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Between Art and Design

The proposal¿which in this article we will follow as a conjoined process of works open to the effects of their own behavior in a specific context, rather than as an exhibition¿posited from the start an ideal viewer: design firms or sponsors interested in mass-manufacturing the designed lamps. ADRIANA HERRERA TÉLLEZ For the exhibition titled Luna Park, Alejandra von Hartz Gallery invited six artists who reside in Miami or were educated there to explore the intersection between their artistic language and the production of functional lighting objects or light environments. The idea then emerged of creating lamps that could work as prototypes, ideally to be produced as any design object to be used in both public and private spaces. The proposal¿which in this article we will follow as a conjoined process of works open to the effects of their own behavior in a specific context, rather than as an exhibition¿posited from the start an ideal viewer: design firms or sponsors interested in mass-manufacturing the designed lamps. One of the most interesting aspects of this inquiry is that the majority of the participating artists¿Gean Moreno, Ernesto Oroza, Gavin Perry, Daniel Arsham, Martin Oppel and Luis Gispert¿have worked in differennt modes of subverting canons, including the absorption into their own work of the cultural practices of design and ornamentation among the lower classes or in restrictive historical moments; the assimilation of elements of industrial production into the creation of unique works; the use, prior to this group project, of prefabricated and cheap materials; and the transformation of objects or interior spaces through shifts in perspective, unusual physical interventions, or the reproduction of their form in unexpected materials. Although their various languages oscillate between the creation of universes with completely controlled effects and an openness towards gesture and chaos, we can say that what brings them close to each other is a certain rarefied estrangement from the familiar. They destabilize habits and borders between fields, and in general share a certain critical distance with respect to the usual commercialization channels. Nevertheless, this hybridization of art and design (where each artist¿s signature was protected) was posited as a negotiation that openly sought avenues for reproduction and commercialization. ¿More than skirting the currents of everyday exchange, these objects will jump on them to see how well they manage,¿ announced the press release for the show. The process of creation of the lamps by Moreno, Oroza¿originally educated as a designer¿and Perry harks back to a certain guild-like atmosphere, with its inevitable association with a time when the distinction between artist and artisan had not been formalized, since the three of them share a studio and maintain an uninterrupted dialog. They have converged on several group shows and the first two¿interested in documenting ¿coldly,¿ without idealization, the alternative decorative logics in marginal areas such as Miami¿s Little Haiti¿have produced collaborative works that display a technological or artistic disobedience of tact parameters and also an interest in subcultures similar to Gispert¿s. How can what derives from forms of resistance to the separation between arts and crafts, high and low culture, and the very process of estrangement from the habitual (as is evident in Gispert, Ashram, and Oppel, the three of them based in New York) converge in a collective proposal for the artistic creation of functional objects that aspire to their insertion into the logic of design? While the notion of beauty was brought into crisis early on in the history of art, pragmatic functionality continued to be banned from the work of art, to the point that the apparent freedom of the avant-garde to randomly choose neutral and found objects was almost a tacit prescription to void them of practical utility. What is valuable in Luna Park¿s process of creating works that respond to concrete needs for lighting that are nevertheless invested with personal artistic expression, is the way in which it inserts itself on the porous border between art and design. Given the trajectory of most of the participant artists, this presumes a series of decisions loaded with internal tension and a series of subversive practices. As we notice as we look at the resulting decorative objects, the tensions have not faded out. The works are hybrid and the process of their gestation is an expandable, unresolved exploration. The Lampshades, from Oroza¿s Technological Disobedience, emerge from his assimilation of a mechanical accident in a factory in Havana. A Japanese machine used in the production of medical instruments in acrylic broke and there was a spill. The supervisor asked for the acrylic, still in a liquid state, to be cleared. As the workers attempted to pick it up, a cascade of pink-colored acrylic formed and the liquid started to pool on the floor. Some started using this spilled material to create lamps or decorative pieces. In a few weeks, this creative process expanded through the island and people began to reproduce it in their homes to create for themselves objects that the Special Period had made inaccessible. ¿Manual gestures thus fused with industrial technological principles,¿ Oroza says. In Miami, he has channeled his interest toward the way