Designer Ron Arad in Singapore: “'Whats’ and ‘ifs’ are the base of everything I do”

I could be wrong, I could be right

Designer Ron Arad in Singapore: “'Whats’ and ‘ifs’ are the base of everything I do”
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.

'Pressed Flower Red', 'In Reverse' at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 2015
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".

Ron Arad Well Tempered chair

Well Tempered Chair

"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."

Ron Arad Bookworm

"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."

Ron Arad Matrizia

Matrizia Sofa

"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!'"

"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."

Train of thought of train

Thought of Train of Thought
"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

Text: Adibah Isa

  • Image:
    John Davies,
    Getty Images,
    Instagram | @studio_supernova,
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