What follows the collision of the functional and the surreal? Do fantastical dreams pirouette into reality, clad in functional forms? Time and time again, contemporary designers have attested through their work, that furniture design transcends the constraints of the pragmatic; it is an allusive sculpture, an installation and, sometimes, even a performance. Furniture morphs into functional art, and with that transformation come unfathomable possibilities of exploring facets as multilayered as the nature of human existence. Such is the oeuvre of France-based artist Leo Orta, currently animating the exhibition space at Room 6x8 in Beijing, China.
In his first solo show with Room 6x8, Orta presents a bio-divergent garden awash with a dialogue between the surreal and the functional. Through furniture design that is as eccentric as it is evocative, the sculpture artist revisits memories of travels and discoveries from the age of developmental consciousness. From tables and chairs to lamp designs, each sculptural object embodies visual references alluding to Orta’s fascination with phenomenology, despite their visage of naïveté. A charred tree with exotic fruits, an elderly man with a tortoise-shell cane, and an extraterrestrial screw and bolt—intriguing creatures inhabit the solo exhibition titled Day Dream, a visual delight awaiting to be discovered. The show will remain on view from May 26 - October 10, 2023. “It is the first time I conceived a fully dedicated scenography to the exhibition to make it more immersive. It allowed me to produce the images to accompany the narrative of the works, but also to create the world in which the pieces could potentially inhabit,” says Orta.
Orta is among the most representative creatives partaking in the young generation authoring the landscape of contemporary design. During his education, he began to dabble with a variety of highly explosive, guerrilla-style design exhibitions and made efforts towards infusing performance in his projects. His body of work interrogates the nature of human existence as well as the socio-emotional connections between people, their communities, and the environment. For Day Dream, Orta employs CGI and virtual wording to take viewers on a journey, tracing his roots in Argentina. The exhibition also includes fragments of pop culture from his childhood, interwoven into a singular visual journey. “I started by chasing several items to create with sketches out of the studio while travelling,” Orta shares while talking about the inception of the designs. “After having a clearer idea of where to go, I took on the sculpting, shaping, painting, and lacquering,” he adds.
Several product designs by Orta cater to a variety of functions, each time in their distinctive imaginative ways. For instance, Murky Bloom, a set comprising a chair and table design, draws inspiration from Chinese root chairs, while their forms are directed more by forces of nature than by the human hand. “The dark aspect of the colour on the other side references all the recent wildfires taking place around the world. Its bright colours refer to the exotic fruits far from what grows in urban environments in France,” the furniture designer explains. The 'French Hotpot' coffee table looks at traditions that people share around the table, from a tea ceremony, a hot pot to a french fondue. Another coffee table titled 'Dragonfly,' which, as its name suggests, references insects through its employed colours. Orta focuses on the appearance of these flying creatures that wander around lakes and rivers, conceiving the table top supported by wiggled legs that mimic dragonflies skimming on water.
Silhouettes made from contorted steel tubes constitute the Tube Breakout series of armchairs and an ottoman. It builds on the designer’s quest to find scrap resources—after weaving electrical wires symbolising today's movement of electrical power across the globe, the steel chair designs are born from the leftovers of an industry producing cylindrical tubes for the transportation of liquids and gas. “This breakout is a metaphor for the free movement of energies, like the gas leaking to escape a tube,” Orta states. The 'Mew' and 'Mewtwo' armchairs are contrived by the contemporary artist, not as siblings or a couple, but as cohabiting creatures. Orta instils in them, a potential to question stereotypes and a representation of gender through animation or colours. The sole lighting design that completes the repository on view is the 'Flashback Ghost.' The sculpted character of the floor lamp is frozen as an abstract body, derivative of the artist’s intuition. While making and reflecting on the object, Orta translates memories of his youth into bold imagery, through references to the anime Dragon Ball Z or Native American masks.
Despite being highly poetic and whimsical, the sculptural objects—all handcrafted in Orta’s studio in the Parisian suburbs—ensure an ambiguous utility and optimal comfort. Utilitarian features helm the creation of pieces that, when entering the domestic space, stage an elevation of furniture beyond its traditional role into a force of thought. Function, instead of being overlooked, becomes a necessary constraint, defining the boundaries between sculptures and furniture, or artists and craftsmen. Taking cues from sculptors such as Henry Moore, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Germaine Richier, Orta questions the categorisation of objects through his designs that gravitate towards sculptural and contemporary art. The exhibition is also a tribute to the impact of Droog Design, an experimental and conceptual collective that challenged the functionality of an object and inspired Orta's singular creative language to emerge.
‘Day Dream’ will be on view from May 26 - October 10, 2023, at the Room 6x8 in Beijing, China.