New Zealand-based designer Clark Bardsley creates objects and spaces with a strong focus on the use of materials.
Often applying a playful approach to his design process, he is known for exploring different qualities across a wide range of disciplines with a distinct interest in furniture design. Having his humble studio space in Auckland and often collaborating with manufacturers around the world, Clark reflected on his aesthetics and the projects of his design practice, Clark Bardsley Design.
What informs your material choices?
Availability, sustainability and character. For some projects I begin merely with a material that interests me and let ideas grow out of my interactions and research into it.
During the production, the behaviour of material may change the outcome. You seem to celebrate this with your design.
I try to learn something about the material with every project. Rather than fight against the material I ask myself - what does the material want to do naturally? What are the unexpected behaviours of a material, and how can I apply a design lens to turn that in to a desirable quality.
You blend modern, digital fabrication with more traditional techniques. How do you manage to achieve a result that feels cohesive rather than juxtaposing?
I think digital fabrication needs to feel cohesive with the way we live. Traditional craft is a way to humanise machine made elements. This handcraft can be applied in the way the parts are brought together, finished, or as a knowledge applied to the way it is digitally fabricated in the first place.
One of your recent works titled Arm offers a playful and inventive take on a classic chair design. What was driving the creative process behind this project?
I was tired of design that took itself too seriously. I wanted to create something funny, but not silly. I intended Arm to be instantly recognisable as a chair but with the function of sitting subtracted. This made the project fast and fun; I learnt a new production process; and I focussed on beauty and proportion. Believe it or not, ergonomics were not ignored - I surveyed a wide range of chairs for dimensions to ensure Arm would fit around a good range of products, and the arm rests were at the right height for median seat height.
Being referred to as an ‘anti-chair’ this design puts functionality in an unexpected context. By itself it is more of a contemporary piece of art with a whimsical twist, but combined with other objects it may act as a chair, re-gaining its original, more traditional purpose. How does functionality play a part in your work?
Arm has a function, just not the expected one! Speaking more generally, a good designer creates work that expresses or reflects something about the world, without compromising functionality.
My job is to bring ideas to life for people. I pride myself on being idea-led, and not watering ideas down until every expected need is met. What about unexpected needs? The world is full of mediocre products because the designer has not skilfully balanced the idea against functional requirements.
When developing projects, your design practice often works with specialists. Do you often take a collaborative approach?
If there’s not an awkward conversation with a manufacturer at the beginning of a project, then it’s not true collaboration! Many manufacturers say no to work that deviates from everyday practice. Over the years I have been building up a network of specialist makers that have an open mind and are willing to think about alternative processes.
How does the location of your projects inform the work methods? Do you come across any site-specific challenges?
Site-specific work always starts with observations of the place, because a place is rich with ideas. A lot of my work is based on ideas born of passively observing behaviour, environment, and atmosphere. The challenges of a site are usually where the opportunities for design lie.
You’ve spent a few years in London and Bath as well. Did this change the way you perceive New Zealand?
Coming back to New Zealand was very exciting as I had learnt a lot from my work in the UK and I wanted to apply that to the New Zealand scene. Seeing everything new again was great creative experience.
Your design aesthetic and playful approach was a source of inspiration for our latest collection. To emphasise this, you created a special window display for COS. Could you tell us about the project?
This was a great opportunity to take the learnings from the Arm project and expand it. For COS I have created a design that retains the playful character and materiality of Arm, but is constructed from a rational system of parts that allows it to be taken apart and reassembled in a wide variety of locations and spaces. The idea was to extend the cartoon-like line of Arm in to a physical drawing or signature that spans the window.
The installation will be displayed in selected stores around the world. This involves a sustainable approach as the artwork will regain its purpose over and over again. Is this an aspect that you keep in mind when designing?
I think about this aspect a lot. Designing temporary work must consider reuse. In my practise I consider both reuse and longevity of products as excellent approaches to sustainability. Longevity might mean durable or loveable.
At COS, we like to reinvent classic pieces or present them in a strange, new concept as well. It appears, that we have similar approaches in this respect.
Totally - looking back in time; mining books; inspecting the countryside, foreign countries, neighbourhoods or cultures to search for little-known or overlooked vernaculars and rethinking them with a contemporary sensibility is a great pleasure of mine.
In collaboration with COS, Clark Bardsley has created a special installation, to be displayed in selected stores around the world. The piece explores the idea of drawing as an object. Inspired by the silhouette of a chair, an array of beech dowels appear to be a freehand design sketch. A playful evolution of ideas first seen in Arm, Clark’s cartoon-like take on a Windsor chair.
While the work may have the essence of a drawing – light, effortless and free flowing in form – its construction was a painstaking process. In contrast to the appearance of its unrestrained curves, the piece consists of a rational system of parts that can be dismantled and rebuilt, designed to be moved to other locations.
Using the material itself as a natural starting point, Clark experimented with the constraints of wood bending. To create extreme angles, his process involved splicing the wood, before using precise levels of humidity to aid the bending. Bolts were concealed and the piece was sanded and varnished, until a seamless, infinite finish was achieved.
Currently in our Regent Street store until Monday 26th February 2018, the installation will move to international COS locations.