make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend

make your fridays matter

Porky Hefer celebrates the ingenuity of wild creatures with 'no bats, no chocolate'
Artist Porky Hefer's solo show no bats, no chocolate at Galerie56, New York
Image: Courtesy of Hayden Phipps/ Southern Guild

Porky Hefer celebrates the ingenuity of wild creatures with 'no bats, no chocolate'

The South African artist’s exhibition at Galerie56 features nine pieces of animal-inspired sculptural furniture, rooted in an ethos of 'constructive coexistence with nature.'

by STIRpad
Published on : Jul 09, 2024

Tao, Victor, Freddy, Warren, Robert, Maria and Kevin—these are just a few of the names you will encounter in no bats, no chocolate, a solo exhibition by South African artist Porky Hefer. Presented by Southern Guild and New York-based Galerie56, the design exhibition runs from April 30 - August 26, 2024, and features a whimsical collection of nine handcrafted seating environments designed to ignite a sense of play and wonder. Hefer’s new collection is a ‘toy box’ of inhabitable, animal-inspired sculptures that celebrate the intelligence and ingenuity of wild creatures.

The exhibition’s offbeat name comes from bats and their crucial role in pollinating many plants essential for our economy and culture, including avocados, bananas, mangoes, agave and cacao. Hefer observes their unique characteristics such as belly buttons and in some species, the ability of males to produce milk to feed their young. This appreciation for the natural world is evident in every product design showcased in no bats, no chocolate.

In no bats, no chocolate, Hefer channels the eccentricity and uniqueness of a diverse array of wild creatures including a bat, walrus, wildebeest (or gnu), ladybird beetle, zebra, bushbaby, beaver and crocodile. Each of these larger-than-life forms invites viewers to engage their imaginations and foster a deeper connection with the animal kingdom. These chair designs highlight the fascinating behaviours and mutualistic relationships witnessed in animals, encouraging us to see them as beings with distinct personalities and playing vital roles in their ecosystems.

For instance, wildebeests are known to collectively figure out ways to traverse their path by relying on the individuals’ environmental awareness. The product designer points to the swarm intelligence of migrating wildebeests with the Robert Nesta chair, comprising two elongated spheres of different sizes, attached and elevated on four legs.

Zebras have a symbiotic relationship with gut bacteria, which help digest their food and transform it into protein during scarcity. The South-African artist realises this relationship with the mischievous Victor, a bacteria-like simple form dressed in zebra stripes, with bright red wheels and a rope to drag it around like a toy.

Hefer shares how beavers (often seen as a nuisance), create essential biota by building dams, slowing water flow and contriving wetlands that provide habitats for diverse species and foster a rich ecological balance. His designs for Maria and Kevin highlight their iron-rich orange teeth that stand firm against the stress of nibbling at trees.

Hefer’s work echoes the philosophies of Ettore Sottsass, Gae Aulenti and Gaetano Pesce, who believed that change begins at home. He takes this further by utilising local materials and craftsmanship, highlighting the artisanal talents of his collaborators and longtime associates, including felt artist Ronel Jordaan, welder Wellington Moyo and leatherwork studio Leather walls.

The artist’s fascination for animal behaviour is not just scientific but deeply personal. Growing up on farmlands in South Africa, he developed a close relationship and care towards them.“So many kids growing up in big cities don’t have positive relationships with wild animals. Their default response is one of fear and hostility. But you have to love animals to protect them, and the less contact children have with animals, the less desire they will have to safeguard them,” Hefer conveys.

He contrasts the adaptive nature of animals with humanity’s tendency to exploit nature for their best interests and urges people to recognise the individuality of these creatures. “I learnt to understand animals and see the difference in their personalities. Animals adapt to their environment, while humans predominate over nature to suit our needs. We’ve been taught we are higher up in the pecking order and that animals don’t have souls, but they so obviously do,” he adds.

Hefer’s philosophy is rooted in 'constructive coexistence with nature' and his purpose for creating interactive sculptural designs is to introduce a new kind of animal architecture that instigates ways of interaction between visitors and the wild. The artist invites people to explore the wild in a safe and ideal environment, enabling creative interactions to form a personal connection with the animals through meaningful furniture designs. Through these immersive experiences, Hefer highlights the similarities between us and animals, fostering a creative, connected and humane relationship with our environment and each other.

With an eco-activist mindset, Hefer’s designs are deeply immersed in natural phenomena, organic forms and ecosystems. His iconic human-sized nests, woven in Kooboo cane, stemmed from his admiration for the weaver bird’s nest-making process. His 2018 project titled Endangered investigated sustainability in an African context via upcycled materials, highlighting endangered species to support the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s conservation efforts. The Plastocene was commissioned in 2020 by the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia for the NGV Triennial, where the artist speculates the emergence of mutated entities from the scrap-filled ocean.

The contemporary artist envisions a world where humanity is empathetic towards its fellow beings and lives in synergy with the animal kingdom. The no bats, no chocolate exhibition at Galerie 56 is an imaginative world where play and purpose converge, offering a fresh perspective on the intricate web of life that surrounds us.

Porky Hefer’s 'no bats, no chocolate' is on view from April 30 - August 26, 2024, at Galerie56, Tribeca, New York.

(Text by Bansari Paghdar, intern at STIR)

What do you think?

Comments Added Successfully!