Chair Pairs - Contemporary chair studies based on the collection of the Museum of Ethnography

13/Oct/2022 - 30/Apr/2023

The leaflet about the exhibition can be downloaded from the link below.

The starting point of the Chair Pairs exhibition is seating furniture, seating items, chairs and stools from the Furniture Collection of the Museum of Ethnography, which inspired the design of contemporary chairs by the Architecture Uncomfortable Workshop, a Budapest-based architectural studio. The exhibition creates a connection, a dialogue and a creative mental space between the objects in the collection and their contemporary adaptations.

Common chairs and chairs in the museum

What do we actually call a chair? Is a chair the object that was designed for sitting on or just anything we sit on? The answer is not always simple. Since there are chairs that we stand on rather than sit on, chairs we rest our head on, and chairs we use for conjuring. And what does it mean to sit? When we sit, are we resting or working? Do we have a specific purpose in this position? If we look at the pieces in the collection of the Museum of Ethnography while searching for answers, we find a milking stool, a log stool from a wine cellar, a shepherd’s chair, a chair used for storage, and occasionally a chair used for relaxing. In their museum life, the chairs in the collection lost their original function, they became inactive and lost their magic. Their living space in the museum has become the storage and the exhibition. The installation also evokes this situation: the architecture of the exhibition and storage. The old chairs of the exhibition are no longer used today, but we make them tell stories. The new chairs next to them, however, were never used in everyday life. They gain a function in the museum and in the exhibition as an imprint of the original function and form of the old chairs. Based on the chairs originating from peasant households, now preserved as museum objects, the Architecture Uncomfortable Workshop designed and produced contemporary chairs with new characteristics. However, the adaptation is not only a formal inspiration: the use, the everyday function and the method of creation itself form the basis of a contemporary interpretation.

Contemporary adaptations

All of a sudden the table was full of little drawings made on paper. The sheets looked like scrap paper, the drawings more like scribbles. In fact, the architects were drawing on fine, almost translucent Japanese paper with soft Czech graphite pencil while talking to each other. Sometimes they ran to the bookshelf and opened an architecture book on the table. And the table became covered with more and more sketches, squeezing out the glasses, the coloured wax crayons, the rulers, and the architectural models. It seemed like a chaotic process, even though the artists were only working in the workshop, which was simultaneously a kitchen, an office and a carpenters’ workshop. The adaptation is actually a redrawing. The freehand drawings became plans, then they were turned into handmade chairs in the carpenter’s workshop. The free hand that gets tired after a long day’s work, that draws asymmetrical line patterns, makes mistakes, and shows inaccuracies. However, in contemporary architecture, freehand design could give a certain freedom to the work. The practice of creating homemade objects can be regarded as the fundamental logic of peasant households. The building and the object are made valuable by their maker and their everyday usage. Even though maker remain unknown to science and art. The process of making these objects is not based on strictly following plans or on elaborating every detail, but on manual skills, craftsmanship, and creativity given or guided by necessity or a great idea. The contemporary design objects and the objects from the collection that are displayed together in the exhibition are related. Each chair is a character in its own right, a bearer of a leitmotif. Most importantly, they are in dialogue: they ask questions, provide answers, they point out, and replicate. The selection of the objects in the museum ranges from prestige furniture of the peasant households to the furniture used out of necessity. But they differ not only in function, but also in age, use of material, and manufacturing technology. But the plastic garden chair and the wooden armchair from 1714, one of the oldest objects in the collection, fit well next to each other, just as a horse skull or a carefully crafted desk chair carved with artistic ambition. The adaptation and the collation revolve around several questions. One of them is the question of the authorship. The craftsmen of the everyday seating furniture of peasant households are rarely known. Desk chairs tend to preserve the name of the owner, the head of the family, or, in the case of an engagement gift, the name of the maiden who received it. Household furniture was initially made by carpenters, and later, the more elaborate pieces by joiners. But both in everyday life and in museum collections, chairs that were put together at home out of necessity or even assembled were common. In exceptional cases, however, one can find the maker’s mark. Almost all the old chairs in the exhibition bear a maker’s mark or label: Debrecen Bentwood Furniture, Flair, master Antal Kapoli and so on. Different eras, different manufacturing procedures, handmade and industrial products. But the contemporary chairs made by the Architecture Uncomfortable Workshop are all artworks: they are the result of a unique handcrafted creative process. Many of the chairs on display, both old and contemporary, are assembled from residual, found and reused materials. The found objects were used for sitting, either without any changes or with small modifications and additions. Examples include the tussock chair, which is a bundle of grass dug out of the ground, or the straw chair, which is actually a bale tied together, and various types of milking stools, which were made with additional legs when necessary. Furniture of necessity. An attitude of the remnants of redundancy, which gives common space for recycling. In case of both the old and the contemporary chairs on display.