Project 3: 2nd Cycle

Dover Street Market is one of the most eclectic fashion boutiques in London’s W1 postcode.

The Finnish line

Dover Street Market is one of the most eclectic fashion boutiques in London’s W1 postcode. You can never be sure exactly what you will come across: a chandelier made from spectacles, a T-shirt vending machine, the perfect beetroot risotto. But you can be sure there’s always an artistic or aspirational design aspect to everything.

The same is true of the latest installation – although the fashionista who is not already versed in Finnish furniture history might not see it immediately. Tom Dixon’s 2nd Cycle project for Artek sees Dover Street Market taken over by about 400 old and battered chairs – identical but for their various degrees of wear and tear.

Dixon had the idea for 2nd Cycle at the Milan furniture fair last spring. Since that time, he and his colleagues at Artek have been buying back as many used Alvar Aalto designs as they can from across Finland.

2nd Cycle sees Artek put the furniture back into circulation, but without any design maintenance or refurbishment prior to their resale. The only intervention, in fact, is the addition of a Radio Frequency Identification tag to each item. The tag can be read by a mobile phone and contains a link to the individual history of that chair on the Internet. The owner can also add to this legacy over time, ultimately creating an item of furniture with a real story to tell.

Artek has been producing Aalto furniture since the 1930s. Affordable and constructed in an innovative method from bent birch ply, during the height of the Modernist movement Aalto’s designs were quickly adopted as the national furniture of Finland. In fact, they played no small part in establishing a fresh and distinctive identity for the young nation – Aalto’s pieces providing a softer, humanist alternative to the harsh, metallic aesthetic of his Bauhaus contemporaries. Since then, it has been specified for many years in public institutions across Finland – and it is unusual to find an office, home or public space without an Artek item somewhere inside.

In the past six months, explains Dixon, ‘We have been collecting furniture from every nook and cranny. We’ve bought back these chairs from everywhere you can imagine – old people’s homes, factories, schools, museums and libraries.’ In Finland, Aalto furnishings are very much everyday items, explains the designer. ‘It’s only in other countries that they are viewed as iconic – and part of what I am doing with 2nd Cycle is a celebration of these pieces’ normality. This is why I wanted to do it in Dover Street Market – rather than treating them as precious antiques in a traditional design store,’ says Dixon.

All the pieces will be available for purchase at prices based on their age, condition and history. According to Dixon, you can view it in one of two ways. ‘On the one hand, this is a very dull story about second-hand chairs,’ he says. ‘On the other, it’s about acknowledging that these designs have a spectacular history, and a new beauty through the patina they have developed, and the longevity they have proved to have.’ 2nd Cycle is at Dover Street Market, London, from 9 October to 20 November

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