Finn Magee’s work addresses the impact of advertising on the public space. With a background in Industrial Design his ‘ad-objects’ are both commercial and critical. He uses advertising techniques such as surprise, juxtaposition and humour, subverting them to sell a message of dissent.
Magee’s Flat Life project was the result of setting up an Anglepoise task light on his desk at home. Amazed at how it lent an atmosphere of productivity and efficiency to the room, Magee wondered if just an image of the light would be enough to re-create this atmosphere. “I wanted to see if the image could also be made to function as a light. From there it was a matter of figuring out how to combine object and image.” The result is simple and highly effective.
The Flat Life installation created for the Design Museum’s entrance foyer continues the theme of playing with viewers’ assumptions. The work occupies the space between image and object, prompting visitors to question where the advertisement ends and the product begins.
Finn Magee graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Ireland in 2004 with a BA in Industrial Design. He then completed an MA in Design Products at the Royal College of Art in London. He has exhibited at Design Mai in Berlin and the Salone del Mobile in Milan and his Flat Life lights are currently in development with Artemide.
Q. When did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?
A. My dad is an engineer, so I grew up watching him jury-rig repairs to things around the house. This idea that you can improve, build or repair products around you is really exciting. That and realising that following the instructions in Lego was boring.
Q. Where did you study? And why did you decide to study design?
A. I studied at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin and the Royal College of Art in London. What drew me to design as opposed to architecture or graphics was its’ scale and tangibility. It was possible to see results immediately, on a human scale.
Q. What were your design objectives as a student?
A. During the Design Products course I realised there were two parallel objectives; to develop my communications skills and on a personal level to figure out what it was I wanted to say with this voice.
Q. How has your design education influenced your subsequent work as a designer?
A The MA forced me to question everything I was doing; now any idea is automatically grilled against a set of criteria; context, meaning, intentions etc.
Q. What other factors have influenced your approach to your work?
A. New Labour Britain and the hypocrisies perpetuated in the media are fascinating. The bizarre parallel worlds of country at war and escapist, leisure-based economy feel like something from a George Orwell novel. I’ve learnt to keep my opinions on this in the background as people turn off when presented with overt criticism. It’s ironic that the best way to raise awareness of these issues is to appropriate advertising tactics of humour, surprise and juxtaposition.
Q. Which of your earlier projects was most important in defining your work?
A. We had a brief called Remote Control and instead of formally responding to this I ended up playing around and coming up with a more abstract idea, which took the form of a toy and video. I learnt to trust my ideas and that it’s possible to get messages across with subtlety.
Q. What impact does living in London have on your work?
A. London had made me much more aware of the public space, and the idea of competing for the public’s attention. The amount of CCTV cameras, Billboards and general infrastructural clutter is massive compared to Dublin. The Ad-Bench project was a direct response to this.
Q. How have your objectives devolved since graduating?
A. The objective is to keep developing projects, what has changed is that now there is no support structure, technical facilities or funding. Apparently design is problem solving so it looks like there a lot more designing to do.
Q. Who or what inspires your work?
A. I draw on everything; designers or artists I like, current affairs, the environment and day-to-day experience.
Q. How important is the story behind the work?
A. I try to make the work itself direct and entertaining, if there is more to it people can draw their own inferences.
Q. Where do you see your work going in the future?
A. I hope to continue treading a path between critical and commercial work. It’s really exciting to make something that can be mass-produced and to balance this with more independent questioning projects.
Q. How did your design for the Designers in Residence develop?