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Deformation as an Aesthetic

Fresh out of school and with two designs that are garnering him world-wide attention, Pascal Smelik is the new kid to watch.  His focus is always on the materials and his goal is to create interesting aesthetics - industrial products infused with artistry.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 26-08-2009

One month before Pascal Smelik graduated from the Utrecht School for the Arts he had already finished his graduation project, Kaarsrecht Kruk, and so decided to experiment further with his technique.

The kruk, or stool in English, is an alluminium table cast from hot wax poured into cold water.  Using a large syringe, Smelik squirted two liters of wax into vats of water, which he then drained and filled with gypsum.  He then heated the wax to remove it and poured liquid alluminium into the cavity.

The result is a purely formalistic experiment with materials whereby Smelik selects the function that best fits the form.  

The concept and motivation behind this project was deformation, the impact it has on people and nature.

“Everything deformed attracts people,” Smelik says.  “Midgets or people missing limbs fascinate people and they can’t help but look and wonder about it.”  That coupled with the desire to let things happen naturally without any artificial interference are what lead to the roughened and haphazard finishes.  “I like the idea of not being able to control something,” he says.  

Before settling on this technique, Smelik toyed with the idea of letting the consumer finish the product and playing around with mass production techniques that create unique items.

“I struggled with that part fort a while,” says Smelik.  In the end he took inspiration from Front Design’s Sketch collection and Marten Baas' Smoke collection.  "i like those collections because every piece is unique," he says.  "It's not really about the design itself but more about a factor in the production process. In the sketch series, you never can draw the same product twice and with the burned chair nobody controls the fire, you can light up certain areas, but you can't control it entirely."

Interestingly, when Smelik experimented with controlling how the wax spread by using implements, nothing interesting formed.  “The best and most surprising shapes definitely came from just letting the wax have its way,” he says.

For his last-minute addition to his graduation project, Smelik successfully attempted to use this technique for a series of glasses.  Using a heavy ball at the bottom of a bucket, he injected wax into the water, which first attached to the ball and then rose to the surface forming the shape, which he cast as the glass stem.  The cup was made by dipping a balloon filled with cold water into the hot wax until several layers formed. He then popped the balloon and used the kiln cast technique.

Smelik says the difficulty with wax is that it always wants to float. Getting the thickness just right so it is solid enough to withstand the process but refined enough to work as a glass stem was also tricky.

A wine bar in New York has already indicated that they would like an order of the glasses and Smelik, just weeks out of graduation, has applied for the WWIK (a monthly stipend provided by the government for newly starting designers and artists) and has plans to open up his own studio as soon as possible.

“My main interest is aesthetics,” he says.  “I studied industrial design and my plan is to be a product designer, but with a more artistic focus.”

Smelik was a preliminary nominee for this year’s Piet Bakker prize and is participating in Dutch Design Double in the HKU Design Route from the 4th till the 11 September in Decora at the Mariastraat 32-34 in Utrecht.

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