JUNKYARD EMPIRE: Philippe Malouin Makes Furniture from Scavenged Steel
Philippe Malouin is getting his hands dirty in the name of art. The British-Canadian is perhaps best known for his collaborations with high end design brands like SCP, De Sede, Matter Made, or Hem (see PIN–UP 29). But for his latest project with the Athens-based art gallery The Breeder, Malouin has been rummaging through junk yards in Athens and in Brighton, closer to his London home. The goal: salvaging metal castaways to weld together and reconfigure into sculptural objects. 35 of them are now on view at Steel Works, Malouin’s first solo show at The Breeder.
“The exercise was very much about scavenging. We literally went through piles of rubbish steel the size of houses,” Malouin recalls, noting that many of the piles were dangerously unstable. The selection of items was “instinctive,” and often Malouin and his assistant Julian Komosa weren’t always certain what the steel’s original purpose might have been. “I have to say we found more unusual things in the U.K., but we definitely found the more massive and impressive pieces in Greece,” explains Malouin. The colors are both thematic — red or green for those from England, blues ones for those from Greece — and in part determined by the material, LINE-X, an industrial finish commonly used to line truck beds.
This isn’t the first time the 40-year old designer works with found steel, but it’s the first time he allows the reclaimed metal to decide the design’s form and purpose, rather than the other way around. “It was challenging as it’s not how we usually work,” says Malouin, who typically plans ahead rather than follow an “instinctive and rapid” process. “The pieces are a lot more raw, but I think they communicate in different ways what it means to imbue function to found objects.”
Malouin consciously referenced Dadaist gestures — especially découpage — in his joining, slicing, and juxtaposing reclaimed items. For an art gallery like The Breeder, working with someone from a design background was natural, explains associate director Alkistis Tsampouraki: “Part of the gallery’s mission is to work as a platform that provides artists the opportunity to push the boundaries of their artistic practice and experiment in different fields,” she said noting that in the past they’ve staged shows with architects such as Andreas Angelidakis, Eleni Psyllaki, and the civil engineer-turned-painter Ekene Stanley Emecheta. “There is so much creative energy to be found in this interconnection of disciplines,” Tsampouraki adds. Fitting then that Malouin’s project leans into breaking down boundaries between sculpture and function, unifying once discrete objects into novel forms.
While Dada-style cutting and collaging is Malouin’s main motif, some works take a more Duchampian turn: A fruit bowl, a simple corrugated wave whose anointing as “design” happens through a process not dissimilar to the artist’s famous urinal (1917). Pieces like these demonstrate Malouin’s expertise in selection, but it also shows how the designer can cleverly take the piss (pun intended) out of the collector who — in on the joke — might buy into these concepts, which have undergirded thinking around conceptualism and authorship in art for the past century.
“The pieces are unexpected and strange, which was part of the process of making everything by hand,” the designer reflects. Scavenging for steel, plasma-cutting it, and welding the works — all were done by Malouin and his team. “It’s important to understand the process by making. You can only get the unusual ideas when you actually make the pieces yourself. You could never plan them in advance, the result wouldn’t be the same.”
Text by Drew Zeiba
All photographs courtesy of the artist and The Breeder
Steel Works is on view at The Breeder until December 4, 2021.