Page 1

International Orange: Please Shut the Gate Ben Kelly 6 March – 3 April 2010


Taking on a new resonance: The work of Ben Kelly Design Ben Kelly, Drew Plunkett (Head of Interior Design at GSA) and Jenny Brownrigg (Exhibitions Director GSA) discuss the exhibition ‘International Orange: Please Shut the Gate’ (6 March – 3 April 2010) by Ben Kelly Design in the Mackintosh Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art. DP: Particular interior design projects brought this discipline to the fore in the early 1970s’1 with the Adam Ant flat by David Connor2 and your interior design for the Howie store3 on Long Acre in Covent Garden, London. I think the interesting thing is, at that time, there was so little around, when these projects appeared there was a lot of room for them to resonate...

DP: Probably at that point the most extraordinary things around were happening in Interior Design – certainly the things that people could inhabit or get in touch with. BK: Physically people could of course get in touch with interior design because they could go into some of them. However, album covers were a pre-cursor to that. JB: I suppose there is immediacy– you can go to nightclub

or own the album cover- both are generous enterprises that allow for the space of the person. It also is an exchange.

BK: Yes, I like that idea of it being an exchange. I don’t want to go on and on about The Haçienda5 but it is the most inevitable thing to talk about. 26 years on I am bombarded by people who tell me that when they were there, it was the most amazing thing they experienced in their life. I have to ask myself: Why was that? What was it? One simple factor is scale. It was kind of cathedral-like and had that quality of religious experience about it. Factory and New Order and Joy Division – the legacy of all of that – created an extraordinary resonance and so kids make a pilgrimage to this place. And because it didn’t have chandeliers or flock wallpaper or spinning mirror balls or disco lights it was something else.

I’ve said to Peter Saville6, that I think it was my version of what he was doing two dimensionally with record sleeves. Because Factory resonated so hugely I think ultimately, New Order became the new Pink Floyd or the New Led Zeppelin. Their fan base was global. So there was already that kind of audience waiting in the wings. If there was going to be something that they could experience three dimensionally

BK: Yes they were a big talking point... DP: there were very few people working at that pitch. You were one of them. BK: It seems to me that popular culture is a big part of all of this in fact this is what feeds them, whether it’s the Adam Ant flat or Café Costes by Philippe Starck4.

1. 2. 3. Howie store, 1977, commissioned by Lynne Franks and Paul Howie. 4. Café Costes (1984). Starck was originally a nightclub designer in the 1970s’. 2

5. The Haçienda nightclub, Manchester, 1982. Ben Kelly Design. ‘The Haçienda was a real-life stage-set, built with the most mundane of materials used to maximum effect. Recommended to the owners of Factory Communications by their Art Director, Peter Saville, Ben Kelly used his processes and materials-led approach to create a three-dimensional version of Factory Records’ innovative visual identity.’ Extract from 6. Peter Saville, graphic designer (1955-). When Tony Wilson decided to release a record of music by some of the bands that played at The Factory, he asked Saville to design the sleeves and when he launched a record label – Factory Records – in 1979, Saville became its art director. As a co-founder of the label, he was given an unusual, if not unprecedented level of freedom to design whatever he wanted, just as the bands were with their music: free from the constraints of budgets and deadlines which were routinely imposed on designers elsewhere.

they were going to go there. And they hadn’t seen anything like it [The Haçienda] as there hadn’t been anything like it. And there was only something like it because Tony Wilson7, Alan Erasmus8, Peter Saville and Rob Gretton9 made the platform for it. But they had been to New York – they had been to all the much more interesting places – to clubs that had developed out of that ultra hip groovy New York scene. They had been to those places and they wanted some of that. But they didn’t know how to get it or what it should ultimately be in Manchester. Rob Gretton said he wanted somewhere to ‘ogle birds’ which is probably partly true and whatever, but because their eyes had been open to possibility and they knew nothing about design whatsoever, none of them – not any of them – all except for Tony Wilson had this aspiration about design and Peter Saville was the one who led them along and they just bought into it immediately and allowed it to happen.

DP: When you are thinking about other clubs before The

Haçienda they were rather more ad hoc weren’t they? Not so much was done to the basic building or perhaps it wasn’t done in that particular way – it was an inject atmosphere.

