Southern Guild represents South Africa at the inaugural London Design Biennale when it presents a new installation of work by iconic designer Porky Hefer at Somerset House in September.
The London Design Biennale showcases design installations and exhibitions from over 35 countries and brings together the best national design talents to discuss, debate and celebrate the possibilities of design innovation. It is founded by the team behind the London Design Festival and runs concurrently with the festival to introduce a new international element to the city’s design offering.
Cape Town designer Porky Hefer’s showcase of suspended animal-cocoon environments is a fitting portrayal of the biennale’s 2016 theme: Utopia by Design, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Moore’s book, Utopia.
Porky’s work, all crafted by hand at Woodheads leather merchants in Cape Town, is a fantasy-scape consisting of five animals: M.Heloise (manta ray), Crocodylus Eugenie (crocodile), Lolita Blackfish (lover whale), Piranha 1: Nerina (piranha) and Panthera Leo (lion). Panthera Leo is the designer’s self-portrait, and the only animal displaying sheepskin, rather than leather, on the outside. “He’s like a massive teddy bear,” Porky says of the first male he has created, adding to his Monstera Deliciosa, Volume I series, the title of his solo show at Southern Guild earlier this year.
“There’s an enormous amount of fantasy, joy and self-expression in South African design,” says Trevyn McGowan, “and Porky’s creations manage to take this even further by reimagining a world filled with playfulness and liberation.”
Of the theme, Utopia, she adds: “Pieces will appear to be floating, but are connected to a rope. It’s like a society dangling by a thread while inviting you in. The creatures welcome the inner beast to come out and play. They’re experiential and transformative and encourage you to see a different universe.”
Says Hefer: “The floating sensation has been likened to that of being back in the womb. It blocks you off from the world and protects you – almost like going back to the beginning, giving one a chance to do things differently.”
For the celebrated designer, these environments offer little hideaway spaces where one can disappear for a while and view the world from a different perspective. “They are their own little islands of utopia,” he says. “There are no power jacks or chargers, screens or WiFi.”
In addition, no computers were used in either the design or manufacture of these pieces, as Porky works directly from his sketches. “It’s just the hand and good old-fashioned skill, experience, teamwork, new boundaries and techniques,” he says. “It’s about protecting the idea of handmade items, and going the extra mile when it comes to detailing and using techniques that are rapidly disappearing in an increasingly automated and mass-production world, where experience and time are seriously disrespected.”
Having titled this installation Otium and Acedia, Hefer explains that otium, the Latin term for leisure time, refers to stepping away from daily systems and mechanisms to engage in more artistic and enlightening activities that can enrich and evolve one’s mind and thinking. Acedia, a state of listlessness (not to be confused with the negative state of sloth or depression), references withdrawing from normal life and the decreasing physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. This can be done annually through hibernation, or on a daily basis, and is used to conserve energy for survival.
“I like the idea of a human hibernating in an animal,” Hefer reflects.