Stuart Haygarth….Think with the Ordinary!
Transforming everyday, often overlooked found objects into things of unexpected beauty.'Any object, however mundane, is a valid material to use,’ Haygarth says. But he shies away from the eco tag: 'My work is more about giving overlooked things a fresh significance by putting them in a new context.’
Creating magical and evocative stories through objects is central to Stuart Haygarth’s work. Even as a commercial photographer, crafting book covers and photo-montages for clients including Esquire, Daimler-Chrysler and Penguin, Haygarth would arrange objects and materials into collages before photographing the tableaux for print. This Design Museum commission celebrates Haygarth’s recent experiments in detailed narratives through lighting design.
Born in Whalley, Lancashire in 1966, Haygarth studied graphic design at Exeter College of Art and Design before starting his career in photography. His first lighting designs in 2005 were a series of exquisite chandeliers constructed from the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life – ranging from a collection of discarded objects washed up on the Kent coastline to a collection of millennial Party Poppers.
For Twenty Twenty, Haygarth has collated and arranged hundreds of pairs of glasses found through Vision Aid Overseas, a charitable organisation for the collection and redistribution of discarded prescription spectacles. By salvaging the glasses for this chandelier Haygarth has drawn an elegant and an analogous line between their old and new purposes – from prescriptive items for improving sight to an imposing and dramatic light installation enabling visitors to see up through the Design Museum atrium.
As Haygarth has said, “my work revolves around everyday objects, collected in large quantities, categorized and presented in such a way that they are given new meaning. It is about giving banal and overlooked objects new significance.”
This commission was made possible through the generous support of the Tallow Chandlers Company to enable emerging designers to develop new work in lighting.
Q. Having worked as a photographer for so many years - what was the catalyst that made you move into design?
A. Although I have been a photographer for 15 years for the last 10 years I was working as a photographic illustrator using collage to illustrate the commissions. The photography, although very important in creating the atmosphere, was a small part of the work. Most of the time was spent sourcing materials and composing the collections of objects for the brief.
Needing a change of focus, I started experimenting in my own time making work for myself and for my home, using material that I had been storing over several years.
Q. Which of your early projects was most important in defining your approach to your work?
A. Probably the Millennium chandelier – made from 1000 exploded Party Poppers after the Millennium celebrations – because it revolves around a specific collection of objects with a narrative, it was labour intensive to produce, and is a chandelier.
Q. How have your objectives changed since switching to design?
A. I feel that I am producing work that I want to produce in the same way that an artist produces work. I am not (yet) working with commercial constraints and expectations which feels liberating. I think this was another reason I was tired of commercial photo illustration. I hope to continue this way.
Q. Do you set out to find objects for a specific purpose, or is your collecting policy more random?
A. Definitely more random. I am always scouring flea markets, junk shops and car boot sales in search of inspirational objects which will trigger an idea.
Q. Why collections/collages?
A. I think there is a certain 'power' in a collection of specific objects. A large grouping of a carefully chosen object – be it by colour or form – gives the object new meaning and significance. I was also interested in work by Joseph Cornell, Tom Friedman and Arman – all artists who use everyday objects in there work. Cornell used found objects in assemblages to create fantasy worlds of travel and adventure (although he never travelled) and thus tell a story. Arman interests me because he uses collections of everyday objects to create wonderful sculptures which give these overlooked objects new vigour and meaning. Tom Freidman uses banal objects and materials such as plastic cups, pubic hair or a cereal packet and with great practical skill creates humorous artworks. I think perhaps there is an element of model making skill which I like about his work. I think Friedman interests me the most because he is contemporary and uses really strange and unusual materials to build artworks. His work is also painstakingly labour intensive which is another similarity with my own. I also like humour in design and art and Friedman’s work is full of it.
Q. Why choose eye glasses for the Design Museum commission?
A. For years I have always wanted to do a piece of work with spectacles or sunglasses. This started because I was always finding strange spectacles at flea markets and the fact that each pair once had an owner who relied on them as a tool to see. This narrative and the idea of making a light from an object that helps people to see (in the same way a light does) I find interesting. I have specifically chosen to use spectacles with transparent plastic frames so that the frame becomes illuminated.
Q. Where did you collect them?
A. These are collected from Vision Aid Overseas a charity that gets thousands of old pairs of prescription specs from opticians from all over the country. Some of the glasses are sent to third world countries but thousands which can't be used are put in huge bins and incinerated. I find a home for these unwanted pairs. Because they are prescription glasses many have interesting lenses which distort objects placed behind them. The variety of styles is staggering and this is why I wanted to create a chandelier which resembles a vitrine or showcase – almost like a museum of spectacles.
Q. You talk of giving the banal more resonance and substance – is there also an element of ethical recycling in your work?
A. Although recycling does feature in my work (especially with the
Tide chandelier which was made from discarded objects washed up on the Kent coastline) I am not consciously ethically recycling. I do hate waste and it's rewarding finding a creative use for unwanted material. I would say that it is more an economic decision to try and find interesting and cheap recycled objects and materials for my work. I also find that most of my inspiration comes from found objects and materials.
Q. How important is narrative in your work?
A. If possible, I always like to have some kind of narrative in my work rather than just designing a light that looks good. I think the concept and the story behind the work is important and gives it more depth. All recycled objects have a past life and a story to tell which hopefully comes across in the work. The quality of the light emitted from my chandeliers is also an important factor (this probably comes from my photographic training).
Q. Are there other design typologies you would like to work?
A. At the moment lighting is my preferred choice but I am also keen to move into other areas. I am currently working on several ideas for tables. I don't want to be labeled the designer who makes chandeliers. Variety is the spice of life!
Stuart taught us to look outside the box and ourselves. There is a lot to learn about the objects and people we surround ourselves with. Take inventory. Are you able to make beautiful artwork with the things and people that surround you?
Stuart takes the things we disregard daily, and finds a way to make beautiful art. Much like your Life Brand it’s important to realize that what you disregard many times assist you in establishing your mark in the world.
Visit Stuart Haygarth's website stuarthaygarth.com