Designer Ron Arad in Singapore: “'Whats’ and ‘ifs’ are the base of everything I do”
I could be wrong, I could be right
In town for the eight metre-high 720° at Singapore International Festival of Arts, architect and designer Ron Arad leads an introspective of his work
Ron Arad knows a good question from a bad one.
Speaking to a crowd of design enthusiasts and professionals in 72-13 along Muhammad Sultan road two evenings ago, the Israel native had folders upon folders of his work stocked in an iPad — which occasionally buzzed with messages — ready to share. At 65 years young, the London-based designer is still sharp as a whip, and will not hesitate to call you out for a bad question. "What do you think of Brian's work," asks the first prompter. (Brian refers to Brian Gothong Tan, a film director, video artist and performance maker whose multimedia work is shown on Arad's eight metre-high installation made up of 5,600 silicon cords that mount to over 37 kilometres in length) "That was a bad question," Arad retorts.
What sits well with Arad? When asked how to equate poetic license and art in a commercial sphere. Such a query is advantageous to the designer, who's worked with many brands that employ his artistry for commercial gains — and industry cred, of course. He's done chandeliers and bookends for Swarovski, distorted tempered steel for Vitra and crushed vintage cars for Fiat. 2016 has seen him work on high-profile public installations in London's Royal Academy of Art and St. Pancras International as well as redesign Washington D.C.'s infamous Watergate Hotel — and it's only September.
It's almost a drag to list all the accolades a designer as successful as himself has attained. Arad himself wasn't too fussed that evening. Donning his signature hat, loose-fit clothing and rubber sandals, he sat on Philippe Starck's Louis Ghost Chair (albeit grudgingly) and fielded questions from a rather hesitant audience — for nobody wanted to get heckled from the man himself.
When he does speak, it's a delight. Showing a video of a wheel-less bicycle he had created for the Aids foundation along to the post-punk sounds of Public Image Ltd's Rise, he thanked Johnny Rotten and triumphantly declared, "I was right". Indeed he was — this was a man who lives by "what ifs" and is drawn to jealousy of the most positive sort. "If I see something I say, 'Why didn't I think of that?'", he shares on what attracts him. "When I go to an exhibition and I don't walk out jealous, it's not a good show".
Well Tempered Chair 1986 "What if we do a chair with just the skin, with no flesh and bone? This is the first time that a company [Vitra] asked me to design for them. It's a light and easy portrait of an armchair. I didn't design the curves, they are the natural shape that happened when you bend temperate steel. I fixed them with wingnuts to show that nothing is final there. You're sitting on a piece of steel, but it behaves like a waterbed. People hesitated before they sat on it — will it support me? Will it cut me? There was a uniform sentence people said when they sat on it, 'Actually, its very comfortable'. It's good to break expectations if you do it positively."
Bookworm 1997 "I had just moved to a new place and thought it would be nice to do a shelf and use fake books as brackets. The idea came when I did a workshop in Vitra and asked them to get me tempered steel, 1½mm thick and as wide as you can get. I played with it completely. I no idea what to do with it. Little did I know that this was my best selling piece. I did something that was purely artistic. There are lots of things wrong with it — the shelves are not parallel, it's very difficult to install, and it's not a commercial product."
Matrizia Sofa 2015 "I was walking in Tel Aviv when my father passed away, and I saw this mattress. I was very jealous of this piece, so I took a picture of it and I started to draw, distorting it. I drew what it would be like in a domestic scene, to sit on it, and we made a little model of it. I walked in Mayfair and saw a homeless person's, and thought, 'he copied me!'"
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Spyre 2016 "This was at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. We look at the sculpture, what if the sculpture looks back at us? I did this piece which is a play on the words spiral and spy. This is in a place where there are about 20 security cameras — this one's not hiding. The piece doesn't look the same twice. It never repeats itself. The secret of this piece is that all the joints are a complete circle. It can go as low as 2.8metres."
Thought of Train of Thought 2016 "The brief was to do a suspended sculpture and the idea is that every year, a different artist will claim the wires. It looks like something that goes from nowhere to nowhere. This is the first thing you see when you take a train from Paris to London, or from [the rest of] Europe to London. It's Britain here, abroad there. It was symbolic that I installed it on the night of the Brexit vote [count]. We did this at 4am and there was a cleaner who looked up and said, 'I love it'. My colleague came four hours later and said, 'I love it'. We covered a big spectrum here."
Ron Arad's 720° is happening from now till 17 September at The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay. For more information on the Singapore International Festival of Arts, click here.