THE CONNECTION COLLECTION / VOLUME 1
ARIK LEVY / ROCKSPLIT & ROCKSHELVES
Text by Libby Sellers, Asaf Gottesman and Arik Levy
THE CONNECTION COLLECTION HSBC Private Bank
HSBC Private Bank is proud to confirm its long-term commitment to contemporary design in launching The Connection Collection with two major new works created by Arik Levy, RockSplit and RockShelves.
Established in 2009 to commission and acquire annually unique works by visionary designers of our time, The Connection Collection is based squarely on our conviction that the most innovative, relevant and successful design – as in business – results from connections between people. Globally and across cultures, communication between individuals and uncommon ambitions form the basis of all great ideas.
Arik Levy shares our belief in this concept. Acknowledging the importance of emotion and relational themes in his own work, Levy frequently remarks that ‘The world is about people, not tables and chairs.’ We too celebrate this view in our own daily emphasis on the personal connections that make possible the dreams of established and emerging talents in all spheres of life. The Connection Collection aims to recognise such works in the field of design. Levy’s RockSplit and RockShelves mark its beginning.
As objects that can be combined in infinite variety, RockSplit and RockShelves have emerged from this designer’s own interpretation of what ‘connection’ means to him in the context of his practice. They enter The Connection Collection as an extension of his iconic series of works based on Rock of 2002, which, along with his other important creations, have helped to establish Levy as one of the most versatile practitioners today. Levy is a perfect example of the modern ‘thinking’ designer, at work with ideas that change our environment and change our perspectives on a material world that is often purged of feeling.
Arik Levy himself was involved at the inception of The Connection Collection. We are enormously grateful for his generous partnership in originating this project and salute his idealism in its execution. We also thank curator, writer and gallerist Libby Sellers and architect Asaf Gottesman for their insightful texts on Levy’s work. RockSplit and RockShelves could almost be described as viral masterworks, such is their potential for expansion, as can be seen in the chapters which follow.
ROCK ERGONOMICS Libby Sellers
Arik Levy is preoccupied by absence. The words removal, subtraction and displacement pepper his speech like incantations – and not without due cause. As a poet and philosopher working in the often stolid world of industrial design, as an avid surfer land-bound by a demandingly successful career, as a victim of phantom-limb syndrome following a work-related accident, and as an Israeli transplanted to Paris, loss and alienation are constants in his working life.
It is typical of Levy, however, that such seemingly pejorative words assume a genuinely affirmative tone in his design vocabulary. Instead of being harbingers of the morose these terms, when applied to his objects, become portals to the intangible ‘other’ – an appreciation of the fertile dynamics of the void, of the reflected horizon, of the glass that is half full.
Levy has long been interested in objects that have great physical presence on the one hand, and on the other an immaterial quality that encourages our imagination to complete the picture. For Levy, what is not seen is almost as important as what is seen. ‘Life is a system of signs and symbols where nothing is quite as it seems,’ he says. The otherworldly and magnificent RockSplit and RockShelves, commissioned in 2009 for The Connection Collection by HSBC Private Bank, are the most recent projections of this rich, Platonic design approach.
Levy’s exercises in reduction began in 2002 from his Paris atelier. He began by hacking into solid foam blocks to better understand the hidden facets within. As he says, ‘I’m not obsessed with producing a form or a finished object … I confront a material, it awakens feelings in me, then I begin the transformation process.’ The result was the gestation of his now iconic Rock series: ‘non-geological growths’ that were formed from the outside in.
Ironically for such a tech-savvy designer, Levy was not interested in using sophisticated computer modelling software and complex mathematical equations to render a flat plane into a perfectly symmetrical, threedimensional form. His goal with the Rock series was ‘simply to subtract material.’ Despite the genuine humility in such a statement, the actual realised works and the metaphorical issues reflected in them are anything but simple.
Levy was born in Tel Aviv in 1963, a period that saw both the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but also a new wave of self-assured poets, writers, musicians and critics challenging the status quo. Believing the older generation too collectivist, too nationalistic, the young artists, including the modernist poet Natan Zach and the author Amos Oz, heralded instead a new Israeli spirit of individualism and introspection.
By his early twenties, Levy was chasing his own free-spirited and
expressive wave, indulging his passion for surfing by creating surfboards,
wetsuits and everything else related to the sport. It’s a biographical
detail that reverberates in his Rocks. A surfboard designer, known as
a shaper, intuitively removes the excess from a foam ‘blank’ to reveal
and expose the contours and idiosyncrasies of the latent board within.
