The twofold characterization of Sebastian Errazuriz as a designer and an artist has bedeviled his endeavors for over a decade now. This much is apparent in the dialectical introductory texts to his first monograph, The Journey of Sebastian Errazuriz (Gestalten 2012), to say nothing of the work itself, which resists characterization as a tightrope walker hovers between life and death. So too does the prolific 'creator-of-things' (for lack of a better term) walk a taut line of irony—navigating a narrow space between understatement and overstatement—and make it look easy.
Yet Errazuriz is also glad to show us that unerring lines of reasoning often lead to the absurd results. To mix the metaphor, he picks at the seams of a reality that is ready to burst, only to discover that nothingness trickles out. This sheer viscosity of meaning—i.e., its essential fiction—is precisely what drives the Chilean-born, UK- and US-educated, NYC-based polymath to simultaneously subvert and elevate objects, ideas and symbols into, well, art.
Autopsy Desk (2009)
Thus, the "Autopsy Desk" marks a felicitous opening to the survey of his oeuvre, organized loosely by medium to suggest a retrospective taxonomy to his broad practice. I would have preferred to see the work in chronological order... albeit partly because I was (pleasantly) surprised, every few pages or so, to discover works that I had never seen before. Nevertheless, the desk—commissioned by none other than meme-friendly persona Keanu Reeves—is an easy metaphor for Errazuriz's morbidly incisive body of work.
The Journey of Sebastian Errazuriz is available now in Europe and will be available in the U.S. shortly. Those of you in London for the festivals can see some of the work in person at the exhibition of the same name at Kenny Schachter / Rove Gallery, which runs through September 23; the book launch and reception will be this coming Wednesday, September 19, from 7–11PM.
Whether or not you make it to Hoxton for the opening, Sebastian has also obliged us with an exclusive Q&A on the occasion of the book and exhibition.
Nada de Nada (Nothing at All) (2002)
Core77: First of all, congratulations on the new book. How does it feel to realize the first of what will surely be many monographs?
Sebastian Errazuriz: It feels great, but It's funny you mention it, since the book is out I can't help thinking of the next one. Don't get me wrong: this is a really a fun book jammed with 10 years of projects and ideas; but as you pointed out every monograph is timely and therefore incomplete. It's impossible not to wish you had been able to include the latest project you finished yesterday or the one you are planning next week. Maybe digital books in the future will automatically upgrade to the new, latest version like our current computer software do.
The Tree Memorial of a Concentration Camp (2006)
C77: Whether you are working in art or design (more on that later), your work addresses everything from life and death to religion and politics, always with a duly ironic or irreverent twist. Your practice runs the gamut from product design to urban interventions; do you see these projects as opposing ends of a single creative spectrum or as entirely disparate forms of expression?
SE: I am not sure. I think I see art and design as historically different parallel disciplines or languages coexisting together, constantly overlapping and blurring the boundaries between each other. The strict rigid definition and separation of each one is a much more arbitrary and simplistic than its true fluidity. There's obviously no 'art neuron' or 'design neuron.' The wall between both areas is merely a cultural construction, upheld to differentiate and protect the different disciplines, their specific experts, students and their markets.
C77: Of course, even as artist/designers blur the line between the two disciplines, art and design remain, at best, in dialogue. It's practically moot at this point, but I have to wonder if you feel that you've contributed to the conversation? (Cf. Christian Viveros-Fauné's nice articulation of your categorical agnosticism in the introduction to the book.)
SE: I hope the art critic Christian Viveros is right and I'm contributing a tiny part in attempting to tear down the boundaries between both disciplines. I work really hard to find those ideas that my intuition tells me are attempting to capture the simplicities and complexities of our daily routines.
Lego Helmet (2001)
As opposed the common notion of "design" or Italian "disegno," I don't try to draw new styles in the same way I don't try to force upon others my personal brand of aesthetics. Instead, I seek those ideas that hopefully always existed—ideas that feel natural and obvious to all of us because this alternative was always there but maybe no one had seen it before.
So if I tried to sum up my bilateral work process, I would say that as a designer I try to incorporate existential functions that have historically belonged to the art world and as an artist I reject the old established notion that "Art has no function" and attempt instead to incorporate practical, social and political functions that will force the viewer to be aware of concepts they might have overlooked.
New York Chairs (2010)
C77: Conversely, your work might also be described as what the late Tobias Wong called 'paraconceptual' design, meaning "of, relating to, or being conceptual." Do you think this is an accurate descriptor of your work, or simply another empty label?
SE: For the past years the "Design Art" label has unfortunately been coined by a new extension of the previous 20th century decorative furniture market. Design galleries discovered they could make money by giving major contemporary architects a free pass to create flashy signature furniture pieces which where mostly only extensions of their overly branded aesthetical styles.
