Of the number of designers who claim the title designer/maker or even designer/maker/artist, few compare to the work of London-based Max Lamb. On view at the Garage San Remo in Milan, visitors are welcome to explore the breadth of Lamb's material inquiry through the lens of design's favorite archetype—the chair. In the industrial space, viewers are presented with "Exercises in Seating" comprised of 40 of Lamb's chairs arranged in a monumental circle that fills the garage and acts as a nearly religious tribute to seating and material.
Entering Garage San Remo in Milan
Visitors to the exhibit are invited into the circle to try a few of the chairs (gently) and examine ways in which the chair as a form unfolds from each of the raw materials. The designer himself engages in small anecdotes about each of the pieces—discussing openly his deep-seated (no pun intended) curiosity about the material world.
Exhibition view from Exercises in Seating
We asked Lamb to elaborate on the study and shed some light on his practice.
Teshia Treuhaft: Can you tell us where in the timeline of your career has this project fallen—is it an exploration that you regularly return to?
Max Lamb: It's a project that began in 2006 for my RCA thesis. That was the first time that I adopted the idea of exercises in seating—and since then it's been continuous. There haven't been any breaks in the study. I use the format of the seat as a vehicle to channel my explorations and my investigations into materials and processes—whether I'm making a bar or a dining table or a shop interior I'm using seating as a method of practicing. So it's the true definition of a design practice— I'm practicing, practicing practicing—always evolving my understanding of materials and processes, building on my library of information and knowledge and that information then continuously gets translated back into other projects.
Whether it is seating or not is kind of irrelevant—I use seating as the vehicle.
View from Exercises in Seating.
The archetype of the chair is the quintessential challenge for designers and design students—why is seating so fascinating and will we reach a point where we have exhausted it as a line of inquiry?
No we definitely haven't exhausted the possibilities in seating but for me its not the seating. So much of my work is produced by me—it's the relationship between myself, my hands and the object which is immersive and very intimate. The chair itself is an object that is also very intimate. Perhaps one of the most intimate objects or artifacts that relates to the human form.
The chair also has to perform in a certain way—in quite a particular way—structurally it has to perform, physiologically it has to perform in terms of ergonomics and proportion, and emotionally it has to perform. The third one that is most significant to my work—it is fact that many of my pieces of furniture are not the most comfortable or lightest. They are also not the most functional and practical in the way they can be produced and reproduced.
But that isn't the point of my work. You can sit on everything that I make—on all of my chairs—but perhaps not as long as someone else's chair. The emotional connection that you can have with one of my pieces of furniture ideally transcends function or at least the emotional connection is part of that function. These things become characters and they have personality and you develop a relationship with them.
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Where is the beginning of each chairc—in the material exploration or the emotional connection? How do you blend the two into a design?
To be honest what comes first is always the material. Yes, I may have an idea that I want to create a chair or a stool or an object for sitting but the design evolves as a result of physical process or investigation into the material—understanding its capabilities and limitations and sometimes stretching those one way or the other according to the process I'm adopting to manipulate the material. So the beginning is always the medium and the idea evolves throughout that process and eventually it turns into a design.
But the design does not come first—the material does.
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How do you structure these material inquiries when you work in such a broad range of media?
They're all context specific—some of them are more ideas that I have conceived. I don't know why the ideas evolve or where they begin, but many of them are ideas I want to explore just to satisfy my curiosity.
Others are context specific because I am working for a particular person or in a particular environment, culture or country—so a brief is still something that is integral to my work. It's also something that distinguishes me from an artist. Many people often ask 'Do you consider yourself more an artist or a designer?' I would say I am a designer because I work to a brief and I aim to make objects for people that serve a purpose.
Designer Max Lamb
In terms of how I channel my ideas or why I begin working with a certain material or a certain process, it depends—I can't say to be honest. The seed of my reasoning comes down to a curiosity and living in this world. I am curious to understand the material landscape and see what's around me and think—'Could I use this? How could I use this.' Whenever I have a question I have to try and find an answer.
Thanks to Max Lamb for speaking with us, Exercises in Seating is on view at Spazio Sanremo, Via Zecca Vecchia, 3, 5vie district from April 12-19th.
Teshia Treuhaft is a Michigan-born designer. Upon graduating from back-to-back degrees, a BFA from the University of Michigan and MFA of Furniture Design from RISD, she moved to Berlin to pursue a research project considering shifting paradigms in design education. Teshia currently works at the tangible UX startup Senic.