7 – 20 Apr 2012

Woodring 2010

Chris Kabel
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A 10 meter long massive wood beam is cut up in a hundred tapered pieces that, when put together, make a circular bench. A metal band clamps the pieces together without glue. Because the bench is made out of one solid beam the wood grain continues along the bench.

Interview by Design.nl

What do you like most about the project?

That the bench really works. If you sit with three people or more in it, it becomes an intimate space and the outside world disappears. On this bench people start talking with each other, even if they are complete strangers.

What was the original concept and how does it differ from the finished project?

For the Shared Space III I wanted to make a circular bench. I like this shape because it creates two very different spaces. Facing outward of the circle you can be alone and anonymous. You can read a book or look at the passers by. But as soon as you step into the circle you become part of the atmosphere created by the people that are already in there. It’s a bit like sharing a bath in the sauna but then without the nakedness and the wetness… It also reminds me of my early school years where on Mondays we would all sit with our little wooden chairs in a circle and talk about the adventures we had in we did in the weekend.

And then I thought of how I would realize it. Obviously, wood first came to mind but I wanted to do something unexpected with the wood. Normally to make a circular bench out of something straight, you cut wood the sheets in shape and glue or screw them together, not paying attention on the direction of the wood grain. This destroys the continuity of the wood grain, which for me is such a beautiful feature of wood. So that gave me the idea of cutting the wood in small trapezium shaped pieces that, when put back together, would create a circle of three meters in diameter. The bench consists of a hundred of those pieces, held together by a metal strap (just like a wooden bathtub or a wooden barrel). It actually works in the same way as the stones in an arched gate. Another good thing is that you can disassemble this enormous bench and load it on a pallet for transport.

Did you have any difficulties during the design process or assembly?

Yes, it was very hard to find a piece of wood of these dimensions. To be true to the idea I really needed a wood beam of ten meters long. Also it needed to be dry enough to cut without cracking open or breaking too much. Because when wood is freshly cut it is very wet and when it starts to dry out, the outside dries out quicker than the inside and shrinks and thus cracks because the inside didn’t shrink yet. Luckily I found this kind of wood and also a fantastic woodworker who works a bit like a mad scientist, he invents his own machines and techniques. He is a specialist in impossible projects. He has also worked for the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, Ettore Sottsas and Ron Arad, which made me feel confident he knew what level of finish I desired.

Do you have any anecdotes/ funny stories that occurred during the design process?

First I wanted to make the bench in my own workshop out of a thinner but also 10m long wood plank attached to a metal frame, and with the wood pieces cut by waterjet and glued together completely in one piece. We almost started doing this when I realised myself the immense size this bench would have and how we would transport it. So I measured the doors of the building and found out that after being finished, the bench would never leave the building because the doors were too small. After this desillusion the answer to make the entire bench out of pieces cut one much wider and higher wood beam and later strapped together by a metal strap, proved much more natural and logical… So in the end I thank the architect of our building (which used to be a hat factory by the way, items that easily fit through any door) for not making the doors too big…

What would you like people to take away after seeing this project?

I hope that they will have shared something with a complete stranger in this intimate wooden circle. And I hope they feel the same awe as I did when I first sat inside the circle and felt myself embraced by a tree. I think it’s a very powerful feeling.

About the project itself:

What materials and techniques did you use?

For the bench we used an Oregon Pine beam of 10m / 40cm / 30cm, a little geometry, and a lot of very precise cutting… the wood is finished with a matte transparent varnish. And I found a great clamp system from Germany that is used to clamp wooden bathtubs.

Where were the materials found?

The wood originally comes from Canada, where it has been lying in the river for a year to wash out the wood acids. Then it has been drying to the air for two years in the Netherlands.

What do you expect the bench to look like after 6 months- a year?

The wood will become even better with age so I hope it will last a hundred times longer than that…

Woodring 2011 is produced for Shared Space III Installation for Witte de With, center for Contemporary Art and TENT Rotterdam. Edition of 8 pieces, 2 a.p. and 2 prototypes by Galerie Kreo, Paris Finalist for the Dutch Design Awards 2011 For more information about the work of Chris Kabel visit http://chriskabel.com/