immigrants interpret new technologies and the existence of standard-measurement warehousing materials that can be found in stores like Home Depot. These ¿technological goods¿ that, as he notes, are available to recent arrivals or to individuals educated in a different era, are brought into households with variants connected to the dynamics of survival in places like Little Haiti and Hialeah. ¿I am interested in inquiring into the encounter of those reservoirs of materials with the local culture demands,¿ he says. His way of emulating this process of design hybridization and contamination¿studied by Gaetano Pesce¿was to create two lamp models with only white-silicon tubes: two for the circular ones and three for the rectangular ones. The Lampshades reproduce the gesture of workers manipulating the silicon. In this way, the artist operates as a social observer who appropriates a type of gestural design, linked in his invention to practices of survival, and who manufactures an object aimed at being purchased by a design firm: two prototypes for lamps that are attractive for being unusual. The circular model contains reminiscences of those Tiffany lamps that in Cuba were associated with luxury. In the island, his lamps¿which include the seal of his interest in the ¿architecture of need,¿ and within it interior design¿would have functioned as a temporary substitute, a resistance against the restrictions on functional goods that nevertheless would not have canceled the desire to possess the originals. In a Miami gallery, these unusual designs possess an aesthetic of their own and are seductive in themselves. His Lampshades insert technological disobedience into a different logic of production: they mix a consumer good with a unique aesthetic that makes the popular-class object more sophisticated. It would be very difficult for these lamps, created with cheap materials but from a conceptual and artistic matrix, to respond to the demands of mass production. Yet they would conform to the sensibility of consumers willing and ready to purchase design lamps reproduced in limited editions. Moreno notes that it would suffice to cover the ceiling of a café with these lamps to create a seductive atmosphere. The potential to generate a particular ambiance is shared by the majority of the prototypes. ¿Originally, the show was to address an imagined viewer: a mass producer. But in the manufacturing process we discovered a different kind of audience, one that notices how each one of the lamps possesses a unique potential for expansion,¿ says Moreno, whose art was already proposing parodies of desirable objects and even gestures of cancellations¿such as scratching¿of the works themselves. The title of the lamp he designed is [NAME] Screen. It was one of the least conventional, thanks to its intersection with a kind of pinewood shelf that refers to his own Elephant exhibition, where he used inexpensive construction wood as frames and shelves for his canvases and displayed the reverse of the works. His Screen brings together an intentionally dirty aesthetics with a demand for functional objects that are not only ¿cleaner¿ but also designed for their architectural insertion as if in a multiple and expandable model. The single cold-light tube in his lamp/shelf indicates that others can be added according to the consumer¿s wishes, as also happens with the horizontal plank that connects perpendicularly with the shelf, designed for books published by [NAME]. And not only that: the shelf can be multiplied modularly, the only limitation being the architectural space. In this way, this work responds to the need for light and storage created by its own production of art objects, but its use could be extended to cover any similar need. The principle of flexibility or of open work was the starting point for the creation. Here, the expansion is the resource that makes the object flexible and takes its functionality to the maximum level. And, on the other hand, it doesn¿t jettison its connection with the architecture of society¿s marginal sectors, where constructions are always unfinished. The model developed by Gavin Perry was one of the most apt to be mass-produced. Perry also chose a material that is commonplace and usually unnoticed in aesthetic terms, given its omnipresence in the construction field: veneer plywood. But he imposed on this material a curvature that contradicts its properties. Of his prototype, titled Bend, the artist says that it is his first attack in the realm of design. But this is inexact, since, as Tyler Emerson pointed out once, his paintings made of ribbons mass-produced for the auto industry ¿press on the dividing line not only between art and design, but also between artist and worker.