I feel extremely fortunate to participate of that "Design Art" market and both exhibit and sell my work next to these fat cats; but I don't feel identified by the "Design Art" label because I couldn't care less what "new" piece Zaha Hadid or Karim Rashid made. Truth is we already know exactly what each of their new works is going to look like. I would like to be labeled instead by a more honest "Design Art" notion that is conceptually based on a collaborative dialogue and investigation that seeks to evolve and push forward in a similar way we would expect science or technology to evolve and grow.
Complete; R. Mutt Is Dead (2002)
If the general notion of "Design Art" is understood today as extensions of big brand aesthetics, then I would much rather be defined by a more specific label like the one Tobias Wong used. The day my function becomes copying my own signature style, I hope to have the courage and integrity to retire.
C77: I think one of the reasons I like your work is because it follows the grand tradition of the artist-prankster, from Duchamp to Cattelan, but also the likes of Borges, evoking alternate realities. (The Metamorphosis bookshelf is quite Borgesian indeed.) Are there any other artists, in the broad sense (architecture, film, literature, etc.), that influence your work? Besides art and design, where do you seek inspiration?
SE: I think what you point out is incredibly important; the capacity to disregard the sanctity of previous conventions and be able to mock the restricting paradigms is an important part of the historical rebellion to old notions and a consequent exercise of creative practice.
Duck Fan (2010)
In terms of influence I do have a huge Pantheon of Artists I naturally follow; but I tend to admire each of them for a particular "superpower" that makes them great: so in that sense I admire Maurizio Cattelan's wit and humor, Takashi Murakami's workaholic drive, Gabriel Orozco's subtle intuition and so on the list of heroes continues... These artists inspire me to be a more complete and attempt to be a better professional, but I normally find my work inspiration in much more normal and mundane everyday situations.
I actually find a lot of inspiration for example in these false "Déjà-Vus" I experience where I could be absentmindedly looking at a street corner or flipping through a magazine and I briefly think I saw something exciting and different and yet when I return and look again I notice there was actually nothing there and what I saw just popped up as an idea in my head instead. It's as if my mind was having hallucinations, playing tricks on me, suggesting alternate realities to the one that is really in front of me. Many of those alternate realities can sometimes seem more logical, mysterious or interesting than the ones that we have become used to in our daily reality.
Spin-Off Stools; Moon Bowls 2011
C77: Damien Hirst—arguably the most successful living artist of his generation (if not all time)—boasts some two hundred employees to do his bidding. Your work, on the other hand, has a more expressly 'designerly' quality, and I understand that you like to take part in the fabrication of the work. Do you have any thoughts about this curious role reversal, where the artist is manufacturing goods and the designer is handcrafting his work?
SE: I think you are pointing out a true phenomenon that is definitely happening. In the case of Damien Hirst, I believe he is a brilliant artist who deserves the success he has achieved, but like any growing company or brand; the moment he is too successful and expands too much its original nature changes and it becomes extremely difficult to continue delivering the same personal, intimate and uncontaminated intuition that he was capable of capturing and reflecting before the crazy expansion and fame.
Golf Umbrella; Glove Dress (2005)
I could only dream of one day having a small part of his resources and team at my creative disposal, but I think you need to know when the quality of the work starts getting lost and have the guts to refuse the extra money, stop the expansion, return to basics and secure the integrity of your creations. I also personally need to get my hands dirty and control the process, it also helps to sometimes shut down the brain and simply do something with my hands, discover the pleasure of a small advance in your technique, smell the materials, feel the surfaces and be immersed in the work.
I guess it's already a privilege and an honor to just get to that level of success where you can actually grow so much that you risk losing yourself. I still have a long way to go before I ever have the chance of confronting that abyss. Hopefully, if I am lucky to ever be standing there, I will have the courage to make the right choice.
Piano Shelf (2001)
C77: You've mentioned how you prefer to execute an idea as quickly and completely as possible in order to bring it into the world and move on to the next project (a case of an Attention-Deficit Designer, perhaps). What are you working on these days? Any surprises in store for us?
SE: Yes, I am really happy and lucky to be preparing a whole battery of projects. One of my favorites new projects is a series of art pieces that attempt to invite the viewer to look again at disabled people... I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I promise I'll send some images soon and I really hope you guys will enjoy the same contradictions and complexities that fascinate me about the pieces.
The Journey of Sebastian Errazuriz
Kenny Schachter / Rove Gallery
33–34 Hoxton Square
London, N1 6NN
September 14 – 23, 2012
Book launch & reception: September 19, 2012, 7–11PM