On view March 8 – May 25, 2019
Opening Reception: Mar. 8, 6-8PM
Winning Designs in 3D: April 5, 6-8PM
It is our pleasure to announce that Tête-a-Tête: Reinventing the Conversation Bench has been extended through Saturday, May 25–with an additional reception Friday, April 5 from 6-8pm, featuring the furniture and prototypes of category winners Austin Ballard, Kristyna and Marek Milde and Anastasios Kokoris.
In partnership with Westport Arts Advisory Committee, this concept exhibition takes place at the Westport Arts Center and features artists that reimagine and reinvent the Victorian-era conversation bench–also known as a tête-à-tête, courting bench, conversation bench, kissing bench and gossip’s chair. This unique piece of French furniture emerged in the 19th century, and translates to head-to-head–describing the early functionality of these seats during the Victorian era. The traditional tête-à-tête seat features chairs with S-shaped, curved backs facing opposite directions that share a center armrest. Early tête-à-tête pieces were designed to enhance many kinds of discrete yet intimate conversations such as courtship.
Our conversation bench project is envisioned as a symbolic way to encourage conversation and civility within our community. We aim to foster dialogue in these polarized times–as people sit, talk and listen, their understanding and tolerance of each other will organically improve. A contemporary re-imagining of the conversation bench will make this project relevant to today’s sensibilities. Our categories—fantastical, functional and collaborative—allow for a wide range of exhibitors with diverse artistic training and abilities.
Our hope is that, ultimately, the winning bench will find a home along the Saugatuck River or be an installation piece that travels around town or becomes part of Westport’s Permanent Art Collection (WestPAC). Creative programming developed by community organizations and centered around the idea of listening is the natural outgrowth of this project.
John Edelman – CEO, Design Within Reach
Patricia Kane – Curator of American Decorative Arts, Yale University Art Gallery
Paul Goldberger – Pulitzer Prize-winning American architecture critic and educator
Fantastical: Perhaps impractical to fabricate, this work encourages imagination and fantastical ideas and design.
Functional: Designed to build, this practical and workable design considers functionality, form and everyday environments.
Collaborative: This is a cross-disciplinary submission, for example, an architect & artist or graphic designer & industrial engineer
Winning Designers Prototype Presentation:
Austin Ballard constructs immersive, domestic settings with his fantastical furniture fabricated out of cane webbing and epoxy clay. Intended as functional sculptures, the forms are reminiscent of iconic Victorian furniture. Combining contemporary technologies with handicrafts, Ballard’s work conflates innovation and tradition, man-made and natural materials, high and low art, subverting societal and cultural assumptions of gender and labor associated with weaving, as well as with contemporary art. The inventive upholstery which covers the furniture forms also question the relationship between domesticity and leisure in an age of constant, digital interfacing.
Having grown up in North Carolina, where the textile industry historically played a fundamental and utilitarian role, Ballard seeks ways to make art approachable and accessible. He utilizes traditional techniques of textile pattern-making, cane weaving, natural dying and ceramic slab-building. Ballard pushes epoxy clay through the underside of the webbing to create a dotted, outer surface that evokes a digital reproduction, such as a landscape of pixels, screen printing or a three-dimensionally printed object. Ballard’s intention is to create ‘shameful works’ with the artist’s hand and labor revealed in contrast to high-end, minimal, modern furniture.
Referencing the scrolling woven patterns of early 19th century wicker chairs by Heywood-Wakefield, Ballard reimagines the tete-a-tete in both its specificity of function and otherworldly design. Ballard suggests the furniture forms retain, ‘a quirky intimacy, and offer a place for gossip and rumors to not only be shared in private, but be performed.’
Nautilus (Come Out of Your) Shell
Kristyna Milde & Marek Milde
All Accepted Participants