Abstract - Ian Factor

25 June - 31 July 2010

“Design is about pursuing a strong, simple idea……..in the end it’s the structure that represents the essence of an idea……..design is a shedding process.”
Caroline Casey, Indesign, 2010(41), pp.61-65

Aesthetics grow from personal ethics. Not the ethics of philosophy, but of what life has carved. Aesthetics and ethics: one produces the other: aesthetics are the product of an individual, but they also acquire a collective dimension. The stories of others are incorporated; retold or elaborated - the formative influences of both Alan Wale and Tom Harrington are in Ian Factor’s work. From both teachers has come the integrity of function and the directness of material intention, but uniquely from Harrington there is permission for a more raw use of materiality, colour, and, of course, those tacitly informing tiny pulls. The successful fusion of self, content, and context are what each of us seeks in the studio-workshop. When these elements fuse, there is wonderful insight into our collective humanity. 

What can we agree on that makes a design work? Factor sets the influences of the Shakers, mid-20thcentury modernists such as Le Corbusier, and the Bauhaus practice as being important to him: we acknowledge that common to these influences is the liberation of form: in this space form, material, and process are unified in the intelligence of the object. In 1978 Gillis Lundgren designed a bookshelf for Ikea® that remains one of the most-sold bookshelves in the world. The object itself is extra-ordinarily simple; it is made from particle board, has five shelves and is known as ‘Billy’. The holistic ‘so-rightness’ of its concept as a bookcase, the unity of the design and its broad social appeal in the market is a reminder of the radical potential of simple over complex design.

If you were to create signature items of furniture to begin a career, drawers and shelves could be the place to start. Drawers are done well at the Sturt School for Wood. Ian Factor’s distinctive case furniture began with his student piece, Stack of Drawers (2006). This piece was inspired by the 1993 iconic, humorous, belted together drawer-bundle of Tejo Remy. Stack of Drawers would be the first of a series of editions of Factor’s plywood case furniture: Cantilevered Media Cabinet (2007), Lollipop Drawers (2008), UnpluggedWall cabinet (2009), and Iankea (2010). They are each places for stuff to gather, minor museums of eclecticism and memory: seductive, small theatres for sound and vision. And the material? Even in the 1930s, plywood reflected the formal vernacular of modernism. In the 21st century we are confused by constantly reworked material formulations. However, there is an essence retained in material like the traces of a finger on clay. The undisguised plywood edges are a manifest wooden structure and bestow upon Factor’s case furniture the unfiltered authenticity of wood. The theme is strong, simple, clear and successful: the body of work has been developed, communicated and extended as a collection. The furniture is marketed through exhibition exposure and a strong website. There are lessons here for any graduate.

There are lessons here about both marketing and making. The lesson in marketing stresses communication. The analogous lesson in making is about proportion. Ian Factor’s eye has been honed in architecture and his division of space/volume is extremely good. I have always felt that within a piece of furniture, good proportion works the design as if it were a finite body. What does volume mean? How can it be put in proportion? Volume is something to be shifted, weighed, measured, and distributed - it cannot be pinched away or added to. A parallel is with a metal formed under a hammer on an anvil: the material is moved about and then there is this magic point when there is a near palpable release of life into the object.

Rietveld famously declared, “sitting is a verb”, suggesting that chairs for languor and repose might be deviant, but we are languid and love it. The Legato Chaise Lounge (2010) in Jarrah on show at this exhibition is a languorous surface or shelf for the arrangement of the human form. In its undulating surface of lath-like elements it is aptly ‘legato’ - smooth and flowing. It is also hoped by Factor to represent a new signature piece. The shift is palpable. In its form: by its size alone, this chaise is a formative tool for a lifestyle and would not lend itself easily to be an accessory to many. It positions itself differently within the currently evolved style-figure theme of the collection and I look forward to seeing what new course is being set.

Energy stars and ratings on products have sensitised us to the finiteness of our world and our footprint upon it. Solutions for environmental problems are not found by reversion to rush sandals and no socks, but instead solutions are found through the development of appropriately sensitive practices. There are elements of discord between environmentalism and design: Factor is caring and sensitive about the fact that design stimulates the production of new objects. And, while truly 100% environmentally friendly products do not exist, design does give the chance to answer in the moment the questions we can identify and sensibly remedy: sustainably sourced materials and processes; furniture that is repairable, refurbishable, sustainable design incorporates these intrinsic values and properties. In the balance of things, the designs of Ian Factor might swing slightly away from the fashionable or the entertaining. The most important aspect of furniture is that of use. This is useful furniture, sensuous, and intelligently made: such furniture is not used up; it is used.

The small footprint imposed on our world even through sustainable practices is ameliorated by the longevity of the pieces. Although making cannot restore the removed, it is possible to nullify many of the forces of destruction and recover, reanimate the agents of natural sustainment through the granting of time to the natural processes of the planet.

Rodney Hayward

Head of the Furniture/Wood Workshop at the Australian National University School of Art

Rodney is currently Head of the Furniture/Wood Workshop at the Australian National University School of Art, Canberra. After originally pursuing a career in organic chemistry, he studied with the late James Krenov in 1984-85. He subsequently set up his workshop in the NSW Southern Highlands. For several years Rodney taught part time at the Sturt School for Wood, Mittagong, before succeeding George Ingham at the Australian National University.


Image: Ian Factor, 'Stack of Drawers' (2006). Photos: Creative Image Photography.