When I was 18 I witnessed something truly fabulous: the removal of pastel furniture from my family home. The eighties were over, bring on the final decade of the 20th Century I thought. What I didn’t know at the time was that when that apricot-coloured leather lounge suite was taken to St Vincent De Paul, so too was a little piece of zing from my life.
For all the greed and over-the-top hedonism of the eighties, there was something very wonderful going on in design during this Postmodern period that is often disregarded – the celebration of genuine personality and charisma.
In the eighties, unexpected combinations led to creations that were truly unique and interesting. Like the coupling of Sean Penn and Madonna, unlikely marriages were popping up in the world of furniture and object making (but with much more success). For example, uninhibited Italian designers like Ettore Sottsass of the Memphis Design Group were mashing up strange bedfellows like Art Deco with Pop Art and creating furniture, ceramics and lighting which is now collected in design museums all over the world, including the Powerhouse Museum.
Yet, in my relatively brief lifetime, I’ve seen contemporary design become more conservative and restrained; most certainly in response to globalisation and the neoliberalism that is defining our times. Of course, the minimalism of the nineties and the ‘eco’ aesthetic of the noughties were necessary to draw attention away from our Western obsession with excessive consumption and rampant pleasure-seeking. However, just like the removal of my family’s pastel lounge suite from my Western suburbs living room, contemporary design seems to have lost some of its colour.
This is why when I recently discovered that filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar was working with the architect and designer, Patricia Urquiola on her upcoming book, “Patricia Urquiola: Time to Make a Book” (due for publication in 2013), I felt a sense of exhilaration I hadn’t experienced in quite some time in relation to design collaborations. It is not merely the similarities between Almodóvar and Urquiola that spark the imagination (place, colour, energy, originality); it is the presence of similarities and strong contrasts at the same time (low v’s high, taste v’s trash) that smack of something truly great in the works.
The upcoming book project is not the first time the two’s work has been seen side by side. Some of Urquiola’s furniture was used in Almodóvar’s film Broken Embraces; a film about passion, obsession, wealth, jealousy, family guilt and creativity. Dark, humourous and centred around human feelings.
Broken Embraces is a visually fantastic film with brilliant set design for which the filmmaker is recognised. The interiors in Almodóvar’s films are just as important as the characters in them and they are kitsch – a word we know is often used to describe something as a tasteless inferior copy of the ‘real thing’. And yet, interestingly, when Almodóvar places pieces of Patricia Urquiola’s high end furniture amongst all the sentimental ornaments and melodramatic imagery the interiors, something moves us. Something fabulous happens. We are not astonished or offended by the crossing of high end ‘sophisticated’ furniture and brash bold kitsch. We embrace it.
Both Almodóvar and Urquiola are Spanish. Both bold. Both have reached the top of their field. Both understand the interplay between the serious and the humorous. Yet it is their devotion to self expression that they share which is of most interest. It is Almodóvar and Urquiola as people that we can see through their work that makes what they do stimulating.
According to Almodóvar his films are often autobiographical (this may come as a surprise given the offbeat characters, melodramatic storylines and circular plots). All the while, his films are distinctively Almodóvar. In the same way, Urquiola’s designs are personal. You can almost see her hand in every new chair she crafts or knit rug she designs.
It is seeing the personality behind Almodóvar and Urquiola’s work that makes it unique and original, and ultimately makes our lives richer. It is a sweet relief – and cure for the mundane.