BK: They were like installations or art house. They were like happenings. DP: It was kind of ad hoc, it happened, there was no attempt to formalise it, make it definitive. I think that’s why The Haçienda was so memorable. I can also remember why people liked it at the time. It was partly to do with the stripes, with the bollards, just that realisation that all of that can come in from the outside and really work. BK: But what’s interesting also for me in terms of projects – The Howie Shop, Smile10, and The Haçienda – let’s take those three – if you are a painter, a writer a musician you can express yourself with your work anyway. But for the likes of us [interior designers] we have to have the job, we have to have the project, to bring the thing into being. I remember with the Howie Shop for example, I knew for several years I wanted to use certain material, but I couldn’t because there was nowhere to do it, and suddenly someone gives you it and then you can do it and the canvas is there for you to create – using the materials and the fittings and the whatever it is or the things out of context – the same with The Haçienda. I had been waiting for the opportunity, and yet the opportunity has to appear. That’s what the students [Ben Kelly had given lecture earlier in the day to Interior Design students] said that when I talked about the Art Bar at the Royal College of Art – I was able as a student to build something. Students are massively frustrated as they are doing a three dimensional discipline but you can’t build it because you are a student. You have to have a client. My life has been spent trying to figure out of a way of doing away with the client but still being able to do it! 7. Tony Wilson (1950-2007) was the founder and manager of The Haçienda nightclub, and was one of the five co-founders of Factory Records. 8.Alan Erasmus was the co-founder of Factory Records with Tony Wilson. 9. Rob Gretton (1953 - 1999) was the manager of Joy Division and New Order. He was also a partner in Factory Records and a co-founder along with Tony Wilson of The Haçienda. 10. Smile, Kings Road, London, 1983

DP: I remember someone else saying that the clients who were in fashion – they were in music, they were radical shop keepers – without them you would not have had the opportunity. So I think that’s why around that time there was this boiling going on... BK: There was, but we were also friends. There was not much age difference between client and designer. JB: You have described the exhibition in essence as this is

the work you have made away from the office, away from clients. In thinking about this work that is made away from that situation, how do you define this part of your practice? I have been thinking of yours as a creative practice, but would you see it as a sculptural practice going back to the roots of what you initially wanted to study as a student?

BK: The truth is it has grown out of a number of things. It’s grown out of the professional work. The discipline of interior design is a collaborative one, and they can be collaborations in the office, they can be collaborations with the client, they can be collaborations with other members of the team – the other consultant. I have always embraced that as much it is possible. Even to the extent if a project came along and I thought there was a designer I respected or taught. If I thought that a certain person on that job would be great because of the nature of the job then I would promote the idea of that. As I have gone along through the years I have always had this relationship with art. When I went for my interview at the Royal College of Art because it was a postgraduate course – at that time it was 3 years and that is a long time for a post-graduate course – the question was asked ‘What do you want to do with the time?’ I’ve always been embarrassed at recounting what I think I said at the time because I think it sounds a combination of being naive and a bit romantic. Going back to what you talked of earlier Drew – your reference to Italian design back then – Superstudio11 were a massive influence to me, they were so strong. That seemed to me to embody the crossing of disciplines and barriers – you weren’t too sure what it was. It was almost gratuitous – it doesn’t have use or a function or purpose. But it’s a statement. And so when I was asked that question at the Royal College I said what I would like to be able to do at this time is to find a way of combining art and design together with the ultimate aim of producing – I think what I called ‘art interiors’!

DP: Thank heavens you succeeded! BK: You get over the embarrassment of that sort of statement 30 years later and think probably that is what I was trying to do all the time in my professional career – but not labelling it as such and not being as pretentious to say ‘This is what it is’. 11. Superstudio was an architecture firm, founded in 1966 in Florence, Italy by Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia. Superstudio was one of major part of the Radical architecture movement of the late 1960s.


DP: But probably it was also an indication that interior

design had changed so radically in the 70’s that nobody could make up their minds what to call it anyway – if the label was still valid.

