Does furniture have to be comfortable, or even functional, to be worth creating? Most people would say yes, but perhaps the answer depends upon your perspective on the line between art and design. Good art aims to provoke an emotional response, or at least an intellectual inquiry, and design is supposed to be useful. But sometimes that line is blurred.
Copenhagen-based artists Lea Hein and Magnus Pettersen, working together as Pettersen & Hein, love to play with that liminal space. Their collections of strange furniture are unquestionably beautiful, and from some angles, you might see them as functional objects. From others, they look like gallery pieces that should never, under any circumstances, actually be sat upon or used.
The pair asks: “What happens when design is no longer comprised by function but longs for the aesthetic and ethical freedom of art? American artist Richard Artschwager once said, ‘If you sit on it, it’s a chair. If you walk around it and look at it, it’s a sculpture’.”
“Some objects [accommodate] different ways of living and using a space by paying homage to materials, color, and form rather than functional use, thereby taking on a clear unique, bold position, the end-result often being intriguing and extraordinary. When boundaries between design and art are effaced, [the] potential for magic occurs.”
It’s not hard to see that magic in their work. Hein is a furniture designer, and Pettersen is an artist specializing in concrete sculptures. The objects they create are recognizable as lamps, tables, vases, and chaise lounges, but there’s something charmingly unique about each one.
Some, for instance, have faces. Some look like they might serve some sort of arcane purpose known only to a select few. Some are just more fun than average, like a full-length mirror that flows down onto the floor. But they also take mundane items a few steps further than they have to, expanding upon them and embellishing them in a fresh and creative way.
Many of Pettersen and Hein’s boldest designs are from their 2017 collection “Home,” including a set of anthropomorphic tables and wavy mirrors. They said they wanted that furniture to feel psychedelic and alive, representing “who you are both physically and mentally.”
Ultimately, what you get feels like more than you bargained for, but in a good way. Each individual piece is both an eye-catcher and a conversation starter, grand enough to put on a pedestal and illuminate as the focal point of a room.
Pettersen and Hein are arguably at the forefront of a new wave of Danish modern design — one that feels rooted firmly in the 21st century. The recognizable style of their collaborative work is instantly iconic.
“To place yourself outside a category creates new potential,” says Hein in an interview with Disegno. “When working in the space between art and design, you are free from restrictions, [and] there are no rules. Having fewer limitations allows you to work experimentally. It is really exciting to take things from one context and put them in another because you see things in new ways. I think it is about refining and transforming something boring and industrial into something that is more poetic.”