Given all the hassle snowfall is causing over much of Europe, I’m sure Rolf Sachs wouldn’t mind if someone used his ‘Inseper-able’ coffee table made out of two classic ‘Davoser’ ash sleds fused together to actually get from A to B. On the contrary, it would probably bring an amused smile to the face of the designer whose work is marked by a Surrealist’s humour and constantly re-purposing found or quotidian objects.
One of the many things that is notable about Sachs is that he is a multifaceted character who hardly exemplifies the stereotype of a furniture and product designer. In addition to his glamorous background – Brigitte Bardot was his stepmother during the years that his father Gunther was married to her- he operates as a very real tycoon working in the world of high finance and big business in addition to running his own design practice and design projects based in London.
Within his work as a designer, both the Surrealists’ touch, particularly in re-envisaging daily objects afresh, and questioning the values of physical materials are reoccurring themes. For example, in the case of the latter, he has produced numerous designs that involve casting extant design classics and remaking them in entirely different materials; wood becomes resin or bronze. In many ways, this approach at times bears a strong resemblance to the way in which many contemporary sculptors work. So it’s only natural that many of Sachs’ designs are made in very small editions or as unique objects.
Some key examples of this include his ‘Spitting Image’ chairs in which the classic ‘bistro’ chair design from the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is remade in a semi-transparent cast urethane resin as a limited edition of 96. Or, indeed, his ‘Dirty Thoughts’ chair in which the most mass-produced of chairs is cast in Kevlar and resin and decorated with a wild abstract Pollock-esque pattern. The hugely common becomes highly exclusive, almost perversely remade as a limited edition of only 7.
A slightly different approach to working with the found object also runs through his numerous designs for lighting that draw on the world of the chemistry laboratory, the found objects of traditional lab apparatus conveniently forming functional shapes akin to modernism’s constructions put to use towards similar functional ends. In more recent years this has shifted in the direction of the natural sciences; taxidermy and bell domes. Here, it is rather the serendipity of nature itself that comes to the fore; the skeleton of a common chicken bearing a striking first-glance similarity to a dinosaur, for example. The work at once evokes the world of Frankenstein – and no doubt the bad doctor’s contemporary soul mates- beavering away in the laboratory to produce a twisted nature.
One of the things that distinguish Rolf Sachs’ work is its almost constant reference to preceding design culture. In much the same way that many contemporary artists work with the sheer weight of art history as a living entity within their work, so too does Sachs seem to be persistently engaged in reflecting upon the history of design and the languages of design culture rather than becoming engaged in an introspective battle to come up with some never-before-seen form. His is a very communicative approach to design in which communicating with the audience –rather than necessarily accommodating its practical needs- are primary. Often this takes on the form of a witty conversation, complete with humourous asides and little jokes.