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Christopher Chiappa

by Brian Fichtner in Design on 01 October 2008

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Christopher Chiappa produces artwork both visceral and subversive. In his studio, an ever-growing blob of solidified expanding foam consumes a Weber grill. The mass is riddled with a fury of knives fashioned from masonite, as if to kill off the uncontrollable beast. The piece has taken on a life of its own. Indeed, one of Chiappa's greatest strengths as an artist lies in his ability to relinquish conscious control and let his projects follow their own path and, ultimately, assume their own meaning.

Chainsaw Rocker (at right, more images after the jump), a 1:1 reproduction of a Honda Accord car seat, came from a junkyard find that Chiappa had kicking around his studio. While working with chainsaw sculptors on another project, he managed to convince an artisan to make a rendering of the seat ("Chainsaw guys only want to carve eagles and bears and wolves and shit," Chiappa told me). The resulting sculpture, replete with functional brass plated rockers, is one of those delightful convergences of high- and low-brow. It's currently on view at Moss Los Angeles, price upon request.

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Conceived at a time when Marcel Wanders' Knotted Chair and Hella Jongerius' Kasese were recently canonized by inclusion in MoMA's permanent collection, Chiappa's Latin Covers are an attempt to blur class distinctions and reinvigorate designs he felt had lost their sense of wonder. "There's this whole notion of high-end design and who it's for. The audience it's for is so specific, so educated... I wanted to tear that down" he said. Deployed during the city's less sanitary days, latin covers were once used to protect taxi upholstery. For the Knotted Chair and Kasese, they serve as protection and commentary. After tracking down a producer in Long Island City, and again, after some convincing, Chiappa had detailed covers made for the chairs (including gold piping for the trim). For Chiappa, the covers impregnate the chairs with a false language — "low class bling" — that flip them into a whole new realm.

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Chiappa's forthcoming exhibition,"Swiss Cheese," evolved from a simple design into a serial sculpture project. Originally, he was looking to simply create a book-stand for American Psycho: a self-conscious reflection on the tastelessness of displaying one's favorite books. But the metal stand didn't turn out quite right: "It looked a little too much like Grcic," he said, referring to the German designer. So he drilled holes in it and had it powder coated yellow. But then it started to take on a cartoonish quality. Still, the holes had fermented an idea and Chiappa, as he traveled around the country, started buying Swiss from delis and developing ways to translate the food into sculpture.

In the end, he's found a method of turning stencils into CAD drawings that yield deceptively simple renditions of actual Swiss, only in a larger-than-life scale. As paintings, the project could conceivably work but when produced in three-dimensions and mounted off the wall, the Swiss cheeses deliver a trompe l'oeil effect that is simply awesome. "I like when a magician shows you that he's doing a trick, but he still gets you anyway. That's what I like about art," he explained of the sculptures.

Swiss Cheese
4 October–8 November 2008
Opening reception: 4 October 2008, 6-8pm
Kate Werble Gallery
83 Vandam Street
New York, NY 10013 map
tel. +1 212 352 9700 Chainsaw_Rocker_Profile.JPG Chainsaw_Rocker_2.JPG Chainsaw_Rocker_Detail.JPG

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