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Live at Design Miami: Campana Brothers’ Stuffed Toy Chairs

Last week Tanya opened our focus on Design Miami with a look at Transplastic by this year’s recipient of Miami’s Designer of the Year accolades, Fernando and Humberto Campana. The two Brazilian brothers (who, born six years apart, seem to have taken concordant detours through law and architecture before settling on careers in design) are known for the kind of self-imposed constraints that might initially seem an impediment to creativity, but eventually are revealed as the best kind of re-contextualized re-interpretation. The result is a knack for inspired re-invention. Their designs consistently show things in a new light. Whether their chosen medium is culled from nature (as in Transplastic), or from castoffs from the streets of Brazil (Sushi IV Chair), their work is a running commentary on consumerism, on our relationships to the things we create and discard.

Mickey, Minnie & Pluto Cartoon Chair, 2007. Designed by Fernando and Humberto Campana. Exhibited via Albion.

One critic has said that the Campana Brothers are “fueled by an innate sense of irreverence tempered by a gentle humility and an appreciation of the poetic.” I’d say this just about sums up their vision for the Banquette Chair (2002), a loveseat-come-sofa made of stuffed animals culled from Brazilian street markets. Depending on your particular inclination for darkness or for light, this piece is either the realization of childhood dreams or the living manifestation of nightmares (my sensibilities condemn me to the latter). While it may evoke the innocent pleasures of youth—especially if you’re from that part of the world—I see it as a despairing commentary on our treatment of animals and the natural world. The aesthetic is certainly compelling, but for me the overall effect is one of dismemberment and chaos.

Thankfully for this reviewer, the re-interpreted versions of the Banquette Chair—originally for London’s Albion Gallery and Moss Gallery of Art and Design—are a bit heavier on the whimsy quotient, avoiding the intimations of horror that often seem to emanate from childhood toys. Featured in the Campana’s Diamantina installation at Design Miami, both the Mickey, Minnie & Pluto Cartoon Chair and the Pandas Chair are homages to the Banquette, and both of them display a uniform conception and execution that quells the chaos and invites authentic childhood reverie. Like the Banquette, both pieces are sprawling, oversized chairs created from an effusion of plush toys. In a taped interview at Albion—where the Mickey, Minnie & Cartoon Chairs are suspended from the ceiling and displayed alongside “painted silhouettes” that play with notions of light and shadow—the Brothers discuss the chair’s illusion of randomness, pinpointing the design objective as “reconstructing the casuality.” One could take this literally—and the chair certainly achieves a functional random-ness, as it seems constituted of a headlong deluge of Mickeys and Minnies, as if they fell straight from the sky and onto the steel frame—or metaphorically, as a commentary on the commodification of childhood and an admirable attempt to re-contextualize and re-capture some authentic spontaneity. But the bottom line is that every American, for better or worse, has a relationship with Disney’s famous Rodentia Familiaris. That alone is enough to get you interested, whether you’re one or ninety-two.

Posted December 4th, 2008 by Joseph Starr


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