BK: [laughs] DP: It would have been very difficult then to make a definition of where you were going to work within that. BK: But you know the Howie Shop, you know the orange book12, and my friend Ted Walters, who built the Howie Shop and in the early days built a lot of the different projects that we did, he did sculpture at St Martin’s. And when I asked him to write a bit of text for that book and what he kind of described about the Howie Shop was that it was the first time, that in a kind of retail fashion shop, that the interior became as important if not more important than the stuff in it. That’s what now what all top end retail fashion shops are - that the interiors are as much of a statement as the clothes are. Comme des Garçons is the perfect example of that. Comme des Garçons would not be Comme des Garçons if the environment that it was in wasn’t as it is. JB: It’s interesting now that with this exhibition and with being

we talk about each other’s work, in particular Dj Simpson13, who I saw his graduation show at Goldsmiths and I was really loved what I saw. At that point in time that was another student’s work, I thought there was something special about it, for me. And then time passed and the Saatchi Gallery on Boundary Road, there was group show and I saw Dj’s work there again. And then it turned out my wife, a curator, had commissioned his wife on a project. So we got to know them, and so a relationship grew out of that. DJ’s wife is part of a collective called ‘Public Works’14. They host evenings in their studio and Dj and I did a joint talk where we somehow tried to draw comparisons between our work and that led onto a notion that we might collaborate on something. All I am trying to describe there is a particular instance as to how some collaborative artwork came about. But funnily enough the Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark album cover that I did with Peter Saville is pretty much the same as the stuff I did as Dj – as it came from the same bloody reference material – perforations and industrial processes. One became an album cover and the other has become artwork that you lean against a wall.

JB: And the choice of materials and the works in the show.... again it’s quite industrial materials that you use.

a practitioner your work is now the things that are in it.

BK: Indeed. Ok, well, there are a number of things. Because

I have a friends who operate in the art world, and we sit and 12. ‘Plans and Elevations’ , Ben Kelly Design Published in 1990 by Architecture Design and Technology Press 4

13. Dj Simpson (1966, born Lancaster, England) 14. Public Works is a London-based artist / architect collective made up of Kathrin Bohm, Andreas Lang, Sandra Denicke-Polcher and Torange Khonsari. They are active primarily in the public realm, their work showing how social networks can inform cultural work in the spheres of planning and regeneration as well as art.

BK: No, not all of it. For example the coracles I did with Michael Marriot15 – they are full on eco-friendly as you can possibly get! DP: There are a few things like that in the show

– agricultural for want of a better word – how is that creeping in? That’s the thing I find most peculiar with you being an urbane kind of person!

BK: I grew up in rural North Yorkshire in a village called Appletreewick – twenty-seven houses, two pubs and a church. DP: That’s a lot of pubs isn’t it? BK: It is. That was like a little kingdom I grew up in roaming free, absolutely amazing. But then I just couldn’t wait to get away, as you do, when you get into your teenage years, and hated it. And then eventually you realise it is fantastic and beautiful. The coracles – my father was from North of Ireland, we used to go to Ireland - would go to Connemara – I remember coracles, seeing them from my childhood, when farmers used to put sheep in them and take them onto little islands for grazing. That memory stuck with me. Years later I went on holiday with my family to France, and there was a fantastic museum, which was about the history of boats and there was some coracles in it. And I realised coracles have existed all over the world in different forms and I realised that they are the simplest form of transport on water. I have

known Michael Marriot for a good number of years and admired and respected his work. I thought it would be great to do something with Michael. I know he had a workshop and was good at making stuff and I thought let’s make some coracles. I am interested in the notion of traditional stuff that you could somehow give them some meaning in the world now. You take them out of time or out of place but you somehow can instil something into them that makes them resonate now. So with the coracles when you look at them – one is mine and one is Michael’s. You paint them with bitumen and his is silver bitumen so it is a kind of Warhol Coracle! The seat on mine has yellow stripes on it and is actually the end piece of a barrier you get in a car park. His seat is from his grandmother’s old wardrobe. So there’s a kind of poetry involved. I like the idea of them – people not knowing quite the hell what they are. At the moment they are in my office as a kind of dividing screen.

JB: Before I realised what they were, I thought they were some kind of strange receiver to receive a message!

BK: [Laughs] I love the idea of them possibly being that, that would be very nice. I think also the process of making them was almost some kind therapy – you have to soak the ash lathes in a bath to make them pliable. I had to join the Coracle Society just to get instructions on making them. So there is a whole process and history. DP: Have you ever sailed in them; you keep on talking about doing it!

15. 5

And it’s placed on a background of the reflective material that you see on the side of police cars. It is of the modern world. The stick is of the rural but I wanted to crystallise it in time as this alien thing but still resonate to me.

JB: Could say a bit about the sequence of ‘Rural Studies’ works in the exhibition?

