Developed by Matthias Gschwendtner in context of his Diploma Project at the Universität der Künste, UdK, Berlin New Sources sees, and simplifying more than is perhaps prudent, Matthias employ Artificial Intelligence, 3D scanning, algorithmic modelling and robotic milling to form silver birch branches into the necessary components for a chair. Which, yes, does sound like an awful lot of technology for a chair; however, New Sources not only promises a process that realises less waste, but which can use waste wood, or what is conventionally waste wood, but also enables the use of all and any branches for furniture, not just the straight, standardised, unnatural, ones that are conventionally used. And in the case of, for example, the Aaltos, those other formers of birch, straight pieces of wood bent in order to be used. And thus pose important questions of not only the contemporary furniture industry, but the contemporary forestry industry. Reminds that forestry is an industry.
A very engaging and communicative project, and a very nice example of, if one so will, a subtractive 3D printing process, as opposed to the more popularly met additive, one of the, for us, fascinating aspects of New Sources is that it allows for a local, decentralised, furniture production with on the one hand the associated reduction in transport miles that is so often hidden in our contemporary centralised furniture industry, and thereby a decentralised production that can help contribute to maintaining the forests it, the furniture industry, needs for its existence, and on the other a decentralised production that also offers interesting insights into the question(s) posed in context of Hauke Wendler’s film and book on the ubiquitous plastic Monobloc, as to how “democratic” is the Monobloc and what could constitute a universal, egalitarian, democratic seating concept for all: how about locally crafted, naturally variable, wooden chairs? ¿Since when did global society reflect the sterile uniformity of the industrial Monobloc? And is also a project which very nicely questions the objectification on the basis of which the contemporary furniture industry is very much based: much as fruit and veg need to look like idealised fruit and veg to be accepted as fruit and veg, so chairs, according to conventional, accepted, wisdom, need to look like idealised chairs to be accepted. Similarly fruit and veg must be flawless in construction and materials, so, so conventional wisdom, furniture, one of the few points of agreement between craft and industry. New Sources, says no they don’t. And no they don’t. And no. And then challenges you to say why it is wrong. Whereby, you can’t. You try. You try really hard. New Sources always has a more convincing counter-argument.
In addition we very, very, much enjoy the fact that the Grassimesse was established in context of the discussions on machine versus hand, industry versus craft, in context of the production of our objects of daily use that raged in the early 20th century. 100 years later New Sources turns up at the Grassimesse and not only tells craft it is now redundant, that machines can also work with wood in a reflective, responsive manner, but also tells industry that its flawless serial production of identical objects has run its course: it rejects both industry and craft while embracing industry and craft. Or put another way, and to evoke memories of one of the more prominent echos from the early 20th century, Walter Gropius, New Sources implies that rather than a new unity between either art and craft or art and technology that which was sought a century ago was a new unity between craft and technology. Ignore the art. Or perhaps, ¿Ignore the art? ¿And today? ¿Should we ignore the art? A provocative question at the Grassimesse, but one that must be posed. Much as it was also posed in the immediate post-War years by the likes of an Otl Aicher, or Charles and Ray Eames, arguably a Mart Stam. And arguably in following decades by the likes of, for example, a Jasper Morrison. Yet still art remains a part of the equation. ¿Should we ignore the art? ¿Should we move on from the art? ¿Should we focus more on craft and industry not as opposing aspects, but different opinions that can expand and enrich the other if allowed to?
And thus a project that for all it is achingly contemporary reminds us all that regardless of far and fast we think things are developing, we’re often only considering the same questions in new contexts. The machines we have at our disposal, the mind-boggling technology we can employ today for the centuries old practice of producing a wooden chair, may be very different from those novel machines of a century ago, but represent exactly the same advancing off technology beyond that which was previously imaginable. With all the questions that brings with it. And need for answers.
Which isn’t to say we think New Sources is the future of furniture production, if it is time will tell, and will in any case be decided by opinions that weigh heavier than ours; are saying that as conduit for reflections on where we are and where we want to be and where we want to go New Sources is not only very satisfying and challenging, but as you watch the robot work, very meditative.
Further information, including a video, can be found at https://matthiasgschwendtner.com
And for all in or near Leipzig New Sources by Matthias Gschwendtner can be experienced at the Grassimesse, at the GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Johannisplatz 5-11, 04103 Leipzig until Sunday 22nd October
Full details of the 2023 Grassimesse, including opening hours and ticket prices, can be found at www.grassimesse.de