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publish date: March 25|2002   

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Furniture in Context

David Trubridge is one of New Zealand's best-known designers of contemporary furniture. For many years he has been closely involved in critical debate in Art, Craft and Design. The article that follows is modified from his original catalogue essay for 'Furniture in Context', an exhibition which he curated in 1998.

Body Raft 2000
for Cappellini

Body Raft

Sling

Sling

© David Trubridge

Imagine a small block of wood, an off-cut say of indeterminate species. What would you think about it? To answer, you would need to know where you are visualizing it. Lying in a log basket its only value would be calorific -- too small or of the wrong species to be of practical value. Neatly stacked on a woodworker’s shelf, the same block would have the value of potential use. So the way we think about an object, and the value or meaning we give to it, depends on where we are seeing it -- on its CONTEXT.

Is it possible to create an environment devoid of context where we perceive the object purely for what it is? This has been one aim of the Modernist Art Gallery, what some have called “the bare white cube”: to present each object as entirely autonomous. The painting is enclosed by a frame and surrounded by bare walls and neutral gallery space. Take it or leave it. But in fact it is not like that at all -- messages are being sent out. What would you think about the block of wood in here? This establishment is an important cultural institution. There must be something very special about the wood. Merely by being put here it has been changed. You look more closely. . . .

Marcel Duchamp first raised these questions eighty years ago. His placement of everyday utility objects into a gallery has been widely discussed as a question of “what is art?” Did a shovel or urinal become art because the artist said so? What has been less debated is the comment that this makes on the gallery’s power to change -- or in other words, the importance of context. (1)

FOOTNOTES:


(1) For further reading see “Craft and Design in Museum History” by Helmut Leuckenhausen in “Craft and Contemporary Theory” edited by Sue Rowley, Allen and Unwin, 1997.

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David Trubridge - Furniture Designer and Maker

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