On December 3rd Bonhams hosts the launch of a book on the subject of furniture as art – making furniture from found items. This is the first time a book on this subject has been published, putting under the microscope the artists who are literally at the cutting edge of this new art genre.
The list of buyers of this furniture, cut and shut as it was from bits of broken Britain, now reads like a who's who of the British establishment. Sir Paul Smith was a patron. Mario Testino and Nigel Coates commissioned furniture from the group. So did Mick Jagger.
Illustrated by a huge archive of previously unpublished images and accompanied by frank interviews with Ron Arad, Mark Brazier-Jones, Tom Dixon, André Dubreuil and Joe Rush - and with a cover designed by Ben Kelly - Cut And Shut, is the definitive account of how some of the most anarchic and experimental design in history came to be produced. From illegal parties in the North Venice bus depot to the Venice Biennale, via the Notting Hill Carnival to a gig at Manchester's Hacienda - and a stop at Buckingham Palace to collect an OBE for services to design: this is the history of Creative Salvage.
The co-authors are writer and furniture collector, Nick Wright and Gareth Williams, Head of Contemporary Art and Design at Bonhams the international fine art auction house.
Commenting on their motivation for writing the book, Nick says: "Because it was the untold story of rock and roll design originating in the London in which we live. It started with a hip hop night in a Soho strip club. The sampled furniture which followed was welded under the influence of a "Camberwell carrot" and, like the backbeat to the narrative, became a metaphor for a generation of Londoners defining themselves by their diversity. It was sex, drugs and cabriole legs."
The book kicks off with something that is closer to performance art than furniture making. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Mutoid Waste Company drove a convoy of lorries to an ex-Soviet munitions dump in the old East Germany. On the pretext of needing scrap to make sculpture, they hoisted two MiG fighters and three tanks onto low loaders and trucked them to the no-man's land in front of the still shell-holed Reichstag. Using a concrete watchtower as a fulcrum, they jacked the tails of the MiGs into the air and configured the three tanks as an arch. They then spray-painted the sides in neon colours and held a party beneath the work. This was a reclamation, not only of scrap metal but disputed territory, 'Tank Henge' framed the question: who owns the title rights to the earth to which we are all of us born? The ravers dancing beneath gave the answer that for one night only, they were claiming it as their own.
Joe Rush, who was responsible for this piece of physical graffiti is little known today. Such temporary monuments, always destined for demolition, left no tangible legacy – except for the images published in this book. Joe is, however, part of a generation of British scrap designers, many of whom are now household names. And like Joe, many of them began their careers putting on illegal parties.
In 1981 Tom Dixon's band, Funkapolitan, had supported the Clash at Bond's International Discotheque in New York. Also on stage were hip hop artists like Grandmaster Flash and so inspired were the band, that Tom and singer Nick Jones came home and set up the first Hip Hop club in London. The venue for the Language Lab was a strip club on Meard Street. Tom and Nick would wait for the girls to finish their set before loading the PA into the tiny lift. "Every night was pyrotechnics," says Nick. "Loads of people turned up. Boy George, Tim Westwood, Spandau Ballet, all these people were saying what is this kind of music? What's going on?"
When the crowd grew too big for the Language Lab, Tom and Nick, now joined by Mark Brazier-Jones, began putting on parties in pirated buildings across London's industrial deadlands. Sparks generated as Mark cut up cars provided the light-show, crashing the fuel-spewing wrecks the entertainment, and it was these demolition derbies which ignited the idea to weld scrap metal into furniture. Says Tom Dixon: "We came up with this idea of buying one tonne of scrap, dropping it in the gallery and welding it in the window until the exhibition was opened at the end of the week."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com