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The Sitcom, featuring The Chairs

Chairs usually don’t talk to visitors of design exhibitions. Except when Lucas Maassen is in charge and creates a sitcom starring none other than that ubiquitous design icon - the chair. 

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 13-02-2014

It’s time for Lucas Maassen to reflect on his talking chairs performance, created during the last October during Dutch Design Week and titled: The Sitcom! It was an experiment in how to create a design exhibition while toying with people’s expectations. 

Looking back he calls it a mixed success.  “Part of the audience understood, and part didn’t,” he says. Gallery MU in Eindhoven is currently exploring the event in a show titled “A re-enactment”.

People usually race around design exhibitions trying to see as many chairs, tables and other inanimate objects as they can. While sitcoms feature live actors. Visitors entering Maassen’s The Sitcom! during DDW were welcomed by audience coaches, seated on bleachers and suddenly became spectators attending a sitcom recording.  They were even expected to laugh at the right moments.  

 “But what if the actors were to disappear into the set?” Maassen wrote at the time.  “If the chairs made all the jokes, the designed domesticity came to life? What is the true nature, the essence of things? How inanimate are they really, our interiors? And, perhaps even more importantly: does design have a good sense of humour?”

“I was playing with people’s expectations,” says Maassen now. “Design events are so materialistic. The audience continuously judges, while they move around in droves like cattle. I hold a mirror up to them. I try to create a new reality, a new experience, instead of another new chair.”   

And in his research on how to design a design exhibition this judging audience itself became part of the design exhibition. “I feel like Geppetto trying to give life to something dead,” Maassen says of his drive to more fully include the audience.

Maassen’s experiments fit into a broader recent development, which can be seen in the Ljubljana Biennial of Design later this year.  It is curated by another Design Academy Eindhoven designer, Jan Boelen.  

Boelen is turning Ljubljana away from being just another exhibition of hundreds of chairs and into an event where design happens. To understand it, one has to be a part of it.

Maassen’s experiment appears to be slightly more exclusive. “It’s for people that can empathise, that are preoccupied with how one experiences an exposition,”  he says.

The current exhibition, “A re-enactment” is indeed a careful re-enactment of the process that led to the event.  It is about the event itself and an evaluation of what happened by, for instance, to the actors.  

Tomorrow Friday14th February there will be a script reading at the MU Gallery in Eindhoven.

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