Put ya bum on a Sottsass chair
We know a lot about chairs. I’m sitting on one, right now. Mine is vaguely comfortable in its ordinariness. In ancient times chairs were rare. In many tribes only men were allowed to have them or sit on them. When you became a man, your father made you a chair.
Now chairs are everywhere and yet for the vastness of their number, to us, there is no such thing as the chair of chairs: the ideal chair. Like the stray dogs in Athens, they haunt us. Oh no, another chair!
Silly problem? Strange to be thinking about this? Yes, but the ordinary chair is also possibly something else other than the source of a philosophical puzzle. Especially if the chair is designed. Especially if it is Continental, Italian or French.
We have, from the Italian design group, Sottsass Associati, the cool Nine-O range of stacking chairs, made from brushed or polished aluminium. At a glance, they look like K-Mart but yet, there is something else about their presence when they are stacked. One could converse with these chairs, perhaps? Are they sexed?
When we start to look at things this way, we see the same strangeness is true of other stuff, especially if it is anything from Phillipe Starck. Take his Juicy Salif lemon squeezer if you can afford one. Put it on your retirement party wish list. A beautiful piece of useless kitchenware, it is most famous for its uselessness.
Now available in miniature form, which makes it super cute, the squeezer exceeds in its in-utlity except, as Starck says:
Sometimes you must choose why you design — in this case not to squeeze lemons, even though as a lemon squeezer it works. Sometimes you need some more humble service: on a certain night, the young couple, just married, invites the parents of the groom to dinner, and the groom and his father go to watch football on the TV. And for the first time the mother of the groom and the young bride are in the kitchen and there is a sort of malaise — this squeezer is made to start the conversation. (See: http://www.mymaster.com.au/files.upload/20130626_11043053/1372218426_5.pdf)
It costs what? On a certain night? Sort of a malaise? This is oh so French. While the blokes watch the World Cup, let’s have a conversation about kitchen stuff? Hell, let’s be full on Irish-French. Let’s join Dylan Moran in his 2004 show, Monster – Live and start the day with chocolate bread:
Chocolate bread! That’s how they [the French] start the day. It’s only going to escalate from there. . . . I was in Paris recently — they are very good at pleasure. I was walking by a bakery — a boulangerie, which is fun to go into and to say, even — and I went in, a childish desire to get a cake — “Give me one of those chocolate guys,” I said — and I was talking to someone on the street, took a bite . . . I had to tell them to go away! This thing! I wanted to book a room with it. “Where are you from, what kind of music are you into? Come on!”
Proper, serious pleasure. Because they know they’re gonna die. Nobody goes to church. You think, we’re gonna die, make a . . . nice cake.
Which may sound all too French but wait, now we know, thanks to Dylan Moran, we are going to die, we are in for some “proper serious pleasure”. Think of the 2001 film Amélie and its garden of object delights. Think of Amélie’s narration of the market place to the blind man. What joy in being in a world with such things. Put your hand into a bag of seeds. Feel!
But then we wake and find the un-Continental response of one US critic to all this Frenchness:
Watching Amélie is like taking a sticky shower in honey. No, wait: Amélie is like a never-ending bowl of filling comfort food. It’s like a nougat enema. Like drowning in a lake filled with Grand Manier. Like EuroDisney after a full frontal lobotomy. (http://worldfilm.about.com/od/frenchfilm/fr/amelie.htm)
A “nougat enema” is perhaps more Internet-US than Montmartre-French but at least it is extravagant and not Texas-dull. At least it awakens desire even if perversely.
Which gets us to the idea of the Continental as a special way of seeing chairs and juice squeezers and seeds and thingy things. As Herb Magidson puts it, in his lyrics made famous in the 1934 film The Gay Divorcee:
“Beautiful music —
Dangerous rhythm –
“It’s something daring, The Continental,
A way of dancing that’s really entre nous [between us].
It’s very subtle, The Continental,
Because it does what you want it to do.”
Continental approach? Something between us? Something very subtle? Something that will do whatever you want it to? Here the rules are invented as we go. We might fall in love. Before the night is over, we might sit our bum on a Sottsass chair.
The idea of the Continental in design is further explored in a recent article by Keith Russell: “Chocolate Bread, Sacred Rice: Continental Ways of Looking at Things”. (See: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/toc/desi/30/3)