Julianknxx presents a poetic reimagining of Yinka Ilori’s If Chairs Could Talk
The director and poet creates a lyrical reimagining of a turning point in Yinka Ilori’s career – a project that continues to display the root of his storytelling-led design practice.
You know the feeling when you really love someone’s work, and they love you back? This is the energy between me and my friend and collaborator, JulianKnxx. Julian for me is an incredible storyteller, poet, creative director and visionary. His ideas are just incredible. When developing the idea of recreating one of my works through poetry, I felt he was someone who I could really trust and who could celebrate my works through poetry as the stories he tells through design are very precious, and hold their own power – Yinka Ilori.
For poet and director JulianKnxx, the work of his friend and collaborator Yinka Ilori has always offered a sense of hope. As he puts it: “The fascinating thing about Yinka and his practice is this idea of giving something a second lifeline.” Sometimes it’s in the way Yinka approaches a space, such as redesigning a basketball court in Canary Wharf, or in his artworks that present messages of hope like “Love Always Wins”, “If You Can Dream Anything is Possible” or simply, “This is Human Kind”.
But if we rewind back to the beginning of Yinka’s career, this sense of hope was first shown through smaller acts, such as mending. After graduating from London Metropolitan in furniture and product design, the artist was balancing his creative practice alongside jobs in retail; hopeful that the former would soon be his only focus. In 2015, while deliberating about taking a different path, Yinka decided to channel his energy into one project representative of his creative personality: If Chairs Could Talk. A series of five chairs Yinka collected, mended, reshaped, and in turn gave a new life, each piece is inspired by characters from the artist’s school days. It’s also inspired by one of Yinka’s favourite Nigerian parables: “No matter how long the neck of the giraffe is, it still can’t see the future.”
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Yinka Ilori: If Chairs Could Talk (Copyright © Yinka Ilori, 2015)
Yinka sourced chairs from charity shops and second-hand shops to be reimagined with memories of individuals from his life, each reinterpreted through the designer’s signature use of colour, but also through metaphorical details. In one, for instance, a flower sprouts from the back of a chair to represent growth still to come. There are other objects to be interpreted too like a hanger, or more compositional features like the combination of two chairs moulded into one. The sentiment behind If Chairs Could Talk is still close to the artist today, and although made six years ago, it represents the root of his practice. As a result, when piecing together this series, Yinka invited Julian, a close friend and collaborator, to revisit the body of work and give it a new life in poetic form.
First developed through conversations between Julian and Yinka on the character behind each chair, it was then left to Julian to reimagine the project. Immediately the message behind If Chairs Could Talk resonated with him, especially as back in his home of Sierra Leone similar sentiments to the original Nigerian parable, “are drilled into you,” says Julian. “You don’t laugh at people because you don’t know their situation or who they will become. You don’t take people at face value and you don’t judge a book by its cover,” he continues. “The world is a small place, so treat people with respect.”
Interpreting If Chairs Could Talk, as well as the original parable which inspired Yinka, Julian’s poem is spoken from the point of view of an individual mending these chairs. “My way in became this idea of an artist or carpenter, someone who is familiar with the form of a chair, or the way we use furniture and interact with it,” he explains. “It gives each chair a personality in the sense that we sit on them and they carry us, carry our weight and everything that we carry.”
The below poem, as well as a subsequent film and reading of Julian’s poem of the same name as Yinka’s series, offers a new vision of this project. It reminds us that every individual’s story should be met without judgement as we are always changing shape or experiencing growth.
The Power of Storytelling with Yinka Ilori
This story along with many others are part of a guest edit of It’s Nice That by the artist, Yinka Ilori. To read further pieces from Yinka’s curation click on the link below.
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About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.