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Form Over Function: Non-Functional Art by Furniture Makers


It was the ultimate test when Nick Lippert asked 12 of his furniture-maker colleagues and friends to take part in the exhibit he was curating—FORM OVER FUNCTION: NEW, NON-FUNCTIONAL WORK BY FURNITURE DESIGNERS. The test? You can’t make a chair. Instead those 12 furniture makers — Seth Deysach, Chris Bach, Bryan Boline, Dan Sullivan, Doug Thome, Zak Rose, Scott Patterson, Andrew Kephart, Aaron Pahmier, Nick Lippert, and Craig Hamilton & Kate Votava — filled the Peanut Gallery, 1000 N. California Ave., Chicago, with non-functional art.

I sat down with Nick Lippert before the exhibit closed Feb. 28 to talk about what it’s like to make something that has no function.

Emily Zulz (EZ): What’s your background?

Nick Lippert (NL): I Played music for years and worked in tons of design companies, which is the basis of where I got the idea of the show is working with and for a lot of different designers and design firms over the years. I went to school for interior design. I love making furniture, I love architecture, interior design, art, music, you know, all that sort of stuff.

EZ: Where’d you go to school?

NL: The Illinois Institute of Art.

EZ: Now tell me about this exhibit. Where’d you get the idea to do it?

NL: I got the idea for the show, from working with so many designers for so long and seeing all these different people that were such prolific creators of objects and environment—making everything from one-off custom chairs and tables to entire restaurants and bars out of salvaged materials. These people are so creative and always producing, but not considered artists because the things that we produce have a function to them. I wanted to take people that do that out of that context and put them in an art gallery making things without a function, things that were purely for aesthetic value, sculptural pieces, two-dimensional pieces, whatever people felt like making.

Then, I’d been thinking about it for about a year. I had some friends that were interested in it when I came up with the idea. Then, of course, I’d go in and out of being really busy, too busy to do other things. Then I started working here (Dock 6 Collective, 4200 W. Diversey) about six months, and this is a big collective space with so many people involved in it. When I had initially thought about doing the show, I had about four to six people that I wanted to have involved in it. After working here, now I could have a dozen to two dozen people involved in the show and it could be just a really big, really fun show with a lot of different styles and a lot of different people involved.

EZ: Can you tell me a little about 4200 W. Diversey? Who’s all here?

NL: There’s seven companies involved with this space. They’re all independent companies, a lot of them are just owner-operated. A lot of the companies here are one- to two-man companies. There are four or five companies here that don’t really have any employees. They’re just completely owner-operated. And there are a couple companies here that have several employees. I work for Dan (Sullivan), I’m the only person that works for Dan here, which is Navillus WoodWorks. Dan was in the show as well.

The idea for the show was to invite strictly people who have their own companies, and that both design and fabricate. Nobody in the show just does design work or just does fabrication work. Everybody in the show does both. And everybody in the show has their own company, even if they work for other people.

Like, Craig and Kate collaborated on a project; they have their own company, but they both have other full-time jobs. I, as well, have a small thing of my own, but I have a full-time job. Same with Bryan, who was in the show. He has his own company, and he works for one of the companies here.


EZ: Can you elaborate on the difference between design and fabrication?

NL: A lot of companies, it’s pretty typical that you’ll have designers that work in an office or on computers who’ll do computer drawings, they’ll do the design work and then they’ll give the blue prints to the shop and the shop will do the fabrication work. There’s a big separation with that, whereas everyone in this collective and everyone that was involved in that show, even though they’re small companies, everyone does the design work, sells the design, and then builds it themselves. And that was why I chose these specific people. Because they’re not just on the computer-design end or just the fabrication end, they’re fully creative people. They do every aspect of it.

EZ: Tell me were there any requirements? What’d you say when you asked people?

NL: The requirements were what I just said, that narrowed it down to a list of people. Almost everyone I asked to be in the show took me up on it, and I just explained that I wanted to put a show together of people that fell in to that particular genre, but to make non-functional pieces. And that got a little bit of a bewildered look out of everyone. They were like, “Non-functional! What do you mean?” Well, the only reason I say that is, we’re all furniture makers and I’m telling you, you can’t make a chair. You can’t make a table for this, you can’t make a chair for this, you can’t make a lamp for this. But other than that, it was pretty much up to them. Whatever medium, materials they chose was pretty wide open. If you wanted to do an oil painting, I mean, you could have, that would be fine. It just could not be a chair.

EZ: Tell me about the piece you did for it.

NL: The piece that I did was just a big MDF box. It was assembled like a cabinet. And it’s supposed to represent the idea of an ice cave.

EZ: That’s what I thought!

NL: Yeah, good, thanks! Most people got it. It had a stalactite and a stalagmite in it. And it had these crystalline forms painted all over it. But there were a few reasons I chose to do that, and the first was that I knew being that it was a lot of furniture makers, there was going to be a lot of wood in the show. I wanted to be at least one of the few pieces that was not made of wood so it wasn’t a room full of wood sculptures. The other thing was that every show that I’ve taken part of, I’m always influenced by the stuff I’ve been working on the months leading up to the show. Lately, I had been building a bunch of MDF painted display boxes for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. That was kind of my current mindset.

And I wanted to have a piece that was interactive, you know, that people could walk into. I was really glad to see that there was a handful of interactive pieces in the show and it seemed like it got a really good response. People were playing with the sculptural pieces that you could move around and building other things out of them. Everyone was kind of intimidated to walk into the piece that I made until I told them, “You can walk inside of it, go ahead.”

EZ: Normally, when you think of art galleries and stuff, you’re not supposed to touch it.

NL: Yeah, exactly. You’re not supposed to touch things normally, and normally it’s a lot of 2D work. I wanted to have a show that was gonna be a lot of fun and could be a really interactive show where you could touch the pieces, manipulate the pieces, walk inside of them. There were 3-dimensional pieces, instead of just art hanging on walls that you have to stand back from, you can’t cross the line or touch it.


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