The raw material of the lighting and wallpaper designed by Clare Page (1975-) and Harry Richardson (1975-), who work together as COMMITTEE, is the junk that they find in the flytips and skips and on the market stalls and streets in Deptford, the area of south east London where they live and work.
At first glance the colourful assortment of pottery animals, vases, figurines, boxes and other bric-a-brac clinging to Committee’s Kebab Lamps looks like a cheerful jumble of random objects. Gradually it becomes clear that the choice was painstakingly considered, and that Clare Page and Harry Richardson, co-founders of Committee, spend days finessing sequences of objects to explore a theme or to tell a story.
Most of the objects come from the junk stalls on Deptford Market, a short walk from their studio, and arrived there from the local tip. Born in Northampton and London respectively in 1975, Page and Richardson moved to Deptford in 1998 after graduating in fine art from Liverpool Art School. Since founding Committee in 2001, they have worked as designers applying “pragmatism and imagination” to exploring “the drama of the everyday”.
Having transformed tip cast-offs into desirable objects in their Kebab Lamps, the pair collaged images of more junk salvaged from tips and on the streets into the Flytip wallpaper commissioned for the British Council's exhibition My World, 2005. “Looking at these objects, it isn’t clear if they are beautiful and noble on their way up to the heavenly rubbish dump in the sky,” they observed, “or a chintzy portrayal of excessive consumption.”
Q. How did you both first become interested in design?
A. As children we both used to draw things all the time and were particularly fussy about our clothes; so maybe an interest has always been there.
Q. Why did you decide to work as designers having originally studied fine art? How do you define the distinction between design and art? And how is it evolving?
A. In our experience, each and every discipline relating to visual culture requires a very similar, complex questioning of motives and outcomes if you wish to fully understand what the use, purpose and meaning of the work might be. Is the chair/sculpture/dress meant for sitting on; to be a thing of beauty; to be displayed in a glass box; to save materials; to declare your status; to last a long time; to be affordable; to make someone money; to prompt dialogue, to make you laugh or to be a cocktail of the above?
Now that technology has the potential to provide for most of our material needs and the whole art thing collapsed under the weight of a urinal some time ago, it seems to us that what remains is perhaps what, behind the modernist assumptions, has always been; a ‘free for all’ manipulation of aesthetics. Both artists and designers engage in this manipulation for a variety of personal and commercial reasons and the results are more often than not related to, or harnessed into a particular industry whose activities largely define how we view the result.
So with that creative cat out of the bag, animators become advertisers, artists design restaurant interiors and product designers exhibit unusable items in galleries and it seems clear we shouldn’t rely on any of the old job descriptions, nor some of the accompanying institutions, to define the boundaries between these disciplines anymore. Perhaps that is just as it should be, however it raises the question of how we find and define quality and what as designers and artists we actually strive for in our manipulations. This question is pressing given that a distinguishing feature of our time is the eagerness of artists and designers (now seldom tethered to any craft) to cross the apparent boundaries just for the sake of it, with the resulting transgression being applauded as an end in itself.
Our own interest in design is prompted by how powerfully the functionality and appearance of the material world affects our existence, (as the Victorian writer Mrs C. F. Forbes once said: "The sense of being well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow.") But our material world is now almost entirely influenced by commercial factors of an impersonal kind, which don’t necessarily encourage the qualitative judgments that might be hoped for. Of course we don’t expect to have any definitive answers, but we are nevertheless drawn to being involved with that problem.
Q. What are your objectives as designers?
A. To be completely honest, we are not sure of the answer to this question. In general our objectives are many and changeable from job to job and therefore hard to declare. We also think it can take a long time to fully understand one’s objectives, maybe a lifetime, and there is probably a wisdom in trying not to pin them down, in order to stay innovative.
Q. How did the Kebab Lamp develop? And how do you envisage it developing in future?
A. The drama of the everyday is an important theme for us, and the Kebab Lamp explores the possibility of making a spectacle of attractive qualities out of the random and ordinary. Each one is hopefully a celebration of the very human instinct to aspire to the absolutes of beauty, elegance and sexiness from the jumble of everyday existence.
Q. How did the Origami Desk develop?
A. This was really a little exercise in colour and efficiency.
Q. And the Flytip wallpaper?
A. As designers of material things it is hard to avoid the thought that your work is part of the engine that drives humanity’s creation of material waste. However we do enjoy the wonder and pleasure that is designed into material things and have a strong respect for that wonder (having experienced many great love affairs with apparently small and insignificant objects).
With this in mind, the wallpaper was produced with a desire to depict the tragic last dance of discarded objects, whipped up into a confection of items to be enjoyed for the last time before disappearing into uselessness. As we look at these objects in suspension, it is uncertain if they are beautiful and noble, on their way up to the heavenly rubbish dump in the sky after a life of service, or whether they are a saccharine, chintzy portrayal of our excessive consuming, about to crash back down to earth.
Q. What would you identify as the defining qualities of your work?
A. Pragmatism and imagination: in fitting proportions. At least that is what we aspire to. This may not be obvious from the appearance of our work, especially regarding the Kebab Lamp, but on the pole of a standard lamp we identified a place where a great deal of apparently excessive decoration and detail could be enjoyed that, most importantly, did not interfere with the functionality of the item and secondly did not produce any unnecessary waste, since it reuses already redundant pieces.
Q. How important is the process of making your work to you?
A. In light of the above statement, it is important if we are making something that requires our personal input to give it merit. In the case of the Kebab Lamp that is vital, as one of its ‘uses’ is to present humour, dialogue and hand made detail that is generated by us, through each composition. However for a design that does not require that input to produce its quality then we don’t mind who makes it, so long as the process suits the end product.
Q. Do you consider your work to be part of a tradition?
A. A truthful answer to this question is that as designers we feel like children of a tradition-less time, simply responding to a great love for the world. However if a tradition was something one could choose, a light hearted answer would be that we’d quite like our work to follow in the footsteps of a Dada sound poem, nodding in passing to the Bauhaus, while wearing some Versace.
Visit Committee’s website at gallop.co.uk
For more information on British design and architecture go to Design in Britain, the online archive run in collaboration by the Design Museum and the British Council, at designmuseum.org/designinbritain