Parallels can be drawn with Levy’s contemporary Marc Newson – another
industrial designer who adapted an obsession for surf culture to create
his early, fluidly futuristic designs including the Lockheed Lounge of 1986.
Incidentally, neither the Australian-born Newson nor Levy arrived at their
chosen profession weighed down by the baggage of European cultural
history. Instead they have carved distinct and instinctive visual languages
that have placed them at the forefront of contemporary design practice.
Levy’s cultural identity has left an indelible mark on his approach. As he has said of Israel, ‘it is in a constant struggle for survival and in this environment you have to be able to reinvent yourself, like a cat with nine lives, to rebound immediately. There are no downs, there are only ups; no flaws, only advantages; no problems, only solutions.’ This need to rebound and reinvent has gifted him the flexibility not only to traverse design boundaries but also to assimilate the cultural influences his peripatetic lifestyle throws at him.
In 1991, following his formal studies in industrial design at the Art Centre Europe in Switzerland, Levy was invited to Japan by Seiko Epson to develop concepts for his award-winning printer design. Early 1990s Japan, with its paradoxical blend of ancestral culture and technological advance, offered fertile ground for Levy, appealing to his notions of otherness, diversity and duality. Viewed in this context, Levy’s Rocks align themselves with the formalistic qualities of the Japanese school of traditional rock-garden design, karesansui.
The ambition of the karesansui designers of the Muromachi period (1382–1568) was to create an artistically idealised nature from restricted materials. Using just rocks and gravel resulted in a stylised severity. This process of refinement and reduction, echoed by 1960s Minimalist art, the architects of the 1980s and Levy’s Rock series, reverses the design process and throws convention and symmetry out with the pruning shears. Just as karesansui employed rocks as symbols of the natural landscape, so too do Levy’s Rocks assume metaphorical roles. Whether crafted from relentlessly polished stainless steel, so as to resemble mirrored boulders, or wooden polygonal structures reminiscent of petrified logs, Levy’s Rocks recall nature, but only vaguely appropriate its imagery. As exterior installations, his monolithic structures become, as Levy says, ‘like meteors landed from a different world.’
Subverting convention through material choice and scale, Levy presents nature out of context – luring the viewers with false securities then confounding them with the contradictions inherent in their own expectations. It’s a perverse reminder of mankind’s impact on the natural world but also of Levy’s fascination with absence – ‘Empty instead of full, lightweight instead of heavy, belonging to the human mind instead of nature ... One will look at the Rock and shout rock, then realise it is not. Yet I am looking for the missing parts that will substantiate where these pieces originated from.’
RockFusion, Log and RockSplit – the descendants of his first steel and wood Rocks – help to unpack this notion. Levy explains RockFusion as ‘the collusion of two rocks or the birth of one rock from the other. The fusion is dynamic.’ The idea of inert forms mutating into fecund organisms led Levy to consider his cut facets and empty voids as fertile matter, to be propagated into new appendages or grafted into entirely new structures such as Log. As he says, ‘It was an extremely interesting moment to turn the mineral into vegetable and the rock into a tree.’
The life force imbued in these works goes beyond the scientific and rational to the spiritual and intangible. Just as the Zen Buddhists believed the absence of visual distractions in the karesansui gardens allowed for moments of self reflection – and thereby potential spiritual enlightenment – so too does the Rock series have a fourth, otherworldly dimension. Like stealth objects disappearing into the domestic or natural landscape, the mirror-polished stainless-steel Rocks are like ‘softened ice cubes’, caught between solidity and liquidity, absorbing and reflecting the light and their surrounding environments. Each of the facets, facing a different direction, reflects a different part of the environment: a view that is not humanly visible from one standpoint. While they bring the surrounding world together in a single image, as Levy points out, this ‘image is broken, faceted and sliced. It therefore gives a broken image of what we do to our environment, a sort of alarm signal.’
Levy perceives the facets of his Rocks as platforms for reflection into the inner psyche. The facets, he explains, ‘act like springboards for memory’: trace matter or souvenirs of what has been removed, or what had come or happened before. They create connections between past, present and future – encouraging tensions, dialogue and further growth. It is related to Levy’s pursuit of ‘emotional ergonomics’ – in which he harnesses science to create feeling and emotions – and in this his RockShelves (and its subsequent debut for The Connection Collection) takes on deeper significance.
