Brand Snapshot | Fredrikson Stallard

This week, as part of our Brand Snapshot series, artists Ian Stallard and Patrik Fredrikson, founders of the avant-garde design studio Fredrikson Stallard present their manifesto.

“At the core of our practice lies a complex and focused interrogation of the received position of functional objects within the hierarchy of art. Essentially our work is a questioning of category and hierarchy, this provides the contextual background from which we create. Although we have never had a desire to be confined to existing and constricting categories, our practice is engaged by the way in which the examination of these categorisations can give rise to work which would not exist if it was only made in the context of one category, design or another, fine art. Our approach has always been instinctive, striving for that which is at the very heart of creative expression. An intellectual or technical understanding of our work is not essential for its appreciation, what is more important is an emotional connection, a non-verbal, intuitive response.

Over the last two decades our production has often been linked to design, the fabrication of objects to fulfil a particular remit of functionality and utility; this has arisen either through commercial necessity or simplification. The term design art – an art market and auction house driven category – has also been deployed in an attempt to comprehend our practice. However, the true meaning of our work lies both outside of the terms design and art, and yet encompasses both of them.

Throughout history the applied arts have shifted in their position of visual culture against that of sculpture. As Christopher Wilk, Keeper of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum noted, during the Renaissance tapestries were the ‘private jets of their day’. And during the Baroque and Rococo periods painting and sculpture fused with architecture and furniture, creating a dynamic, irrational space. However, the industrial revolution radically altered the balance between the fine and applied arts, and for two hundred years this rupture has radically polarised our perception of functional objects and their relative importance compared to that of art. This has culminated in the progressive removal of humans from a direct engagement with the real world; we approach reality mediated through the virtual interface of the smart phone and the web browser. It has gone a step too far, and a brooding post-digital apocalypse is surely waiting in the wings. Technology will not always fulfil its remit to make our lives ‘easier’; in fact it may one day make our very existence irrelevant. Our current era is chapter one in a J G Ballard novel where the thin veneer of civilisation cannot continue to camouflage the dystopia which lurks beneath. Behind the high-tech world of polite ‘cyber-sharing’, which contemporary technocracy has hypnotised us into through hyper-personalised web algorithm advertising, lies the dark primeval nature of humankind – it is something we ignore at our peril.

Our response is to create works which thrive on a raw sense of energy, chaos, destruction and recreation, to allow us to experience the world in new ways, and to see it differently. We create post-apocalyptic, chimerical objects that visually embody our meditations on the current state of the world. We never engage with the notion of design ‘focus groups’ or ‘market analysis’ – what people are told they want by the ever manipulative and cynical machinery of the media and manufacturing industries. We do not give people what they are told they want by these commercially driven mechanisms of market manipulation; we give them a dream of something different, something extra-ordinary, something genuine, authentic, human – a new reality.

Although some aspects of our work can be appreciated through the photographic medium, it is through interaction with the works themselves, in real time, in the real world, that they achieve their authentic presence. Exploiting the most subtle aspects of texture, material, volume, light, movement and contrast, the works function on a four-dimensional graph, between the twin axes of time and space, they thirst for human interaction – it completes them. Because our work is able to interact with the ‘viewer’ through its design aspect of ‘functionality’, something denied to a conventional work of ‘fine art’, it provides a new avenue of appreciation and pleasure, no longer just visual and aesthetic, it is now kinaesthetic, tactile, sensual, interactive and physical. What in a fine art context is demarcated as ‘the viewer’ now becomes an expanded interactive entity, an active participant in the creation of the final work; in effect, the audience is now the activator of the latent performative aspect of the work.

Function and technology are the two cornerstones of modernism; we reject neither, but what we strongly reject is the idea that function and technology are somehow more important than emotion – the obsession of the post-industrial age with the notion that thought is more important than feeling, ego more important than id. In our practice over the last twenty years, a hammer has been of equal importance to 3D computer software in the genesis and production of the work. Being able to sit on one of our sofas has been of equal concern to that of its aesthetic and sculptural qualities as an object in its own right.

Our work is an ongoing and engaged quest for the achievement of equilibrium between the digital and the analogue, moving towards a resolution of the inherent tensions between the two. To allow computers to create work themselves, through the use of algorithms, which may appear at first to be random, fluid or even sentient, but are in fact prosaic and without soul, is a huge mistake that leads to work which is ultimately dead. Equally, the atavistic impulse to simply turn ones back on technology and create solely in an archaic manner, randomly chiselling away at blocks of stone, will produce nothing new and can only lead to kitsch revivalism or empty imitation.

Our passion is in the performance of creation, to capture the energy of instinctive, instantaneous inspiration, a record of an energetic moment, the tactical disruption of structure, and the careful choreography of its aftermath. We then deploy technology to reveal a new dimension within these gestural beginnings, shifting our perception through a nuanced appreciation and manipulation of scale, materiality and functional attributes. In this way we reunite thought and feeling, ego and id, subconscious irrationality and reason. As Lucio Fontana stated: ‘An art based on forms created by the subconscious and balanced by reason, constitutes a true expression of existence and is the synthesis of a moment in time.’

As our career has developed, we have been periodically pulled back into the fold of the ‘design world’, encouraged to create works that have our spirit, whilst at the same time retaining modernism’s imperative tenets of function, comfort and efficiency of manufacture. But for us simply to fabricate variations of the modernist credo is of no interest, and in moving forward we are challenging this by deliberately and increasingly creating works that, although they may have their origins in our background of utility, push the parameters of functionality to the limit. We are in tune with the thoughts of Franz West on function: ‘My aphorism is not that form follows function but that it never violates it,’ and his sense that his work was ‘too strange to be “good design” and too functional to be “good art” though they are ultimately both’.

Modernism is not only a fact of history, but it has been perfected, refined and installed as the ultimate index of ‘good design’. It is now available to the masses – as was intended. But it has not solved the problems of the world, as was once hoped, and to merely create endless variations on its aesthetics is of no consequence or importance.

Music, film, art – all these are the manifestations of creative endevour that make our hearts race, that give us goose bumps. Reworked modernist design does not do this for us. Whilst we have been categorised within the design world, we have consistently worked in the manner of artists. We have an atelier where we create objects, sketches and models based on conceptual sculptural motives. These are then harshly edited, not on the basis of commerciality, but from the perspective of an aesthetic and emotional response to them. We ask of the work: ‘Is the world a better place with this in it or not? Does it say something new, innovative, exciting?’ Our work is shown in contemporary art galleries and the permanent collections of museums, we have patrons and collectors. Yet to simply proclaim that ‘we are artists’ would be too reductive, and merely continue to engage with an outdated twentieth-century hierarchy which we do not want to offer the next generation as the only option. We consider ours to be a unique practice, allowing the freedom and expression of the manner of creation and the functionality or otherwise of the piece to be born from the core values of desire, instinct and feeling, honesty, authenticity and truth.”