London designers Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard are deeply invested in material experimentation as a way of generating form. My monographic book on their work, surveying their career from the couple’s first meeting at Central St. Martin’s through to the their most recent work, is published in 2017 by Skira. Following is an excerpt to the volume’s introduction.
Designers often tend to deny the influence of changing tastes on their work. William Morris’s “joy in labor,” or the Bauhaus principle of “truth to materials,” are well-known principles of this kind; Charles Eames once advised, “innovate as a last resort – more horrors are done in the name of innovation than any other.” But of course, Charles and Ray Eames are celebrated as among the greatest design innovators of all time, and Arts and Crafts and Bauhaus knockoffs can be found in any home furnishings store. In practice, modern design has been constantly subsumed within the imperative toward the new, on the assumption that the market will quickly burn through even the best ideas. The question is how to achieve objects of inherent value against this backdrop – to accept the fact that design operates (for all practical purposes) somewhat like the music industry, oriented to an insatiable market, yet one that can, on occasion, produce ideas of transcendent grace.
Here is where Fredrikson Stallard come in. Look at any of their work, and you will immediately notice a certain quality of speed. I mean this not in a visual sense, as in 1930s streamlining, but perceptually. Their objects deliver, right up front. To look at their work is already to feel that your attention has been rewarded - though invariably, there is much more to discover. Indeed, there is a dramatic tension in their work, between the flickering, seductive surface and a seriousness of intent that lies within. At their best, Fredrikson Stallard’s objects are brilliant in just the same way that a great pop song is. There’s depth of feeling and thinking, but also a killer hook.
This set of aesthetic tendencies bespeaks a philosophy – one that is absolutely in tune with the nature of contemporary design. Fredrikson Stallard make no claims on the modernist high ground, in which objects are conceived as optimal, efficient solutions, end points of rigorous analysis. They are intuitive makers, and happy to accept the conditions of constant flux – that they are only as relevant as their last idea. They see that the values of their discipline are contingent, not timeless. They suspect classicism, and prize instinct. Hence the formal energies of the work: the quick crush, the sudden splash, the grab and bind. Hence the way that Fredrikson Stallard move effortlessly through drastically different, even antithetical production scenarios. Hence, too, their knowing feints toward other works of art and design, both canonical and kitsch. All of these tactics are ways of acknowledging the territory of contemporary design, and their place within it.
We live in a moment when attention is one of our dearest commodities; when the digital is remaking the domains of production and consumption; when new materiality is a field of intensive research; when the essential need for human contact remains pervasive, yet is frequently unmet. If you want to understand these complex conditions, the parameters for design in our times, look at Fredrikson Stallard.