Furniture While You Wait
Workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum's Village Fête, London, Uk
Martino and Friends by Claire Catterall 2004
Furniture While U Wait, 2001
Among the various stalls on rickety trestle tables at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Village Fete in 2001, Martino Gamper and Rainer Spehl set up shop making Furniture While U Wait. They had spent the previous two weeks scavenging for odd bits and pieces of wood, abandoned furniture and other old junk including a guitar, a tennis racket, roller skates and a football. It turns out to be a blisteringly hot day. Martino and Rainer busily get to work hammering odd pieces of wood and found objects together — cannibalising, rearranging, juxtaposing, and reassembling—to punter’s specifications. What emerges is a strange hybrid of office furniture, G-plan and Victorian drawing room, with an odd leg that on closer inspection turns out to be a skittle. The stall is a runaway success—Ron Arad insists on doing a turn as cabinetmaker; the V&A buys a couple of pieces for its Permanent Collection; Stephen Bayley gives Furniture While U Wait the Fete’s prestigious ‘Most Witty Stall’ award. In the searing heat, and inundated with orders, Martino accidentally cuts his hand and faints. But even this fails to dampen spirits and production continues at a rapid pace.
Just what is it about these pieces of furniture that makes them so appealing? Is it the memories they evoke—the chair leg that reminds you of schooldays; the upholstery that takes you back to your grandmother’s front room; the plastic seat that you’ve seen a million times in various church halls and waiting rooms? Or perhaps it’s the strange and sometimes surreal juxtaposition of elements—the guitar used as a seat back with an office chair on wheels, or the tubular steel cantilever frame teamed with a cabriole leg and brass claw foot. Maybe it has something to do with the way they’re produced—part factory assembly line, part game of Exquisite Cadaver, part drive-through takeaway. Or maybe it’s the spontaneity of the process, the way that something will be created in a matter of minutes. More likely it’s quite simply all of the above, and, of course, the idea that furniture can be ‘born’ rather than ‘designed’.
By the end of the day a large family of furniture has amassed roundthe stall, replacing the piles of wood, pieces of junk and second hand furniture that had been there before. It’s a collection of odd misfits, precarious pairings, and uncomfortable angles—stray creatures waiting to be claimed and taken home by their new owners.Has the V&A put the pieces they bought for their Permanent Collection on display? ‘No, we’re not quite sure what to do with them—they’re still in our office. We use them every day, though. They’re more like old friends.’