In anticipation of the exhibition 40 under 40: Craft Futures, on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from July 20, 2012 -- February 3, 2013, the museum asked the 40 artists featured to share personal videos of themselves with our audience. Here's what Vivian Beer submitted—enjoy!
Vivian Beer Social Media Video, 2012 Digital video, color, sound, 5:38 Courtesy of the artist
VIVIAN BEER: I’m a furniture-designer maker based out of New England, and in a lot of ways I feel like each day is an adventure. I spend a lot of my time looking for the right material, the right methodology, and really the right culture of making for each of my ideas.
Now this is really hands-on research and hands-on design is counterbalanced with research that’s purely aesthetic. I am looking into both or looking for forces of nature and culture that I think express beauty and power and I’m using a method of abstraction to build designs that you can interact with.
I love seating because of the intimacy of that interaction, but I’m building these designs and really existing as a balance and counterbalance to industry. Anything goes as far as what method I use – historical or contemporary, modern, as long as it’s heading straight toward the piece’s idea. And this piece right here is a milled aluminum tuffet that I’m working on right now.
One of the exciting things about making in a hands-on sense of design is often I’ll be pursuing a particular idea and I’ll uncover an entire culture of people who are interested in that idea, which ends up not only influencing the way in which I make the pieces but also the aesthetic or design of the piece itself.
When I started to discover auto body paints I found that as I was researching how hot rods are made my pieces started looking a whole lot more like hot rods. Now this is an attention to detail that is very important because for me one of the wonderful things about furniture, again, especially seating, is its intimacy. And because of that intimacy you really have the ability to seduce, which I’m trying to do with absolutely every single piece. That requires again a really intense level of detail.
Each inch of the piece I often joke needs to be touched at least a dozen times, and that’s really not an exaggeration. I’m grinding right here on the surface of one of the concrete pieces that’s part of the infrastructure series. In that attention to surface and tactility is just as important as the visual silhouette, which is very important to the design and that original impact that you have visually, but you know it’s unimportant if it’s not supported in the physical interaction.
Now the first time I started using paint in my pieces was with this piece which is called “Winded Orange.” And it was almost accidental, but the best accident ever because it changed the way I looked at material completely. I was a metalworker for a number of years and metal was never to be painted – that was a form of sacrilege in my mind. But once I had painted it and realized that there was so many opportunities to tap into ways that metal had been used that wasn’t necessarily a traditional blacksmithing technique, which I had worked for a blacksmith for a couple of years before going to grad school and blowing my mind open with contemporary design, and that really, you know, that eye-opening can never be shut down.
Now this is “Slither. Walk. Fly.” which is in the exhibition and it’s based in that same method of abstraction and mostly what it’s abstracting is movement itself as reflected in the title, “Slither. Walk. Fly.” And it’s really, you’re in a seat that has a set of tail feathers that’s unraveling, walking, slithering, and flying away from you, which hopefully is as fun as it is slightly intimidating.
I’m super, unbelievably excited to be in the exhibition and really glad to give you a little taste of what goes on in the studio and of my method. If you would like to hear any more, see any more, make sure to visit vivianbeer.com. Thanks!
Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW)
40 under 40: Craft Futures features forty artists born since 1972, the year the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s contemporary craft and decorative arts program was established at its branch museum, the Renwick Gallery.