Good Vibrations, Maverick Moves in Design

Good Vibrations by Ferruccio Laviani

Good Vibrations by Ferruccio Laviani

The cabinet you see here and its flickering consistency on the screen is not the fault of your laptop or the result of some photoshop tweaking. Rather, it is down to some extensive and skilful hand carving that Ferruccio Laviani has crafted this bewitching optical illusion in wood. The cabinet, named Good Vibrations, has been created for the Italian design force  Fratelli Boffi.

Good Vibrations, Ferruccio Laviani’s Good Vibrations is undeniably beautiful. It has all the playful spirit and wilful distortion of Dali’s much celebrated piece, Persistence of Memory.

The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

The flickering effect of the cabinet reminds of the crackly TV set of my childhood, moored in the Irish countryside with dire signal- in which images would lick like flames with an epileptic propensity, twisting and turning on the screen. However, the beauty of the cabinet by Laviani is his combination of the temporal (the second long flicker) with the enduring, sturdy quality of a wooden cabinet (liable to last generations). Laviani seems all too aware of this effect giving a modern twist to the old, it seems reflected through his tongue in cheek title of his design collection- F* THE CLASSICS .

Dodgy TV signal- one of the lesser known but nonetheless heart felt reasons why so many young people emigrate Ireland.

Dodgy TV signal- one of the lesser known but nonetheless heart felt reasons why so many young people emigrate Ireland.

However, many would argue that as the cabinet is a design piece i.e. it has a function beyond the ornamental and can be used for storage- it is less of an ‘art work’. There is a rich and feisty history of debate in art criticism about whether design counts as art in the ‘pure’ sense. To see how passionate and painful this discussion can be, one has to look no further than the back lash to the announcement this week that Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic Cauldron sculpture from the London 2012 games has been awarded a prestigious art accolade.

Thomas Heatherwick's design for the Olympics

Thomas Heatherwick’s design for the Olympics

The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones, never one to hold back, represented the divide between the supposed ‘pure art’ looking down on its lesser sibling ‘functional art’; which it perceives more appropriate for Ikea stock rooms than a museum. He called it, ‘a shallow populist celebration of spectacle over subtlety’. Before concluding, ‘I think artists are better than designers; art is more rewarding and profound. The Olympic Cauldron has no depth of meaning and is not art – at least according to any definition I care about’.

The argument that art should exclude design centres around an idea that design is functional and therefore less beautiful. However, this argument appears to be a flawed one. The two pieces here, whilst design, are hardly functional. It is difficult to imagine anyone storing their pots and pans in the Good Vibrations cabinet. Harder still to imagine someone lighting a fag off the flames off the olympic cauldron.

Design does not necessarily denote functionality.

Nor does functional origins rule out beauty.

In my view, the cabinet has all the artistic ambition and execution to merit the label ‘art’.

What do you think?

Do ‘design’ pieces count as art? Are there different sub genres of ‘art’, with differing importance? Comment below!