The exhibition included the retro-style dot-pattern fabric designed by Charles and Ray Eames.
JP/Dina Indra SafitriAn illuminated light bulb over the head or the snap of the fingers and voila! A million-dollar idea is born in an instant.
If this is the magical moment you have been looking for, sorry to say that you’ll have a hard time finding it in the world of American designer couple Ray and Charles Eames, whose famous quotes include one involving a “30-year flash” of inspiration.
Charles Eames was born in 1907 in Missouri.
After being thrown out of Washington University partly for being “too modern” and supporting controversial designer Frank Lloyd Wright, he established his architectural office in 1930 and received a fellowship to Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he proceeded to become head of the design department.
He married artist and activist Bernice Alexandra Kaiser, later known as Ray Eames, in 1940. The two then began a prolific collaboration in the field of design
Those less familiar with the names might recognize their products based on design. The sleek molded plywood chair for example, is one of the couple’s most famed brainchildren.
There is also the indulgent Eames lounge chair and ottoman, and the practical molded plastic chair.
Smooth and simple as they may look, these designs were hardly born out of a single brilliant moment.
Visitors explore the world and works of the Eames couple.
JP/Dina Indra SafitriThe plywood chair design, issued in 1946 and crowned by Time Magazine as The Best Design of the 20th Century, is often cited as an illustration for the Eames’ zeal for constantly improving their works, even if it meant endless experimentation.
Charles was asked whether he thought of the Eames chair “in a flash”, and he replied “Yes, sort of a 30-year flash,” describing how the journey of making that product had indeed been a long one, involving various sketches and trials.
Design, to Charles, was more a never-ending process than an outcome.
The emphasis on processes within the human mind is also evident in what the man called “the banana leaf parable”, which was inspired by eating habits in India.
The parable illustrates the types of dishes used in Indian dining. Members of the lowest caste in southern India use banana leaves, the simplest form of a dish, for eating, and those from higher castes use crafted dishes that become more ornate in line with the level of the castes of the people who use them.
Yet people seen to be most sophisticated in their knowledge and means in fact go back to using the banana leaf, like those from the lowest case.
“I am not prepared to say that the banana leaf that one eats off of is the same as the other eats off of, but it’s that process that has happened within the man that has changed the banana leaf,” Charles is known to have said of the philosophy.
Those who are interested in exploring more of Charles and Ray’s thoughts can visit the Herman Miller Essential Eames Exhibition, which is currently being held at Gandaria City Mall, South Jakarta, until June 22.
The admission-free exhibition, which is a collaboration between Eames Office and
American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, is centered around An Eames Primer, a book by the couple’s grandson, Eames Demetrios.
The items featured include the Eames’ biography along with displays of the their noted designs, including the plywood chairs and stackable plastic chairs along with explanations, timelines and sketches describing the processes the couple went through to produce them.
Several sections are equipped with screens playing movies centering around the Eames’ legacy and history. Most of the information, however, is in English without any Indonesian translations.
Although furniture designers usually take credit for introducing the public to their works, the Eames’ activities extended beyond sketching chairs and tables. Thus, the exhibition also features their other works as architects, filmmakers, photographers and toymakers.
Charles and Ray’s noted works outside furniture design include the documentary Powers of Ten, which portrays the scale of the universe based on an everyday scene of a picnic, and the exhibition Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and beyond, which to many succeeds in displaying the often puzzling science in a fun and attractive way through objects such as soap bubbles, light bulbs performing multiplication and tens of thousands of plastic balls
The Essential Eames exhibition also features an interpretation of the unique Eames Case Study House #8, also known as Eames House, the original of which is located in Pacific Palisades, California.
Case Study House #8 was one of the roughly two dozen post-war homes built as part of The Case Study House Program, led by John Entenza from Arts and Architecture magazine.
Charles and Ray’s aim was to build a house using off-the-shelf material that would blend and not overpower its surrounding environment, and that could serve the purpose of housing a couple with grown children who had moved out.
The couple moved into the house in 1949 and lived there for the rest of their lives. Charles passed away in 1978 and Ray died 10 years later to the day. The original Eames house remains in the location and has become a landmark as well as a tourist site.
Demetrios said that the highlights of the exhibition include the interpretation of the house and the displayed “Mathematica” timeline, which tells the historical development of mathematical science.
“We have some of the splints which for a young designer should be very inspiring to imagine that Charles and Ray made those in their apartment when they were just starting out, and I think its so easy to think that everything can be done through computers, but its important to also know to be reminded of the physicality of design, the physicality of human experiences,” he added, referring to the leg splints made of plywood that the couple designed in the early 1940s for injured servicemen.
Demetrios still recalls his grandparents’ sensibilities regarding design and life in general.
“When I was a kid I worked at the aquarium in San Francisco … by very good luck I was invited to go on this trip to visit an island in the South Pacific to swim with the whale shark,” he said.
His grandfather surprised him with a camera as a present the night before the trip and told him that it was possibly the cheapest camera at that time. According to Demetrios, the gesture was made not to insult him but to save him the trouble of borrowing his parents’ expensive camera and not using it in the end for fear it would be splashed with salt water.
“He was telling me, ‘this camera, if you drop it in the ocean don’t worry about it because it is inexpensive.’ Because he knew that that was what I really needed. I didn’t need a big fancy camera, they were very good in thinking about what I really needed,” he said.
Common sense over extravagant gestures and hard work over the hopes of one conquer all. The choices might seem less than glamorous to some, but to the late Charles and Ray, “glamorous” might well have meant spending a lifetime exploring what was possible and how to make things better and enjoying themselves while doing so.