To understand how Konstantin Grcic arrived at his latest series, 'Hieronymus', you must refer to the painting by Antonello da Messina of Saint Jerome in his study. In it, the theologian and Doctor of the Church, most recognised for translating the Bible into Latin, is situated on a podium rendered with architectural elements like a proscenium-cum-office.
Flash forward roughly 500 years when Grcic was training as a cabinetmaker in Dorset where he first saw a photo of the work, exhibited in the National Gallery, and marveled at this unusual depiction of furniture. His five pieces currently presented at the Galerie Kreo adopt this workstation concept circa 1475 while radically rethinking the design for today.
Within the Paris gallery, the varyingly geometric works give the impression of sculptures, whether cube-like in Carrara marble, tube-like in gold matte-finish aluminum, ovoid in 3D-printed sand, or irregularly pentagonal in fibre-cement. But the German designer – also currently showing a selection of plinth designs at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld – says he never considered the pieces as unoccupied. ‘Even in our early visualisations and illustrations, there was always a person inside,’ he tells Wallpaper*, demonstrating how each invites a slightly different posture.
More than just striking forms, the units serve as self-contained spaces for reading, writing or else the oft-neglected art of contemplation. Grcic points out how occupying one offers a reminder that furniture engages multiple points of contact: how we sit, where we place our feet, whether we can easily rest our elbows. ‘You can argue, “Is it comfortable or is it uncomfortable?” I think it’s both; it depends very much on your frame of mind and what you want to do,’ he says, before adding they are not intended as ‘9-to-5 desks.’
Grcic notes, too, how these ‘proposals’ present different typologies to the standard chair and table within a small footprint. The uprightness of the aluminum design, for instance, has the effect of a minimalist throne, while the larger 3D design could accommodate several people like space-age, tête-à-tête-style seating.
Unlike some of his industrial designs, Grcic says conceiving a series for Galerie Kreo allows him to test the limits of form and function. ‘The gallery is the kind of oratory or playground for trying things out. When you find things that work, they could end up being used in a commercial project. But I think you have to go extreme in order to learn a lot,’ he says.
Still to be determined is whether the pieces themselves might enable different ways of thinking—that leaning on the bench within the fibre-cement structure could stimulate ideas that wouldn’t materialise from sitting in the back of a taxi. To this, Grcic replies, ‘I think this is most significant; any chair has an effect on mind and how you work. Some people can concentrate anywhere, like in an airport. But here, I think the physical interaction puts you into a space which is also a mental space.’
Without doubt, it’s also a contemporary space, which he believes relates it back to the da Messina tableau ('Hieronymus' is Jerome in Latin). 'I think it’s something very much of today, just as much as the painting depicted how someone would think about Jerome in his study at that time,’ Grcic explains. ‘I couldn’t have done these five years ago and maybe I wouldn’t do them in five years’ time.’