Words cannot really express how bizarre it was seeing this exhibition of 100 miniature chairs inside St John’s Anglican Cathedral. For quite some time the exhibition was scheduled to be on display at the Living Edge Brisbane Showroom – hosts of the exhibition. I can only imagine something happened last minute and this was no longer possible. Either that, or the decision was made to make this a truly spiritual experience.
The exhibition contains 100 miniature chairs, all in their own little Perspex box. The first chair is from 1870 and the final, from 1990. They essentially look like doll house chairs – if that helps you to visualise what is meant by the word miniature. There are three components I want to discuss: layout, content, and labels.
The chairs are arranged in chronological order. They are not, however, arranged in a way that forces you to take a particular path. In other words, you don’t have to start with the first chair. I do think you can get more out of the exhibition by following a chronological path. Otherwise, it is easy enough to weave your way in and out of the display.
The most unfortunate thing about the layout is that the plinths are very close together. Scrap that, extremely close together. It is almost inevitable that you will accidentally bump one, especially if you have a bag. I could see that so many chairs had been rattled about inside their boxes. There were even a few that had moved from the middle right to the edge of their box. Luckily, none had flipped over. I had to make a real effort to be extra careful walking around this display and not gasp too loud when someone else bumped into a plinth.
As you can see from the images above, the plinths also make it difficult to stand directly in front of a chair without blocking the entire horizontal aisle. It wasn’t too busy when I visited but, at times, I did feel I was in a hedge maze trying to avoid other people.
I am sure this layout was unavoidable due to the venue change. However, it does place the objects at a pretty high risk.
Ok, what’s not to love about miniature chairs. It is literally taking the history of a pretty significant piece of furniture and shrinking it down in a “honey, I shrunk the kids” kind of way. It really allows you to see the evolution of chair design including the impacts of changing social and cultural contexts. For example, the creation of the Eames office chair and how it represents an ushering in of the more business-orientated capitalist world we now live in.
Right at the beginning of the exhibition are some explanatory notes on each era that you can take and read in your own time. The notes are long and incredibly comprehensive, but, speak to the larger contexts that these chairs were created in. I especially liked the card that referred to the Bauhaus movement and how chair design needed to change to become more functional and suitable for mass production.
These cards are great for exploring trends in design and material availability as well. For example, the explosion of plastic on the market during World War II, and continuing afterwards, resulted in a set of new challenges. Working with the new material meant the chair eventually became an ergonomic seat that wasn’t entirely made from wood, as the majority of chairs had been in the past.
Here are a few of my favourite chairs on display.
Apart from the cards you can carry around, there isn’t a great deal of interpretation. This is not a negative at all. Each chair has the name of the designer (if known), the design name and the year it was created. This information was on a label stuck inside each Perspex box.
Considering the purpose of the display is to examine design features, extra text on the display would have been problematic. Instead, I thought it was a wise idea to have extra information available, but, not integrated in the display. This is also considering the limitations of the space and how close the plinths were placed together. It would have been a nightmare having to read a huge amount of text on each chair and I probably would have started feeling claustrophobic.
If you have an interest in design or seeing miniature objects, I would recommend scheduling a quick visit to this exhibition. It has already travelled to Sydney and Melbourne and is only showing in Brisbane until 22 February 2019.
Cover Photograph Courtesy of Living Edge.