There's something almost accidental about Sebastian Brajkovic's distorted Lathe series—like what might happen if you were to grab the edge of a chair to move it, but instead of moving, it transformed into putty in your hands, pooling up and pouring onto the floor as it dragged across the room.
Which makes sense—that's kind of what Brajkovic did. Playing around with Photoshop as a student at Design Academy Eindhoven in 2003, Brajkovic came across a feature that allowed him to grab a row of pixels in an image and drag them to any length. "I decided to try and make a chair out of it," Brajkovic says. "My head teacher back then, Hella Jongerius, encouraged me to investigate all possible movements and not go only straight with the stretching. That is how it started."
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"I was very much interested in the aspect of stretching objects that resemble our world," Brajkovic says. "It seemed to me that with this tool, this technology, we can change the way we look at time. From the aspect of the human, time seems to go faster—we use technology to speed up work—but from the aspect of the object it looks like time is slowing down to a standstill, as if it is moving in slow motion and then captured in stillness."
This exploration resulted in a set of chairs, which Brajkovic presented as part of his final exam work as "The Lathe Chairs." In a fortuitous turn of events, Julien Lombrail and Loic Le Gaillard, founders of the Carpenters Workshop Gallery came to see the final work. "They had just started up Carpenters Workshop Gallery and, at that time (2006), it was not as huge as it is now," Brajkovic says. "But they had strong ideas of what it had to become."
The gallery owners worked with Brajkovic to determine the next direction for the collection, which ended up incorporating a larger range of processes—melding traditional techniques with new technologies in a collection of surreal forms. The final iteration, an extension of Brajkovic's student work, marked the designer's first solo show in the U.S. via an exhibition at Carpenters Workshop Gallery last week titled, LATHE, which showcases the results of his exploration brought to an exciting culmination.
Conversation Piece Lathe IX Sleipnir Bench
Featuring chairs, couches, benches and tables, the pieces have roots in 18th century furniture designs that were turned on a lathe (hence the collection's namesake), spun into what were called 'spindle chairs.' Brajkovic takes that traditional process and translates it into a set of modern techniques, employing computer modeling, CNC lathes and virtual technology to arrive at something that defies expectations. From Conversation Piece, a chair that encourages its users to talk to each other, to Sleipnir, a bench meant to mimic a herd of animals on the move, the work combines historical references with a mixture of other sources of inspiration, such as processes of movement and growth.
As they began working together, the first feedback Lombrail and Le Gaillard had for the emerging designer was to shift his material focus from wood to bronze. Using bronze made the pieces much stronger and imparted on them "the monumentality of sculpture," as Brajkovic explains. Beyond that, other pieces in the collection are made of aluminum, cut on a CNC lathe. "I wanted to boost the effect of computer derived technology, so aluminum, which is then anodized, seemed to be the right choice for me," he notes.
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For Fibonacci—a chair that resembles a giant paisley as the seat twists towards the ground to form its own support—the designer began with a frontal sketch, them moved back and forth between pencil, paper and Autocad to develop the piece. "[In Autocad,] it looked too mathematical, so I took the copy from the printer to begin hand drawing the front view—something close to the [initial] theme but more elegant." This combined process extends to each piece in Brajovic's collection, he constantly makes careful adjustments to the Autocad file, stretching and distorting various lines to fine-tune the final form.
From there, Brajkovic takes the design into a virtual reality environment. Using an Oculus Rift, Brajkovic is able to walk around the piece and get a sense of what it will feel like in terms of scale and form. "The forms and shapes tell a story of contradictions between past and present," the designer says. "I try to make complete works where all the [conflicting] elements are encapsulated [in one form]. Juxtapositions—wrong-right, old-new, soft-hard, artisan work-modern age technology—cannot exist without each other."
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When the form feels right, Brajkovic's team 3D prints a model which is later cast in bronze. Once it is cast, wood is added as a support for the final upholstery. In the case of Fibonacci, the final touch is an intricate embroidery that warps with the chair as it spills towards the floor. "I wanted this piece, with is its elegant and feminine shape, to have the hand embroidery you often see in haute couture fashion," Brajkovic says. "So we worked with Maison Lesage, a renowned institute in Paris that works with all the luxury brands." Embroidery and bronze are the central materials for the Lathe collection. "I like the eminent but hard expression of bronze, it goes well with the softness of upholstered fabrics," Brajkovic says. For Fibonacci, the bronze was painted silver before the embroidered upholstery was attached to the structure of the chair. From inception to execution, the entire piece took three years to build.
The Lathe series will be on view at Carpenters Workshop Gallery through July 2nd, 2016.