Five minutes with design savant Ron Arad

Instantly recognisable for his trademark wide-brimmed headwear and quick wit, Israeli-born, London-based architect, product designer and artist Ron Arad has more than made his mark in those disparate creative fields since he launched his career in 1981 by creating the Frankenstein-esque Rover Chair. Since then, his work, which combines a tongue-in-cheek sensibility with improvisation and gorgeous simplicity, has been featured in dedicated retrospectives from New York’s MoMA and London’s Barbican Centre to the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Recently, his larger-than-life presence graced Sheung Wan’s Over The Influence gallery, which had invited Arad to showcase a body of work that comprised of replicas of Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack sculpture crushed using an industrial press, and suitably titled Flat Mates. We spoke to the “Bruce Willis of design” – as a collaborator once called him – on his inspiration for the exhibition and the task of bridging opposite ends of the creative spectrum.

How did your chosen materials inform this body of work?

Like everything else, it’s a dialogue between your will and what the material agrees to do for you.  Sometimes the material will surprise you, sometimes you can intuitively understand. I did lots of sketches prior to making this – they looked quite similar to the end product, yet there are some surprises. When you squash the same replica of each other, they’re so different from each other, like people. The great thing is the sameness, and the difference.

Is there a disconnect between your artworks and your design work?

Absolutely not. It’s stupid, the objectives being different when you do a building and when you do a flat piece. It’s all to do with curiosity. Sometimes in architecture we ask, what will happen if we do this? What if I do that? The objectives are different, say, between a chair that you do for an industrial company, the destination is to be sold in furniture shops. When you do [something like] the Rover Chair, it may appear to be similar but the destination is an art gallery. Although they’re both chairs, the approach is the same, there’s no disconnect between one or the other.

Normally, people who come to someone like me know what not to expect.

Sometimes you deal with different worlds – the clients of architecture are different from galleries. But at the end of the day, that’s what gets me interested and it’s what I’m curious about. What gives me pleasure and delight hopefully gives the public the same sensations.

For commercial products as opposed to art, do you find that the client is an obstacle to work around?

I find that in every great piece of architecture, there’s also an interesting client. Not to say that sometimes there’s never compromise. Everything has its own limitations, but the good thing is to not have to compromise more than you would. Some people have a different approach. They’re there to get more work and to compromise more. Good luck to them. Maybe they’re right. Normally, people who come to someone like me know what not to expect. That problem sort of looks after itself.

Flat Mates will run until 28 February at Over The Influence.

Portrait image: Mark Cocksedge/Surface Magazine