Flying into town for the unveiling of Prologue, we catch London-based design duo Ian Stallard and Patrik Fredrikson for a quick chat about crystals, public sculptures and their obsession with controlled surprise. Christie Lee writes.
Headed by Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard, London-based design firm Fredrikson Stallard melds unexpected materials and age-old craftsmanship with what they call “controlled surprise.” Prologue, their latest collaborative project with Swarovski, is a massive art sculpture comprising 8,000 topaz and light topaz crystals that are seemingly suspended within a sturdy ring of steel that measures four metres in diameter. Prologue was unveiled at the newly-opened PMQ creative space in Central on 13 May, to coincide with the second edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong
What was the inspiration behind Prologue?
Ian: Since Prologue is a public sculpture, we wanted to create something that would appeal as much to the art critic or collector as the construction worker from across the street. The circle is an iconic form – it is quite simple as a representation of the sun, but it can also be quite complex depending on the way you read the piece. It is a symbol of so many different things in different cultures.
Which one is more challenging – creating a public sculpture or a piece of design furniture to be exhibited in a gallery?
Patrik: Definitely a sculpture. There are more things to worry about because the audience base is wider. A gallery piece can be more avant-garde.
Did you take Hong Kong’s unpredictable summer weather into account when creating Prologue?
Patrik: Yes, that is actually part of the project. We could’ve protected the steel with a layer of lacquer, but we decided to coat it with wax instead. The wax protects the blackness of the steel, but it wouldn’t prevent it from rusting.
Ian: The steel will slowly start to take on a vibrant orange – almost florescent – hue. I think rusting imbues the sculpture with a certain depth.
Would you say this element of surprise is an important part of your work?
Ian: Well, we call it ‘controlled surprise’ (laughs).
Patrik: It might seem that we leave everything to chance, but we actually take a lot of things into account. For example, we can’t control way that the steel is going to rust, but we do know that it will rust.
Did this also apply to your Crush furniture series?
Patrik: We call it Crush, but our manufacturer in Italy calls it the “la tortura” (the torture), because of the way it’s made. Basically, hydraulic pressure is applied to the piece of metal in a highly controlled movement. The trick is to get the right amount of energy. Forging a steel tablecloth is easy; having a piece of metal look as if it’s been dropped from the Empire State Building is hard. One time, I thought one of the Crush tables was too perfect, so I borrowed a sledgehammer and hit it, which formed a huge dent on the surface. I thought the piece needed that arrogance.
Ian: The key is to make it look effortless.
You’ve worked with crystals before. How is the material being used differently for Prologue?
Ian: Because it is a public installation, the crystals are very ‘loud’ in Prologue. And because of the way that the crystals are being hung, it looks like that there are five – instead of one – layers of crystals at night, creating a sort of optical illusion. In comparison, the Cavern bench, lined with black crystals, channels a much subtler aesthetic.
Patrik: We also want to emphasise that crystals are never used as decoration. They are always the heart of the piece. The same can be said of every single material that goes into making a chair, table or jewellery piece. If you remove just one element, the piece will die.
A lot of your projects are in museum collections. Would you consider your pieces more art or design?
Patrik: That’s a question we always get asked. To me, it doesn’t matter, but I’d say what inspires me the most is fine art. Design shows like the Salone del Mobile can get a bit depressing, because it makes me feel like I’m part of this gigantic machinery producing 50,000 chairs a year for no reason.
Ian: The important thing is, whether we’re designing a piece of furniture or jewellery, we still have that devotion towards aesthetics. We’re constantly asking ourselves: does it add anything to what is already available out there?
Patrik: I also like that we don’t belong in any one category, because that means that we can do anything we want.
Is there one material that you’d kill to work with?
Ian: Solid gold.
Patrik: Or diamonds.