By skewering steel Rocks between strata of American walnut, Levy has created an idealised geological mass into which culture and science can be embedded and shelved. The polished metal and the lengths of wood refract, reflect and elongate both the contents of the shelf and the surrounding environment. The contents and reflections evolve with each intervention and with each time the Rocks are pivoted. Its inclusion in The Connection Collection will continue the evolutionary potential of RockShelves, as Levy’s rigorous designs and philosophical pursuits will reverberate and refract the differing cultures and environments in which they are placed.
ROCKSPLIT & ROCKSHELVES Asaf Gottesman
All of Arik Levy’s creations are works in progress. Complete in themselves, they also serve as stepping stones in a creative journey that is rational and unexpected at the same time. The serendipitous route by which Levy interacts with his ‘rocks’ reveals the obsessive, playful curiosity at the heart of his creative process. Levy’s latest works, RockSplit and RockShelves, are a particularly brave step – the work of a mature artist who celebrates ambiguity.
Nothing is as it should be. The wooden RockSplit is divided and hollow; its partition reveals the lack of internal essence, and actualises it in the mind of the viewer. The sensuality of the material and the subtlety of the facets render the visual icon of the Rock both beautifully tactile and artificial. Viewed within a space, an additional facet of the work is revealed: its ability to reflect and transform its surroundings, to reveal through its presence additional aspects of the work itself and the environment within which it has been placed.
Yet Arik Levy is less concerned with pleasing the viewer than with experimentation, with the continual juxtaposition of ideas. Initially, the reflectivity of the faceted forms – and the immateriality it caused – seemed to drive his creative process. Once this had been achieved, however, a new set of preoccupations set in: scale, connectivity, materiality and space. All served as a pretext to explore the physical and emotional potential within the Rock.
Levy’s library seems rather elementary; an assortment of stainless-steel rocks serve as the base for a set of wooden shelves. The work conveys a sense of randomness, as if a bunch of rocks and shelves were simply collected and assembled to fulfil a function. Instinctively we seek causality: we extract meaning, particularly when confronted with what seems to be straightforward actions. Studying RockSplit and RockShelves, we invariably construct mental links. The hollowness of the wooden rock is linked in the mind to the mass of stainless steel; the horizontal shelves reveal the potential utility of the construct. Yet seeking explanations robs us of the ability to enjoy the work’s playful ambiguities and sensual qualities. Levy’s Rocks communicate and reflect their surroundings, while the thick American-walnut planks are unique in their organic irregularity. This could be perceived as a library – it could even serve as the resting place of books – yet its potential function has little to do with its origin.
Arik Levy is all too willing to tease the viewer with hints of utility and a priori forms, with a sense of spontaneity that obscures his obsessive preoccupation with ideas, sensations and their relationship to emotions. The origin of this work, as with so many others, is in the uniquely subjective mind of an artist who refuses to accept any notion of completion. Levy’s work embodies duplicities; art explored through utility, perfectionism delivered with informality, sensuality that is entrenched in the conceptual, and an intuitive process that is clearly both analytical and subjective. His pieces offer the promise of participation, of partaking in a process that enriches the visual and sensual quality of our lives.
ROCK EVOLUTION Arik Levy
When I started working on the Rock piece, I had no idea where it would take me, nor what shape it would evolve into. Amongst many other subjects, they address light and reflection. Most importantly they are about elements that are absent. They are not really about what is present in front of us. The metaphors, illusions, thoughts and ideas we get from the Rock come first.
In a domestic environment, the Rock pulls nature into its space and creates a link to what earth really is: mineral created from lava explosions and tectonic plate movements over millions of years. Yet when it is placed outside, it is clear that the Rock and nature are not alike at all. Outdoors it looks like something that has arrived from some unknown alien civilisation.
When finished in mirror-polish reflecting its environment, the fugitive characteristics of the Rock’s shape and outline – its present-not-present existence – results in some kind of fata morgana. We look at the Rock and it looks back at us. The Rock shows us views and angles we are not able to see directly with our own eyes. It builds and chops, composes and decomposes our surroundings. And when a Rock is put on the ground, it begins to germinate, to develop into a vegetal force, like a faceted tree. When cut, this ‘tree’ will multiply into faceted ‘logs’.
Scale, proportion, material, composition, fusion and juxtaposition all mutate into a new generation of ideas and feelings. RockShelves is the first piece where the Rock is combined with another element – slices from a log of American walnut in this case – to become a new thing, a kind of ‘buckle’ for the never-ending loop of possibilities set out on the following pages of Rock evolution.