Brodie Neill (b. 1979) is a Tasmanian-born, London-based designer working primarily in contemporary furniture. Having first encountered the traditions of woodworking through his grandfather's carpentry tools, Neill has long employed his natural curiosity of the world and problem-solving skills to produce innovative contemporary furniture. Working with a framework called 'material conciousness' Neill seeks a deep understanding of materiality and process in the quest to eliminate waste and reduce the environmental impact of his work. His design practice is deeply embedded in the concept of ‘circular design’ - a process that seeks to eliminate waste and re-use existing, often ‘waste’ material in the production of new design.
With sinuous and curved lines, the @chair is made of mirror-polished recycled, waste stainless steel. Constructed like a Möbius loop, it is made in the form of a ‘@’ character - an ever-present symbol of contemporary life, representative of mass, fast-paced digital communication. Perhaps designed for its sculptural qualities, rather than comfort, this chair is an ode to this iconic symbol in three-dimensions, an emblem of our time.
The @chair was first produced as a rendered design in 2008 and included in Time Magazine's the Design 100 list in the same year. At the time Neill was unable to find a process to produce the chair, which met his eco conscious approach to design. He says, 'the forward-thinking configuration couldn’t be produced via traditional manufacturing techniques, so it’s been a long quest to find the perfect method that distilled the object with a strong sense of craft yet also technology, a common fusion within my work. Several state-of-the-art processes were explored, including the use of a CNC milling machine that create precise results when using such materials as aluminium, though this presented large amounts of waste for a design whose form proclaims material efficiency and overall refinement. Stainless steel emerged as the ideal material, not only due to its high-performance surface but due to its malleability and sense of fluidity within a ridged entity.
Text by Rebecca Evans, Curator of Decorative Art and Design at AGSA
- Looking at the other chairs on display nearby, Cloisonné Blue Chair and the LC-1 chaise longue, which do you think would have been the most difficult to make and why?
- Before revealing the title of the work to students or looking at the wall label, create a blind contour drawing of this chair. Select one point and begin to draw by making one continuous line drawing, without removing your pencil from the paper. Do not look at the paper while you draw – instead draw at the same pace that your eyes trace the shape of the chair. Look at the chair from a different angle. Do you recognise the shape?
- Neill loves both natural forms and mathematical principles. Describe how both of these elements are evident in the @chair.
- Investigate different materials used to make chairs, wood, plastic, metals etc. Rate these materials from most to least sustainable.
- Considering environmental impacts and using recycling materials is important to Neill, over the course of a week record everything you and your family use or consume. Calculate how much electricity, fuel (for transport) and water is used and how much waste is produced. Consider these figures multiplied by a year and then multiplied by the number of families in your class. As a class brainstorm some ways schools and families could reduce their environmental footprint.
In 2016 Neill represented Australia at the inaugural London Design Biennale Sommerset House, London with his Plastic Effects installation, which used ocean plastic waste to produce contemporary furniture. Neill has long advocated for the re-use of plastic waste. His ongoing ‘ocean terrazzo’ project (2006-) uses plastic fragments found by beach clean-up groups and coastal-care organisations across the world. The fragments are re-bonded into a speckled, kaleidoscope pattern on table-top forms. The use of plastic fragments in Neill’s practice references the power of ocean currents and powerfully demonstrates the ultimate connectivity of the natural world.
- Investigate other artists who use ocean plastic waste to create works of art. Tip: Erub Arts collective.
- Assign a colour to each person in the class. For a week, become a bowerbird collecting small objects of your designated colour (ideally items discarded and destined for landfill). Create a collaborative colour kaleidoscope installation or individually create a sculpture using one colour of recycled material.
The @chair has been described as a Möbius loop. The Möbius loop or string is a surface with one continuous side formed by twisting one end of a narrow rectangular strip at 180 degrees then connecting the two ends together. This form was named after its inventor mathematician A. F Möbius (1790-1868). Create your own Möbius strip by gluing two ends of a strip of paper together – be sure to twist one end of the paper slightly before gluing. Run your finger along one side of the strip. Where did your finger end up?
- Experiment by cutting your strip lengthways or create multiple versions using different colours.
- How might this paper protype be made into a piece of furniture?
More: South Australian artist Margaret Worth’s Genus I, No. 2 references a slanted Möbius strip.
Design a suite of furniture inspired by symbols on a keyboard. For example an ampersand table, a hashtag stool or a parentheses coffee table.