The best design is always personal
It started with an art movement and a story.
Everyone in the class chose their art movement out of a hat. Then we had to take a story from our lives and combine that with the art movement to provide inspiration for our chair. This initial structure was just a jumping off point. “The best design is always personal” - Hank repeated ad nauseam. We got it; this wasn’t intended to be easy. This was not just a design class. This was group therapy.
Writing. Writing. Writing.
It took a lot to get the story out. The goal wasn’t about finding a quick solution - it was about really digging to the core and pulling out something that was true. Getting to that point involved a lot of class discussions and writing.
We all chose extremely personal stories. It wasn’t easy to work through them. Fleshing out the story almost always involved emotional upheaval. There was a strong cathartic element to the class. It’s definitely not a place that you can stay in for any length of time, but it helped me come to a new level of understanding about myself and to envision my chair.
My story was epilepsy.
It made a lot of sense to choose my experiences with epilepsy as the subject matter for my chair, because it’s something that has been at the forefront in the past several years of my life. I had febrile convulsions as a baby, but I didn’t have another convulsive seizure until 10th grade. I was put on medication and had weekly blood tests to monitor the drug levels in my body. Thankfully I was able to get off medication halfway through my freshman year of college. It seemed at the time that I was better. I didn’t have seizures for 10 years after that. Eight years ago, I started having seizures again. I went through a significant breakup and that seemed to trigger what I thought had gone away. I’ve had several since that time. I have simple partial and tonic-clonic seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures are also known as “grand mal” or drop seizures; these are the ones with which people are most familiar. Several factors can influence the seizure threshold, but I think that my seizures are primarily triggered by stress.
I have had to give a brief seizure history many times over the past several years. Retelling my history so frequently has made me have a disconnect to it. What surprised me when I was writing everything out was that I didn’t realize how much pain I was still holding on to from my high school seizure experiences. Initially, I was completely numb to the more recent events. It wasn’t until the end of this process that I finally broke down that wall.
I was surprised at how quickly the chair came together once I stopped trying to force it.
A classmate had her own take on what I should do with my chair. As I was trying to brainstorm, she kept telling me how she thought it should look/act. I had no idea what I wanted it to be, but I found myself defending what I wanted without actually knowing the form. She said it should be about opposing forces - almost like a "one step forward, one step back" thing. Everything could be going smoothly in my life, and then I would have a seizure and the balance would be upset again. I understood her reasoning for this, and it was valid, but I didn’t want my chair to be that. Her take was that she felt designers wanted to make their chairs comfortable because if they were going to pay a lot of money to get it produced - it should function as a chair. She argued that I should essentially make whomever sits in the chair feel that sense of uneasiness that comes with being thrown off balance. I kept explaining that I didn’t want that and it wasn’t that I wanted it “comfortable” - I wanted to feel comfort. It was that feeling of just wanting a fucking hug.
At this point, I need to take a brief segue into another event that helped create form to the chair. I’m a massage therapist. I am very familiar when my body is off balance and seizures have definitely added to muscle tension. I know the benefits of and that deep tissue massage will help me, but now it also scares me. A few sessions ago, I had the feeling of unease while on the table and a few hours later had a seizure. So, when I recently traded massages with a friend from massage school, I found myself processing an interesting combination of emotions. Long story short, what she picked up on and what I realized from that experience was that although I do think that I need and will greatly benefit from deeper work, what I need more is nurturing touch. I’ve had a lot of traumatic events happen in the past several years and I’m processing more emotionally than I realized. I have been extremely disconnected from that, but working through this process (and writing things out from the beginning), led me to understand that I have to take care of the nurturing part before pushing my body to accept something that it is unable to process at the moment.
Returning to the chair...
The one thing that I consistently thought about was wanting to include wood as a component of my chair. I finally questioned myself, “why wood?” Well, it’s natural. The rings of a tree tell its history. There is a connection - it is rooted to the ground. Those roots provide nourishment and allow it to grow, but it is also nourished by its surroundings - those same surroundings can be a source of destruction. I thought about recent storms and all the trees that had been uprooted. I have solid/strong roots through family and friends that help me through the storms in my head and my life.
So, in a sense, the wood represents me as well as my roots, but on top of that, I need additional comfort. I have a fairly solid foundation, but it has had some damage/changes to it. Essentially, I’m merging two chairs into one. I want a wooden chair for my base - there would be a cutout in the seat back where your spine would rest. Not completely open or unsupported, but just enough to be noticeable. On top of that, I would have additional comfort through fabric that supports you in a similar way to a hammock. It wouldn’t be as involved as a hammock chair. I’d just like the fabric to lightly hug around that person sitting in it - as if you are pulling a blanket around your shoulders. The additional comfort couldn’t exist without my foundation. I could exist (frame/wood) of the chair and be beautiful and functional in my own right, but the chair would act as a reminder that sometimes it is important to be gentle with yourself and that sometimes what is most needed is comfort.
My art movement was Cubism. There were two distinct phases of Cubism. The first phase was about stripping down to basic form. Gradually, it became more and more abstract. The base references this phase. Once the Cubists realized that their work had become so abstract it was hard to distinguish what it was anymore and felt cold and sterile. Picasso wished to change that and started incorporating collages which helped to bring more warmth into his art.
So, after weeks of stumbling around without having any direction about where I wanted to go, I miraculously found something that truly resonated with me and my movement.