We live our lives surrounded by nature. Yet, in our organized twenty-first century world, the fluid forms, geometric sequences, and brilliant hues of the natural world remain strange to us.
We watch in quiet awe as the natural world systematically changes around us responding to nutrients, climates and seasons. In her work, designer Patricia Urquiola investigates these systems, finding not just aesthetic inspiration, but rhythms of making and ways of functioning embedded in natural structures. It doesn’t take a microscope to recognize just how strange nature is — that flowers know to open and bloom, that leaves furl and unfurl just so, or that insects land on delicate petals to reach pollen-filled anthers.
As children, nature stimulates our curiosity, and what we discover evokes within us a deep sense of wonder. Urquiola calls on our innate curiosity in each of her creations. She experiments freely with the way the senses are awoken by forms and materials that resonate with the natural world.
As a result, Urquiola’s objects each have a strange nature. Serena, for example, takes the form of an enormous broad leaf, plucked and supported upright, cocooning the exposed pistil of a flower, which reveals itself as the lamp’s light source. Formed in polished metals, the leaf diffuses the emitted light, providing a soft glow around the bright pistil. When approaching this constructed object, we immediately recognize it as relating to the natural world, and then within the same instant, aren’t sure we recognize it at all. Embedded within this moment of confusion is a sense of beauty and purpose.
In our curated interior worlds, we often play out obsessions with order, proportion and geometry. Looking out the window, we notice the twisting, billowing and reforming of plants, atmospheres and bodies, all the while thinking of nature as a mere background to our more rigorous, designed lives. Designed to provide a typically interior comfort ‘en plein air’, the loosely formed Butterfly Sofa straddles our expectations of a sofa and the strange exterior world it is designed to occupy. The profile of the armrest and backrest is drawn from a quick sketch of a butterfly mid-flight, wings fluttering open, full and rounded. As an outdoor sofa it exudes comfort. The result is supremely voluptuous, beautifully grotesque, insistently and unapologetically fleshy.
Turning back to the interior, Urquiola responds to the sofa in a different manner with Tufty Time. Here, there is nothing flouncy to be seen. It’s a more formal language, conceptual, with ideas rather than images derived from nature. A relatively large piece, Tufty Time is a modular system, that can be selected, arranged and rearranged in a styled manner. In this way it departs from being inspired by nature to creating its own nature. When put together, the nine seating squares form a landscape, becoming a low foreground in a room of more spectacular vertical objects.
The natural world is often equated with the feminine. This is a correlation that can, in many ways, over-simplify both the natural and the feminine to curvilinear, voluptuous forms, bright colours and close relationships. In Urquiola’s work, we find tough, clever pieces, with a touch of the extraordinary, that ask us to broader rather than reduce our understanding of this relationship. Urquiola reveals herself as a woman of extreme tenacity, wit and vision. She is a master not of the categories of nature or the feminine, but of calling on our curiosity as users, and generating a particular affection between each of us and these strange objects. The sensuality isn’t superficial, the products aren’t inert — this is a new, strange, nature.