One of our highlights during this September’s London Design Festival was visiting Jasper Morrison: Thingness at the new Tate Modern Switch House. Morrison and the Tate have a long-standing relationship since, in 1998, the designer was chosen to select all public furniture for the original Tate Modern – something he was invited to do again for the recently opened Switch House.
‘Thingness’ was nestled under the Switch House’s sweeping concrete staircase and presented a concise look back at the designer’s work since the 1980s. We were particularly proud to see Morrison’s Thinking Man’s Chair as it was first exhibited by Zeev Aram at our 23rd Anniversary Show in 1987. It was there that Giulio Cappellini spotted it and asked to produce the chair, and almost 30 years later it sits in the Tate Modern.
“For a long time after I noticed an antique chair with its seat missing outside a shop I had the idea to do a chair consisting of only structural elements. Many sketches later I arrived at an approximation of the final shape, which included two small tables on the ends of the arms and an exotic assembly of curved metalwork. It was to be called ‘The Drinking Man’s Chair.’ On my way back from a tobacconist’s shop with a packet of pipe cleaners to make a model of the chair with, I noticed the slogan ‘The Thinking Man’s Smoke’ on the packet, which I quickly adapted as a more sophisticated title.” – Jasper Morrison
Short quotes from Morrison (such as the one above) annotated the exhibition and offered a fascinating insight into his practice. Thoughtful and honest, the captions explained how chance happenings as well as the everyday can influence and inspire great design.
One particular comment that caught our imagination was Morrison discussing his Three Green Bottles for Cappellini: “I intended to have the 3 bottles hand blown, but as there were no glass blowers working in Berlin at the time, I found the only way to do them was to take ordinary wine bottles and have them manipulated, which in the end was far more interesting; it seemed to say “look how beautiful an ordinary bottle is – better than things which are ‘designed’.”
Morrison often highlighted how the creative process, especially when designing for commercial production, is a collaborative activity. When discussing his Basel Chair for Vitra, Morrison said “Possibly the nicest detail on the chair is the connection between the back rest and the top end of the back legs, which was proposed by Thomas Schweikert, chief engineer for product development at Vitra.” In a note about the Magis Air Chair he wrote “Air Chair was born out of a length of simple plastic tube given to me by Eugenio Perazza, which had been moulded with a new technology called gas-injection moulding and which he suggested we use to make a new chair. I designed the chair from the leg up, imagining how the rest of a chair would look with a leg like that.” In our current landscape of icons and ‘starchitects’ his was a refreshing voice to read.
Although ‘Thingness’ has now finished, Jasper Morrison’s furniture can be enjoyed throughout the Tate Modern and the new Switch House – and if you’re interested to read more of his design-related musings, Morrison has written a number of books. Notably ‘The Good Life’, in which he highlights the creativity and wit of ordinary things encountered during his travels. To see more of his furniture and lighting design click here, or visit us at our Covent Garden store.