Something without purpose appears useless at first glance, but it's not necessarily something pointless. Katerina Kamprani's series The Uncomfortable reconsiders the casual objects with this little twist that makes them useable but frustrating. As a designer she obviously gets in mind the importance of the user experience, but all the better to sabotage it!
She's like a ball of positive creative energy, symptomatic of a contagious good mood. Yet Katerina Kamprani likes annoying people. Because daily objects tend to be alienating, the Greek designer wants you to reconsider the day-to-day relations you share with a fork, a wineglass or a doorknob. Even if her art is at an early stage, she’s already presented the first prototypes of her hallucinated creations at the Zagreb Design Week. Welcome to the world of being and feeling uncomfortable.
The first question I would like to ask is: how does someone come up with the idea of designing the most impracticable objects?
Well, there wasn’t like a unique moment where I came up and say: “Oh”. I think there were many things that happened before I started doing this. First of all, I'm an architect, and at some point I wanted to change my career, so I decided that maybe becoming an industrial designer was the best way to be a bit more creative than I was. So I went to Syros (Greece), which has a master degree in Design. I studied one semester there – I got introduced to the meaning of concepts such as user experience, user interactions, and what it means to be user with the objects. But then I quit (laughs).
Basically it was the start of the crisis, I wasn't sure I would have a job as a designer – I was not very happy with the master either. Then one day I was sketching and I sketched like a weird toilet, one that you need to get to with a ladder. So if you were very urgently in the need… (Laughs) This kind of discomfort is not good, and I thought this was very funny, so afterwards I started thinking more – more situations that could be impractical, you know. Soon after that, I thought it would be cool to do objects. It got me closer to being a designer.
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I get the impression that your series kindly makes fun of those designers who create hyper-designed objects but that are complicated to use. Just as if the craft was actually considered more important than the consumer experience.
I do like mocking this kind of stuff. When I see them, I do tend to be very harsh and critic. I found that you don’t know if these overly designed things will work. But really this was not my main focus, even though I do that in my everyday life. Most of the project was about me thinking about how could I design the most uncomfortable things. It's close to what you're saying, but it's not the main point.
My favourite one is the nose-wine glass. It truly happens that sometimes wine glasses are so badly done that you end up with your nose pressed against the glass. Do you find your ideas in those kind of experiences?
Not really. Also, I have designed some of the objects after I had some experiences like that. I think of an object and then I try to analyse it deeply, and then I find many different uncomfortable solutions. It comes from a method; I go through some steps. I try to really figure out what are the steps to make it and to use it, and I want just a little thing – everything else works but this specific thing doesn't. So you can do everything else with it, like you can drink from the glass, but this is annoying.
Design is ultimately about useful and handy objects. Yet you distort this notion until composing a useless object, which reaches a certain definition of art (art for the sake of art). How do you understand our quest and interest for the useful, the pragmatic? Our quest for realism seems, in a way, more important than the exploration of the world of ideas.
I design them for fun; they don’t have any purpose. The only aim for me was to find the most uncomfortable, the most unexpected item. But I think it works more on the educational side – someone sees it, then he laughs about it, and then thinks: “Oh, really?” The viewer really understands how much design has to be carefully made for such a simple object, so it works enough that you do not even pay attention to it. It has to be a really good design for you not caring about it.
When I went into that school – and in the architecture school also – I think that the main clues we got from our education were to be unique in what we design, and to be a pioneer. So students feel the need to be pioneers in what they do. Because if you do something like very old but well designed, it’s a ‘no’.
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Was well design being determined in pragmatic terms?
Every good design has to solve a problem; it won't be successful if it doesn't solve a problem that isn’t solved yet. So when we started designing something, the teacher would say: “No, no don't do anything. Let your pencil down, you have to think what's the problem and you have to solve it afterwards.” You have to do that in order to be a pioneer, to do something new.
Li Edelkoort defined few forms and functions of design. She notably said, “The absurd design makes us think.” Which questions would you like your design to arise?
As I said, I didn't have any purpose. I was just trying to make myself think about everyday objects. While thinking about a spoon, a fork or a glass, I was discovering all these worlds, the story behind them. So yeah, it had the goal of making me, first of all, reconsider what am I using in my everyday life; and secondly, how important it is to have that spoon for instance. For most of the objects I was discovering the history – like at some point they didn't look like the objects we are using today. Through the ages, the day-to-day objects have to go through a certain refining. I also learnt about how they're produced.
How do you orchestrate your exhibitions? Can people interact with the objects? How do they react?
For now I didn't get the chance and the money to perfectly orchestrate my exhibitions. The past one in Zagreb consisted of prototypes that I made from the objects I had already designed. So they finally exist – until now they were 3D renders. The ideal for me would be that people tried them out, that they were able to get them. But it's not that easy because when you make a prototype made of glass, how many people do you think would like to drink from that same glass? I wish there could be some interaction, it would be the best!
Before that exhibition, I already had the wine glass made. I did participate in an exhibition earlier this year. Here it was a group exhibition called Insignificances. Most people that came were from the art world – which I'm not super familiar with. Someone came up and told me that the sphere (the wineglass) represented the totality of... I don't really remember. He didn't go through the uncomfortable context that, you know, was made for. Lots of people were also laughing, and because the glass had wine inside, some people tried to smell it. It was interesting to see people’s reactions that I had never thought about.
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Would you like to create a certain experience around those designs – something maybe more regular, more human-size? I'm thinking about the most uncomfortable house, for instance.
I've thought about it for my past exhibition proposals, especially about the house because I'm an architect first. When I make an object, I try to sabotage only one little step: the object works, it's just annoying. When you have a full house full of traps, you have to be very, very careful because you still need to live in it. I also tried to compose an uncomfortable dinner, but I didn't want to have too many uncomfortable objects on the table because it's too much: you can't drink, you can't eat! That's not funny; it's like a torture. So it depends on how uncomfortable do I want to be.
And have you ever thought about uncomfortable clothing?
All the ideas of uncomfortable clothes are already done by fashion designers. Some clothes are not intended to be comfortable, so I'm not sure there is room for me in there. I have some ideas, but again because it's fabric it's so easily customizable. If you buy it you can say, “Ok, I'll cut it and make it comfortable”. I think you have the power to transform something in fashion. With an object you can’t really make it yours.
We said that design is a witness of time. What do you think your designed pieces would say about our time, if we find them in the future, within two hundred years?
If civilisation collapses or something like that, I would love that someone like a historian tries to make sense of these objects. Because I'm sure that a theoretical person would find something behind them, something very serious to say about my designs. It would be very interesting, I think.
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