How do you design a seat for the body of the future? And what might that seat reveal about present conceptions and techniques of the body—particularly in art institutions? Adam Gibbons interviews Tyler Coburn about his project »Ergonomic Futures«, its relation to Artistic Research, where it falls in the long shadow of Institutional Critique.
Adam Gibbons: You’ve been working on the Ergonomic Futures project since 2016. The project manifests as bespoke museum furniture, created in collaboration with New York architects Bureau V, employing some of the principles of the discipline of ergonomics. This furniture is made for a future body, which imbues it with both a speculative form, and a mode of narrating the institutional structures that it enters. Working in parallel to these seats is a website designed with Luke Gould and Afonso Martins, which hosts writing you produced under a disparate set of titles.
What status are the seats afforded in the museums they enter? Are they considered artworks, and therefore tended to through the curatorial and conservationist channels accorded to such objects? Or are they held with other museum furniture, looked after by gallery managers and technicians? I assume artwork and furniture would be located in different bureaucratic systems, different storage rooms, and would presumably be subject to different expectations of longevity. Is this distinction something you’re interested in? And lastly, do the seats have individual titles?
Tyler Coburn: The seats don’t have individual titles. Everything – seat, website, lecture – is encompassed by the title Ergonomic Futures. Part of the reason for this is that I want the seats to read more as furniture than art objects, or as the types of design objects displayed (not for use) in the Decorative Arts sections of museums. Giving titles to the seats might push them more into the art domain. Related to this is the fact that the seats, when possible, enter the furniture inventory of a given museum.
That said, the seats are always installed with a work caption, which mentions the research behind them, as well as the website. The bodies for which the seats are designed are never described on these captions, thus inviting users to speculate about their intended sitters in a tactile manner. If users also navigate the website on their smartphones, while using the seats, then multiple tactile practices come into play.
AG: How many varieties of the seat exist so far, and do you plan on continuing to evolve the design?
TC: There are two typologies at the moment. I would like to realize other design typologies; I would also like to continue producing the existing typologies. One parameter for the project is that, in any city, two copies of a given typology are produced: one intended for long-term use in a fine art museum, and the other in a natural history or anthropology museum. This allows the project to draw upon multiple disciplines central to my research.
AG: Can you provide an exhaustive list of where the seats have landed to date?
TC: The first seat was commissioned by and exhibited in the 2016 Gwangju Biennale. One copy is now in the Seodaemun Museum of Natural History, Seoul, and the other in Art Sonje Center, Seoul.
The second seat was commissioned by Lafayette Anticipation: Fondation d’enterprise Galeries Lafayette in Paris and first exhibited in its 2016 group exhibition, Faisons de l’inconnu un allié (Joining Forces with the Unknown). One copy is now installed in Centre Pompidou, and the other will be installed in Musée de l’Homme (Museum of Man), Paris in April 2018.