(Because) Hammerspace


24 September 2014

A closed-down antique store on Thurloe Place was the setting for one of the London Design Festival’s (LDF) highlights – a show curated by designers Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai of Workshop for Potential Design.

(Because) Hammerspace may not have looked like much from the outside – an emptied display case graced the window – but its message was significant. Small budgets, independent thinking and a flavour of the unexpected still beat the big, flamboyant exhibitions during LDF.

Hammerspace is a term used in cartoons for the inexplicable space from which fictional characters can produce objects out of thin air - think of how Jerry suddenly produces a club with which to thump Tom in a classic Tom&Jerry chase, or how Wile E. Coyote magics up signs, dynamite and traps from nowhere, in his endless chase of Roadrunner in Looney Tunes’ famous cartoons.

It is an unlikely starting point for a design exhibition, but one that produced intriguing work. The empty display case in the window is in fact a piece by Paul Elliman called Take Action First. The case houses a rich collection of coins, a heavy-courier bike chain and musical instruments shaped as animals. However, all of the pieces are currently on loan to other institutions, as the exhibition catalogue tells you: “Shell necklace collected by Joseph Banks in Tierra del Fuego, January 1769, travelling with Captain Cook. (Currently on display at the British Museum)”. It is an obvious fiction, but one which questions the ownership of ideas and of objects and how you can access them. It makes interesting reference to the setting, which was once used to pedal antiquities and jewellery. Although something as exotic as the 18th-century shell necklace is unlikely to have ever graced this window.

Along a battered wall, displayed on a narrow shelf, is Peter Marigold’s Infinite Wedges. 19 wedges of wood, resembling traditional door stops that stand upright on their short ends. Starting with the thickest, the wedges get increasingly thin, ending with a slither of wood that look like something edible. “It’s like a bonito flake,” says Mukai. The experiment is one that Marigold often finds himself pondering over his table saw in the studio: “Does the wedge ever actually end if the angle of the cut continues into infinity?”

Similarly low-key is Gemma Holt’s Snap! Bang! Pow! metal bracelets based on Stuart Anders’ invention of memory formed metal in the 1980s. Normally covered in reflective material and snapped around bicyclist’s wrists and ankles, here the bare metal performs on its own. A delicate piece that snaps around your wrist like a bracelet, or lies, erect, on the table.

The most obvious connection to cartoons is Michael Marriott’s Exploding Ice Cream Maker. Presented in a steel case with ACME branded across the top, it's a mysetrious object that could either be an ice cream maker waiting to explode or a machine for producing exploding ice cream. It’s precariously propped on a flimsy-looking cardboard box, providing the barren room with a sense of unease.

Deddens and Mukai's contribution, under their studio name Study o Portable, is wonderfully surreal - an array of bricks and stones, made from erasing rubber. Called Erasing Bricks they are inspired by artists Joseph Gandy’s drawing of the Bank of England in ruins from 1830, made prior to the completion of the building. These giant rubbers, permanent in form, question their solidity by the very material they are made from. They could crumble with an easy rub against smooth paper.

This is Workshop for Potential Design’s fifth exhibition during the London Design Festival and their contribution is significant. Created as a platform for speculative and collaborative design, it offers a much-needed counter to the branded exhibitions that LDF has become so well-known for. By stepping away entirely from the realm of the commercial, or even the producible (The Erasing Rubbers were meant to be produced in a factory but their scale and small batch meant that Mukai and Deddens had to research rubber recopies and mould the bricks in Study O Portable’s studio), they offer another perspective on what a festival celebrating design should and could be about. This is about pushing ideas and concepts; here thinking is valued as highly as the finished product. And to create a space for thinking is a wonderful thing.