Meet the digital artists turning iconic furniture into dancing coat stands and flammable chairs
Can a lounge chair really “groove”? And how does a storage solution come alive? As our installation Meet Me in the Metaverse reveals, the virtual realm is a world of “limitless opportunities”.
It’s Nice That is partnering with The Conran Shop to present Meet Me in the Metaverse, an immersive installation taking over the design store’s Chelsea location. Inviting a global set of artists to reimagine design classics from The Conran Shop’s AW22 collection, Meet Me in the Metaverse will see the digital and physical collide in a playful exploration of design’s role in an intriguing new virtual world.
As part of our new immersive installation Meet Me in the Metaverse, we commissioned six digital artists to reimagine iconic pieces of furniture and design classics as never-before-seen virtual creations. We asked them to translate these objects into the digital realm, while exploring how we might interact with them in a future virtual world. Here, we talk to three of the selected artists about how they approached the challenge and how they created their final video artworks.
What’s immediately clear to see is just how differently each of these artists approached their task. None of them had ever had the opportunity to work with furniture in this way before, so it provided both a new challenge and fresh ground for experimentation.
The VR sculpting duo Yonk from The Hague, for instance, took a characteristically playful approach, bordering on the surreal. They were given the Groovy Chair, a sculptural lounge chair designed by Pierre Paulin, and set about reimagining it in a digital environment. “Our first initial thought was how it screamed to be in motion,” Yonk tell us. “Everything from its form and various colours to its name offered itself to be dynamic, and we just couldn’t get past the idea of the Groovy Chair actually grooving.”
The brief proved an interesting new challenge for the duo. “Usually, we create work from the top of our heads, complete fantasy, but in this case, we had the chair as the base for all decisions and approaches,” they tell us. While the name provided them with the initial spark of inspiration they needed, they did also take into account some of the physical properties of the chair. “We considered the real-life interaction you have with the chair – sinking into its curved seat – and really tried to emphasise that by adding a droopy and wiggly aspect to the seating area,” they explain.
The final outcome is a thing of pure joy. It’s astonishing just how much character Yonk has managed to infuse into a piece of furniture. “When discussing the chair’s personality, we just knew it should be completely satisfied with its moves,” they tell us, explaining that they even watched John Travolta’s dance scene in Saturday Night Fever to nail this confidence. “It is the Groovy Chair and it knows how to groove.”
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Yonk: The Groovy Chair WIPs
While lots of conversations around the Metaverse can get very earnest very quickly, their final piece is a reminder that new technologies can also be fun. “We would love to firstly put a smile on the viewer’s face,” they say. “And secondly, leave them wondering about the characters of their physical objects and how they can be translated into the digital realm. What would it look like if your toaster could sing or your coffee table could breakdance?” If those are the kinds of questions that the Metaverse will conjure up, well then we’re all for it.
The New Delhi-based visual artist and designer Khyati Trehan took a totally different approach to her commission, as is obvious from her final piece, which is more tranquil and even meditative. Yet she, too, took her inspiration from the name of her assigned piece. “The narrative came to mind the minute I learnt that the coat stand was called Pirouette,” she says. From this point onwards, there were two core ideas driving her concept: firstly, the animation would resemble a dance in four acts; and secondly, there would be two partners in this dance – the structural building blocks that come together to make the Pirouette Coat Stand, and the textural and organic artefacts that the coat stand is destined to interact with. Because, as Khyati puts it: “It felt like the coat hanger could use a dance partner.”
The organic and tactile textures of Khyati’s objects really stand out. Indeed, this is something she brings to lots of her projects. “A large part of working in 3D is about borrowing and learning from the real world,” she says, “and the real world is imperfect. Textures help me bring this imperfection to my renders.” The designer says she’s developed a habit of whipping her phone out at the sight of unusual textures in her urban environment and collecting them to “nourish this approach”. It’s a creative technique visible in her interpretation of the Pirouette Coat Stand as well.
It’s amazing to think that Khyati is relatively new to working in 3D, having come from what she calls “a very traditional graphic design background”. But she loves the possibilities 3D presents. “You can whip up worlds that are close to reality out of thin air,” she says, “just as well as you can create worlds far from it, distorting reality.”
When it comes to conjuring up uncannily realistic worlds, few creatives know what they’re doing better than the Parisian 3D art director Laurent Allard. His natural style leans towards hyperrealism, his pieces generally looking like still-life photographs, with elements of nostalgia and humour just under the surface. This effect can only be achieved, he believes, if the rendering of the objects corresponds to the idea that you have of them in real life. “Its 3D ‘clone’ must be a magnified but realistic version,” he says. “For my part, there is no stylisation in the way an object is remade. As a photographer might do, I constrain myself to reality.”
