Brian Gladwell

Making serious furniture out of corrugated cardboard is an ambiguous undertaking - a high level of craftsmanship executed in a transitory material. It is just this ambiguity which compels me to continue with this project - it’s a fascinating material to work with, visually rich and capable of unexpected expressions.

We live with an odd relationship to the notion of permanence: consumer electronics make no pretense to permanence; mass manufactured furniture makes a false pretense to it. Even the buildings we occupy are often conceived as transitory things. I don’t know how long this cardboard furniture will last. There are cardboard boxes in my father’s basement that must be fifty years old, so I expect it will last a reasonable length of time. But for me to build it, and someone to take it into their home, we must both be willing to consciously accept a degree of uncertainty.

This is where things get interesting for me. This furniture is not simply a conceptual project. The physical object – its potential as functional furniture – is at its heart, and its relationship to craft virtues and certainties is what makes it compelling for me. These paradoxical things don’t seem to be heirloom objects in fine materials, yet they are created with the same level of skill and care usually invested in fine things. While I’m making them I find myself thinking deeply about what we value, and why, in the things we surround ourselves with.

My recent semester as Artist in Residence at Purchase College has been an opportunity to return to a material I’ve engaged with from time to time during the past twenty-odd years. In the beginning I had hoped I might be able to make some good furniture at a lower price than my work in wood. However, I soon found the aesthetic qualities of the material so engaging that I was investing a great deal of time in the pieces, and had to abandon the idea of making them less expensive. Continuing to work with the material today I’m beginning also to consider, should we find ourselves compelled to use more manufactured wood products in the future, what new approach will we take to making things of integrity, beauty, and excitement?