as the show travels.
How might the 100th chair you produced in Marugame, Japan, be different to the one you might make in Melbourne, Australia, for example?
When I meet the chairs again in a new city and context, I feel a bit like their “father figure” in a way.
When they go back into their crates and move on I kind of forget about them until they emerge again, when I really look at them and reconnect. Every time is different.
The architecture of each city and the context that the chairs will be displayed in has an effect on the making of the 100th chair.
Each of them recalls a particular place. Each is a synthesis of the travelling, the making and the conversations that I had in that place.
Visiting your studio in London it’s clear that you have a particularly strong community around you.
It seems the very antithesis of the celebrity culture that can surround design. How do you see this community as contributing to your work and process?
I have always felt the interest in collaborating with others. I think I’ve always needed the space outside an institution to develop my own work, but I also needed people to develop ideas collaboratively. I quickly realised that by sharing ideas I got a lot further and learnt much more.
When I was at the Royal College of Art, London, Ron Arad was leading the design products course and he always made sure the young designers were sharing a very small, intimate space.
It created a very intense environment and we were very competitive with each other but we also shared and helped each other, so it was a healthy competition. I think that experience really taught me how to work openly with other people.
100 Chairs in 100 Days is part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program Project Series and is on at the Design Hub, corner Victoria and Swanston Streets, Melbourne, until Saturday 9 April.
Story: Fleur Watson