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« Poor Choices: An Interview with Mark Colomb Art Around Town »

Art Wed Oct 31 2012

High Design for the Right Now: Bivouac at the MCA

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Installation view, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac, MCA Chicago. October 20, 2012 - January 20, 2013. Photo © Studio Bouroullec

Truly great design is invisible. It exists outside of our day-to-day interactions, instead seamlessly blending into everything else we do - the work, the play, the relaxation at home. You don't want a designed object to insert itself in the things you need to do, only help facilitate what happens from morning to night.

In Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's Bivouac, a mid-career retrospective and the duo's first major solo show in the United States, this idea is evident in items such as the Slow Chair or the Joyn Office System. Organized by the Centre Pompidou-Metz, Bivouac highlights the brothers' collaborative work that first began in the late 1990s. Items in the exhibition range from the above mentioned chairs and office system, to lamps, tableware, and captivating and expansive dividing wall structures.

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Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Slow Chair & Ottoman, 2007. Produced by Vitra, courtesy of Vitra. Photo © Paul Tahon and R & E Bouroullec.

In the Slow Chair, a low, hexagon-shaped chair was designed to adapt to the contours of the body. The backing of the chair is made of a flexible knitted fabric. The results allude to modern design icons such as Charles and Ray Eames or Hans Wegner. Interconnected with the feet attachments that create the complete structure, the chair, like many of the works visible throughout the show, address a common problem: how do we address and add a human element to contemporary life? Slow Chair's breathability means that while the chair can function and provide the necessary structure to please the posture, it also moves with the machinations of everyday. We often begin with a straight back and a sense of concentration upon sitting down. But long hours spent in one spot can't guarantee that alertness, and the chair adapts to the draining of energy.

Like the chair, the Joyn Office System smartly addresses the complications and frustrations of the contemporary work life. Begun as a collaboration with the Swiss manufacturer Vitra, the system is comprised of a collection of wide shared tables that adapt to the needs of the user. The brothers' work displays a keen understanding of this need and the Joyne Office System - with its ability to transform from a sleek open work space, to a re-imagined cubicle - best exemplifies this strength.

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Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Joyn, 2002. Produced by Vitra, courtesy and © Vitra.

In this case the system also displays the contemporary need for the human touch. Despite the fact that the brothers have been designing for more than 15 years, their works - both old and new - address contemporary concerns. Adding layers of humanity elevate the design. The Hoyne Office System, even with its ability to create "cubed" work spaces, is still open and inviting. The dividing "walls" block little, but still offer that sense of ownership of space for the worker. In turn, the openness means that users are able to see the people around them, to interact with them, to make eye contact with them rather than spending hours of the day in front of a computer screen. This little touch does a lot. Is it any wonder that many newly-designed office spaces use this same concept of openness to create work environments that are collaborative and breathable?

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Installation view, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac, MCA Chicago. October 20, 2012 - January 20, 2013. Photo © Studio Bouroullec

The most visually-stunning works include their large-scale nuages, north tiles, losanges, algues, and clouds, which the duo describe as "microarchitecture," for inhabiting a size that is larger than furniture, but smaller than architecture. Although designed with different shapes and fabrics, the works are grand, encompassing nearly floor-to-ceiling walls in the museum. The connection between design and art does not disintegrate, but rather evolves into something new, something symbiotic. In the case of these large-scale structures, they stand as both temporary dividing walls in vast rooms as well as beautiful and intricate sculptures. These are not the structures or sculptures one would typically encounter in their home and their design feels more potent than as just room dividers. Made of rudimentary materials such as fabric or polystyrene, the works are light, lovely, and livable.

Adaptability plays an essential role in the Bouroullec design aesthetic. In order to exist as a necessary yet non-engaged part of our everyday lives, their design must quickly appeal in whatever environment, whether stagnant or ever-changing. Bivouac is an unusual choice as a crowd-pleaser, but it works because it subtly demonstrates the ways in which high-design trickles down to the masses, making our day-to-day responsibilities and encounters palatable, perhaps even a little pleasant.

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's Bivouac runs through January 20, 2013 at the Museum of Contemporart Art, Chicago (220 East Chicago).

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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