Again, Laurent hadn’t previously worked with furniture and enjoyed the challenge of reworking the Iris Lounge Chair, which was designed by the award-winning designer Huw Evans for The Conran Shop. “It was interesting to have an object that was aesthetically accomplished as a starting point, with its own history and a specific intention in terms of material and finish,” he explains. “I had to take all that into account without forgetting to add my vision, which had to be a little out of sync with the object.”
The idea of making the chair out of matches came to him quite early on in the process. “When you look at it you see that it is the repetition of the piece of wood that gives this sun shape,” he says. “This made me think of these match sculptures, where a single small wooden object which we all know is used as the fundamental piece to build the shape.”
There is something incredibly satisfying about watching the matches ignite one by one around the circular shape of the Iris Lounge Chair. It certainly taps into any pyromaniac tendencies the viewer might have. “The interaction of setting fire to the matches was not for me a desire to burn the chair,” says Laurent. “Quite the contrary. It was more a way of making full use of the choice of material. It would have been frustrating not to light all those little red match heads!”
In fact, each of the commissioned creatives put an emphasis on materials and textures. Chris Golden and Christie Christie, the former co-founders of Pitch Studios, were tasked with reimagining the PKO lounge chair by Danish designer Poul Kjaerholm. “For us, it’s always been about the application of organic textures to synthetic or digital objects,” says Christie. “That’s why you’ll see a lot of our work having visual elements rooted in reality (landscapes, natural features, organic forms), but adding a layer of subversion or surrealism through colour, sound and material. We always like our work to feel tactile and sensory, questioning what it means to touch or hear these experiences.”
Chris and Christie have pushed these ideas one step further, with the creation of an AR filter to accompany the installation in The Conran Shop’s Chelsea store. You can discover the AR filter and try it out yourself by following this link. As Christie told us for this story: “With the AR effect we wanted to encourage an overall sense of joy and playfulness. We almost imagine the metaverse to be this inviting and delightful playground, so we wanted to create a digital sculpture garden, where the user can interact with different objects and imagine a new reality.”
This is, of course, the larger idea behind the Meet Me in the Metaverse installation. It’s Nice That and The Conran Shop devised the project as a playful exploration of what the future might look like and how we might one day interact with physical and digital objects simultaneously. Undoubtedly, the Metaverse is still a controversial topic and, when we asked our creatives for their thoughts on the subject, we – unsurprisingly – received a variety of different answers.
Laurent is still sceptical. “To me, it still seems like a vague term, and one that is already being taken over by people interested only in business,” he says. But he also sees huge possibilities in this emerging realm. “Creators have a role to play in this future, a leading role even. They just need to have a maximum of freedom and not be constrained by the general conditions of use of future platforms, which would risk totally sanitising creation. There is a whole world to be built, it remains to be seen what kind of world it will be.”
Meanwhile, Khyati believes that creating work in the digital realm offers us the opportunity to create “prototypes for what this future holds”, allowing us to ask a range of thorny questions: “How will our relationship to technology and the way we interact with it change? Will we feel inclined to attach the same value (both monetarily and emotionally) to virtual objects and experiences as we do to physical ones?” This installation provides only the first baby step towards understanding and answering such questions.
Christie feels that there are already some spheres where these questions are beginning to be answered. “I’ve worked within the digital fashion space and that alone encourages an endless narrative of pure self-expression that was simply not possible previously,” she says. “We can be whoever we want, genderless if we want, and explore ourselves or our communities using a more empathic approach.” She acknowledges, however, that the Metaverse is still young and is “still evolving and adapting every day”.
And finally, for Yonk, the realm of the Metaverse offers “limitless opportunities” and their dancing Groovy Chair is a perfect example of this. “Within this installation, you can already envision how digital possibilities such as the Metaverse are going to translate and extend the use of physical objects,” they tell us. “We may not need to sit on the Groovy Chair in the Metaverse, but we can for sure dance with it.”
Meet Me in the Metaverse opens at The Conran Shop from 22 August to October 2022. The installation features work by maximalist VR sculpting duo Yonk, visual artist and designer Khyati Trehan, art director Laurent Allard, Sai from CGI and AR design duo Morbo, visual artists Chris Golden and Christie Christie, and graphic designer and art director Pedro Veneziano. For further information, click the button below.
Join us at The Conran Shop
We’ll be celebrating the launch of this collaboration at The Conran Shop on 22 September. We’d love for you to join us as part of the London Design Festival festivities and invite all to meet in the Metaverse. Sign up via the link below.