¿ His subversion was to replace oil paint with the prefabricated palette of 40 shades of ribbons, suspending his own status as artist in order to approach the condition of the anonymous workers in the automobile industry. His studio is littered with traces of the models he attempted¿a square piece with a circular section¿ before arriving at his final design. ¿I wanted to take something that has usually been considered rigid and stable, and break down those attributes,¿ Perry says. He chose veneer plywood as his base material and used physical and chemical processes to reduce its rigidity. The appearance of the material was altered by cutting, but this did not ¿free¿ it. In order to destabilize it, he subjected the wood to vapor and, once it was bent, held it with plastic fasteners. Perhaps a single lamp would not have had the same decorative effect as the light unit with six beautifully bent lamps, in natural tones that showcase the veneers in the outside and a pattern of carved lines in perfect geometry inside, the latter reminding us of the symmetry present in his paintings with automobile ribbons. And besides their beauty, they are decidedly functional. Perry, who is also creating sculptures based on the intervention of decorative objects such as rugs, questions the border between artist and artisan and proposes an osmosis between art and design objects. Luis Gispert¿s lamp model, Stylus, echoes the rarefied atmosphere of his photographs of interiors of family homes. In itself, it consists of the use of a shape connected with a function (the arm that held the head of an old pick-up record player) in a different one. That ¿agonizing object,¿ as he puts it, used only by hard-core music lovers or DJs, is salvaged as a contemporary object by an inversion of its shape, and by giving it a function not auditory but light-based. Although Gispert made his prototype in wood, it can be produced in aluminum and used in applications for interiors or exteriors. Due to its strangeness and low functionality, it could be classified as an art object rather than as a design model destined for mass production, and though it could function well as a multiple and a particular example of applied art that preserves its connections with the structures into which Gispert has placed hip-hop objects, giving them a different functional design. What is essential is their capacity to alter the relationship between observer and object. The shapes, forcefully separated from their function but transferred to another, unexpected one, traverse the notion of the found object but subvert it, inserting it in the pragmatic realm of design while maintaining a charge of estrangement. They capture our gaze through recognition, and at the same time, they ravage it. Light Box Lam, Martin Oppel¿s design, breaks with usual schemes of consumption and production by means of a strategy that doesn¿t transform the packaging the way Rauschenberg would, one that preserves the original box of a dozen light bulbs as a prototype. His lamp is nothing more than the same object inside its packaging, which rather than being discarded, is intervened with white painting that emulates its possible finish if it were mass-produced in cement or other heat-resistant materials. The prototype in the gallery was made in cardboard and contains low-wattage bulbs. Oppel¿s interest focused on highlighting the kind of design economy that forces the shape of containers to be dictated by the characteristics of the product inside them. Already in previous works he had used materials such as bricks (with which he also installed a ziggurat in Bajo el ocaso) or loading pallets, or cheap white plastic chairs. Inverting their legs, he changed them into the bones of a humorous skeleton. His work does not trick the eye, it is really functional. It preserves the package¿s ¿minimalistic simplicity¿ in the design of a lamp-in-the-box and installs it on the floor without any kind of support. In this way, the packages function as found shapes and a simple alteration suffices to move to mass production or to limited editions. Both are possible with the Light Box Lamp, which, by revaluing the unnoticed package design proposes an aesthetics that is contrary to waste and turns things destined for the trash heap not, art objects but decorative and functional ones. Common objects changed by perspective, material, or treatment, they are no longer discarded or ignored thanks to his vision, which implies a reappropriation of manufacture. Daniel Arsham did not move far from his usual way of working; here he provokes the extraordinary by altering the domesticity of perception by forcing walls or doors to behave in unusual ways. For his lamp, he took advantage of the play with appearances by making a rigid wall to create folds as if it were fabric, a resource already incorporated in his artistic language. But this wall, destabilized for perception, was made functional by the harmonious integration of a fluorescent light tube. ¿Without adding any new material I have created the illusion that the light accessory is woven behind the wall. The light seems to dig to the center, as if the wall¿s tension and elasticity were absorbing it,¿ he wrote. Once again he reasserts his conviction that, though we live in landscapes that are culturally and physically fixed, it is enough to reveal the unexpected within them to subvert their condition. The work of this artist, a genius at destabilizing the properties of the materials used in inhabited spaces and the way we perceive, is the least well inserted into a mode of mass production or serialization of design, although it could well be an installation with multiple editions. It demonstrates however that a functional intervention can continue to preserve the rank of artwork. Alejandra von Hartz recognizes that there has not been enough time for us to consider the process she proposes closed. Perhaps the idea of mass production for all these prototypes was ¿fantasy,¿ but not that of limited editions, which continues to be viable. Luna Park was one of those rare exhibitions that direct us towards a thought process in construction where openness and hybridization are key features. ?