BK: When I got my studio at the coastguard’s cottage it is in the most extraordinary setting. The marshes are at one side and the hills on the other. The sheep and cows are grazing. There’s the sea on the other side and it really resonates big time this rural environment. What is the countryside for now? How is it working? What is it doing? Coming up here it is slightly different as there is a lot more of it. Living in London you go to the country, farmers are having problems... So I was thinking about boundaries and barriers and the democratisation of space. The history of land and land ownership – the right to roam, the freedom of walking about and encountering boundaries and the conceptual thing about allowing people through these historic routes. And so there are stiles that stop animals getting through them but people can go over them, there are gates and there are fences and there are walls, and down there are things they call wet fences. They are dykes where channels are cut in the ground – because it is reclaimed land there is water in them. So I am trying to understand the division of land for myself and challenge other people to think about those things but I want to deal with it in a contemporary manner. JB: Is that where the life-size gate has come in as a threshold to the gallery space?

BK: No, no. DP: Maybe it’s wise; they look a bit unstable to me! JB: Looking at the walking stick as well, is that for you your own ‘readymade’?

BK: Well I have stated I am a frustrated artist and as one gets a little bit older I have given myself permission to actually do that sort of stuff. I have been very fortunate in the last three years to have a coastguard’s cottage, and it came with a studio. So I have my own studio and I can shut the door. The walking stick, it was my father’s walking stick which as a teenager he cut from a hedge in north of Ireland somewhere. It is blackthorn. It was always in the cottage I grew up in Appletreewick and I saw it – sometimes he would wave it at me! He would use it and it was one of those things that was in the house that you always knew was there. When he died and we cleared it out and I thought that is what I have to have. I wanted something that resonated. I realised that when I held the handle of the stick I could hold his hand. That might sound a bit corny, but it felt like that. And I thought: how could I do something so radical with that stick that it takes on a complete and utter new resonance? I suddenly thought it has to be chromium plated blackthorn walking stick. It’s about what polar opposite I could get. It took me about 18 months to figure out how to find somebody who did lost-wax and would be prepared to cast a blackthorn stick and take the trouble in solid bronze and hold my hand in this process and get it chromium plated. 6

BK: Yes, the stiles came first, and that was a commission from the British Council for this exhibition in Portugal16. With the stiles my initial ambition was to make them out of cork because Portugal is the biggest producer of cork in the world. When you start to investigate that there is thousands of cork factories – I know Jasper Morrison17 did some beautiful furniture in cork, so I thought I have got to make my stiles out of cork. The exhibition was to do with working with methods and processes and techniques traditionally done in Lisbon. You then go there and think there must be cork everywhere but you don’t see any cork anywhere. JB: It’s all tiles. BK: Exactly, except for women’s shoes and the odd tablemat – it is all exported. But no one could do it. So I purchased 1000 corks from bottles and made this two step stile and the steps there is a matrix of corks that you walk on instead of the wooden stile. I just think Portugal must have blinkers on that there is this resource that is so flexible they could be doing endless things with it. So I did cork steps and the other stile has a solid brass step that I cast from the most highly grained meter long piece of wood – it is solid polished brass.

16. ‘Timeless UK’, Experimenta Lisbon (2009), curated by Clare Cumberlidge 17.

The gate is a five bar farm gate. Farmers don’t tend to buy them now as they are too expensive – they have nasty metal ones. That just look cheap they don’t look real, and I found this ancient gate leaning against a farm building- it was rotten – I bought it for twenty quid off the farmer and I have had it taken to a place called ‘British Gates’ who have been making gates for about eighty years, and they have restored it by piecing in brand new pieces. My brief to them was I wanted it to look like a patchwork quilt or a camouflage because the wood of the old gate that is still good is worn and old. But underneath the surface it is perfect – it is all oak so you have got the new oak and the old oak and it is amazing. And you know its about process and history and barriers – I am probably going to get fascinated with making work about more farming equipment and machinery. I even had a conversation with Peter Saville about combine harvesters. He has an equal interest in combine harvesters would you believe.


26.1.10 ‘International Orange: Please Shut the Gate’, Ben Kelly 6 March – 3 April 2010

‘International Orange’ originally commissioned by the Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University 8

Taking on a new resonance: The work of Ben Kelly Design  
Taking on a new resonance: The work of Ben Kelly Design  

Designer Ben Kelly, Drew Plunkett, Head of Interior Design at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and Jenny Brownrigg, GSA Exhibitions Director...