You know when you see a sculpture in a gallery that looks like a piece of furniture? Or some furniture in a store that looks more like an art piece? And in both contexts you wonder: Can I actually sit on that? Well this is the grey area where Anton Defant's practice lives.
Anton is an intriguing object designer whose work embodies both a sense of playfulness and a sense of seriousness which, on paper, doesn't seem like it would make sense, but in reality, somehow does. And so we talked about this; his ironic sensibilities, his use of everyday symbols, and his interest in deconstructing preconceived notions of objects. Enjoy.
I first wondered how Anton would define his work.
"I would say I define myself as an object designer; inbetween product and sculpture. But it depends on the project, and if I'm choosing a more sculptural approach, a more conceptual approach, or a more use-based approach."
"Tair" (left), "Basecamp Paris" (right). (Including work from @servusbenjamin)
It became clear through casual conversation that Anton has two sides to his practice — the playful and the serious. I wanted to hear more about each of these sides.
"The playful stuff is always more of a gut-feeling project — and more dumb and ironic. Like a sand box or something. And the other projects are more like brain projects — [I] have to think through all the elements and be very precise and solid."
"If I'm only doing the serious stuff, I feel too heavy. And that's also why I'm currently trying to find out how I can combine both these sides. Because the one [serious] side gives the money — but the other side gives me a feeling… With the gut feeling side I'm always like 'Okay, that's funny'. I'm always searching for this little laughing moment inside of me that's a little abstract. Not to be too silly with stuff, but just a light sense of humour. And if I have this feeling then I'm always like 'Okay, I have to do it'."
"I'm constantly trying to think 'How can I build up a structure for myself to make space for all the playful stuff, and make space and time for all the more serious stuff?'. But, if I have the idea for a good product, it often has both sides. The folding sofa, "Ballast", for example has both sides. That's why I really liked the idea."
I wanted to hear more about this folding sofa, "Ballast".
"I was working with camping chairs before — but no one ever touches camping chairs because the contextualisation is so connected to festivals or low quality or ugly products. But I think it's a really beautiful mechanism."
"I'm quite often using readymades in my work [pre-made products as a material]. I always try to find low key stuff and make cool, sophisticated or elegant objects out of them. Like the camping chair. It's a nice product, but it also has this little vibe to it. It's an ugly chair; if you put it in a fancy living room people are defensive. And I think I like to take these things and twist them and give them this humorous, but also honest notion."
I wondered how he nurtures these kinds of ideas.
"I have this note folder on my phone right now, like a huge list of ideas. There's a lot of silly stuff on it right now. But I think it's a good idea if I can already describe something in three words before I even start — like 'a-foldable-sofa'."
I was curious to learn about some more recurring intentions or approaches across his projects.
"I try to find symbols or everyday objects which I can twist or make more valuable. It's way more fun and interesting to take these things than to think of stuff from scratch. I really like the idea of taking bits and pieces from everywhere and melting them down to one thing."
"I always try to find an object which has the potential to become a sophisticated design product — but it's the way it's produced or how its associated that makes it not at all a design product. Maybe other people wouldn't recognise, but if I try to see through it, and if I can put things together to make it look more elegant than tacky, then I have it. I think it's also a way of collaging. I think if I look at my work, it's always about collaging different worlds."
Anton went on to illustrate this conceptual approach through some of his past projects.
"I did this Megamix series. It's just regular IKEA vases — the cheapest you can get. I made plaster molds from [them], cut them in half and reassembled them. Then all of a sudden — out of the vase you've already seen a hundred times in flats of your friends — there becomes this weird collage of those objects."
"I did this one exhibition called Security Blanket and it was just the topic of toys — cuddly toys. It was all about ambivalent feelings towards play. The harmful side and the joyful side. I was doing these mixed objects — a window blanket for example — but instead of fully covering you, it has a window cut out, so the person is exposed; like a voyeuristic approach to the blanket."
"In that exhibition I also had these big electricity towers but made out of really soft wool. And I had these jumper cable hand puppets. I tried to take symbols that you know from a more cold or harmful environment, like with electricity and voltage, and integrate them into play, to make an ambivalent playground of dangerous stuff."
"Man's Best Friend".
"I used to work a lot with a friend, Benjamin Nagy, and we were doing these classic white plastic chairs that's in every garden — but we made them furry. We had carpet and we just glued it onto them really smoothly so in the end you had this well-known chair with this iconic form, but it has hair. And we also did it with these antique tables with curved legs, so this well-known classic became like a creature or a dog — which is why we called it Man's Best Friend; playing with notions of furniture as servant and the Biedermayer period where these tables were used."
As a final note, I was interested to hear how Anton wants others to experience his work.
"One guy I met briefly when I moved to Berlin said 'I like your work because it's dumb-smart'. And that kind of stuck to me because yeah, that's a very short explanation of what I like. Because if the dumbness gets smart, it becomes elegant and self-aware. It's hard to explain, but this is somewhere I try to be if I have the freedom."
Thank you to Anton. You can find his links below.
Interview and portraits by Ewan Waddell.
Including work from @servusbenjamin
Object photos: Werkstätte für digitale Fotografie der Universität für angewandte Künste Wien; Nikolaus Kuklakis.