In 2009, London-based artists Hannah Plumb and James Russell founded JAMESPLUMB, a multi-disciplinary studio dedicated to found-object assemblage and a playful, irreverent style. The duo’s keen eye for lighting and acute attention to detail is recognizable across the permanent installations they’ve created for high-end retail stores—like Hostem and Aesop in London—and in one-off projects commissioned for public and private spaces. This week, the duo’s atypical furnishings—unique designs that smartly employ fine 19th- and 20th-century chairs as their basis and inspiration—go on view at San Francisco fair FOG Design+Art with Slete Gallery.
JAMESPLUMB’s works often toe the line between a rough-hewn aesthetic and a streamlined, minimalist one. Their 2012 work Cupboard Steps is an excellent example of this dual approach; it’s a spiral staircase made of flanks of medieval unpolished, oak wood leading to a salvaged, Georgian corner cupboard. When open, the cupboard shelves are revealed to be empty; the piece resembles an altar. Like JAMESPLUMB’s other works, Cupboard Steps is made up of discordant, dissimilar elements that are connected by steel railing and thoughtfully configured so as to appear harmonious and to evidence the deep consideration that went into its making.
For their often dark, Dickensian works JAMESPLUMB have been known to combines sofas or chairs with oak pew benches and blocks of concrete. To Love and To Cherish (2012) ), for example, is a rendering of a sofa but without cushions—they’ve been ripped out and replaced by concrete, cast to resemble a cushion. The remaining exposed frame is remarkably austere, skeletal even. While it could technically be sat upon, providing comfort is no longer its greatest asset. In the case of their Chesterfield Table (2014), the pair present a utilitarian work—both couch and bench can be sat upon—but the functions of its individual components have been changed irreconcilably.
In Plumb’s words, “we empathize with some objects… that command our attention… we’re drawn to pieces with character.” And this becomes clear upon viewing the new works they’re showing at FOG; titled “Settle,” this series builds upon previous works like Chesterfield Table. For each of these works the pair has homed in on found chairs—like a 19th-century Irish porter’s chair—paring them down to their fundamental elements and combining them with contrasting elements of wood and concrete. Tender Pray (2015), for example, takes a late 19th-century prayer chair as its inspiration. JAMESPLUMB carefully removed scraps of the chair’s origins (fabrics, hundreds of nailheads), combined it with a smooth, dark plank from a church pew, and balanced the opposite end with a crisp grey block of concrete.
JAMESPLUMB’s assemblages are most successful when marked by a dramatic juxtaposition of materials, textures, or weighted parts—like smooth wood and spindly steel, hefty concrete blocks and soft, lightweight cushions. Their bespoke sculptures are endowed with new functions, casting their significance as objects in a whole new light.