Furniture designer Sebastian Brajkovic is at the vanguard of ‘design art’

Furniture designer Sebastian Brajkovic is in the vanguard of ‘design art’, imparting notions of movement to archetypal forms through technology. Max Fraser talks to this rising star on the occasion of his first solo show

Blink and you’ll miss it. That is not a descriptive phrase you would normally associate with a static item of furniture, but it is the implied notion of speed, movement and extension in Sebastian Brajkovic’s latest collection that may send potential collectors into a spin. Barely two years out of Academy Eindhoven, the designer has been causing quite a stir in the hard-to-define collectible design market. His new body of work, entitled Lathe, will be launched next week at his first solo show with London design venue Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

His work takes archetypal furniture forms as the starting point from which a process of distortion and alteration gives shape to a rather playful new function. He subverts familiarity into new compositions that appear to drag tradition into the contemporary realm, quite literally. ‘I wanted to create more space on a singular chair by “extruding” the seat’s surface area,’ he declares. ‘This extruding idea came from a Photoshop function where you can pick a row of pixels and extend them as long as you want.’ The streaked effect is carried on to each item’s computer-aided embroidery designs, reminiscent of a frozen moment of intense movement, or of light blurring in photographic imagery.

This is no coincidence. Brajkovic is clearly fascinated by the differences between time and space, for which he looks to photography and film for inspiration, citing the acclaimed cinematography of Soviet film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky as a point of reference. On first sight, the embroidery designs could be interpreted as a styling exercise – the outcome of yet another designer over-exploiting digital capabilities. But, in the same way as he takes ornamental details from antiques to generate new forms, so too does he reference historical pictures in his embroidery, such as fairytale imagery of animals taken from old encyclopaedias or pattern work from William Morris prints.

Quizzed on his desire to distort tradition, he responds, ‘I try to balance old references with computer-aided technology. In that respect, I am a child of now, but I am also afraid of forgetfulness in our mass-consumption age and believe that if you design with too much of a futuristic viewpoint, you lose sight of the lessons and influences from the past.’

On graduation from Academy Eindhoven, Brajkovic, a Dutch-Indonesian/Italian-Croatian, caught the attentions of Carpenters Workshop Gallery directors Loic le Gaillard and Julien Lombrail, as well as talent spotter Rossana Orlandi, who exhibited his work at her Milan gallery in 2007. ‘We followed his progress at Eindhoven because we were impressed by his attitude and frame of mind,’ states le Gaillard. His early incarnations of the Lathe series were made of wood, which conveyed the concept well but weren’t structurally sound. So Carpenters Workshop commissioned Brajkovic to make the structural elements out of cast bronze in editions of eight. Some of these pieces were first shown at Design Miami in Basel and at Design Art London in 2008.

It was here that he won the Möet Hennessy prize for Lathe VIII, which was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum’s permanent collection with sponsorship from the drinks conglomerate. The Siamese twin-like loveseat will be shown at the forthcoming Telling Tales/ Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design exhibition opening at the V&A in July. The curator, Gareth Williams, explains, ‘I was attracted to the clarity of the idea. It is not a tricky concept to embrace. It fits the Dutch approach that often reconsiders the past for the present, in this case using technology to mutate old recognisable forms.’

‘He is a young man who has developed a confident signature very early on – exotic, poetic and sculptural,’ believes le Gaillard. ‘He has found his style.’

And with that, he runs the risk of being typecast very early in his career. He is inevitably keen to avoid this trap. He believes that design, with its constraints, and art, with its self-expression, can co-exist and will allow him the freedom to progress his genre – a belief that seems to qualify the ever-questionable validity of the still infant ‘design art’ movement.

Sebastian Brajkovic, at Carpenters Workshop Gallery, 3 Albemarle Street, London W1, runs from 5 February to 14 March

Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design, Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7, from 14 July to 18 October

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