|>wallpaper* (uk) 03.03
The Wong thing to do. Young, hot and hard-working, Tobias Wong makes conceptualism fun.
At the tender age of 26, the Vancouver-born designer, Tobias Wong, now a New York resident, has lost no time in making a name for himself, with a massive number of projects ranging from the conventional to the controversial.
In 2001, fresh from a sculpture course at The Cooper Union, Tobias Wong introduced himself to the design world by bastardizing Philippe Starck’s ‘Bubble Club’ chair (he wired it up to turn it into a lamp). That was two years ago and Wong has barely been out of the limelight since. Most recently, he collaborated with the Troy store on Green Street, New York, curating a 20-piece collection of products to go on sale, which include Wong’s own mirror puzzle, postcards by Joseph Beuys, and Georg Jensen keyrings. Also for sale exclusively at Troy are Wong’s glass chairs. If you think these chairs look uncannily like work by Donald Judd, that’s because they are. Sort of. ‘I had never understood why Judd made his furniture so uncomfortable,’ explains Wong, ‘ so I took the design and upped the scale to sit the seats of the chairs at a comfortable height.’ The decision to make them in glass was purely because Judd had never worked in that material and ‘it just made them look so goddamn grand,’ says Wong.
Despite his love of Judd, conceptual artists, the likes of Marcel Duchamp and Jenny Holzer, are the real inspirations behind much of Wong's work. Conceptual ideas are hardly rare in design but, as Wong himself points out, they tend to come at the exspense of an object’s good looks. ‘Take Droog Design, for instance, I love their work, bit it often lacks any conventional beauty. What I want to do is find a balance between beauty and ideas.”
A favorite theme in Wong’s work is meeting the opulent with the ordinary, or 'rags to riches, with the rags still attached,' as the designer himself describes it. Where some designers will wax lyrical about the sheer luxury of their creations and others boast of the economy of materials and form, Wong prefers to incorporate both. Wong’s ‘Shelving Unit’ of 1999, is the most basic metal utility frame (bought for $20 in a hardware store), coupled with 2.5cm lucite shelves (that add and extra $600 to production costs). ‘The heavy lucite makes the shelves sturdier,’ says Wong, ‘so you can justify the massive cost that way if you want to.”
Right now Wong is working on some pearls dipped in matt black rubber and, he says, ‘I’m also trying to find a sponsor who will let me dip a crystal chandelier into white rubber.’ You might think he hasn’t got a hope in hell, but Wong has previously persuaded Tifanny & Co to repackage some of its products for him (an olive stick became a toothpick) and Cappellini to lend him furniture. Indeed, his latest project, the Readydesigned range, relies completely on previously designed items that Wong refashions into other forms. The ‘Can’ shelving unit is simply Catalano and Marelli’s 1999 side tables (produced by Cappellini and called ‘Cannot’) stacked on top of one another and inserted with a few judiciously placed screws to stop them from toppling over. Another, the lamp design ‘This is a Lamp, too,’ is a Serralunga flowerpot with a bulb installed to turn it into a light.
Such is the conceptual element in his work that Wong has never had a pressing need for a studio. Blah, blah, blah….
- Albert Hill