One evening this week I was invited to the EQ3 Toronto flagship in Liberty Village to celebrate their Summer Sale. I was interested to follow up on the company’s collaboration with 10 emerging Canadian designers launched earlier this year as the capsule collection “Assembly.” Many of these pieces are now deeply discounted and offer a great opportunity to support Canadian furniture and product design.
On site, the diverse collection was grouped around a feature display wall with iconic graphic signage. Didactic labels identifying the designers and their key design ideas help to create a museum-style exhibition amid the more familiar contextual merchandising approach. There are Windsor-style chairs, tripod stools, a glass-topped dining table, small housewares, even a colour-blocked quilt – and each deserves comment. What stood out for me, however, was Zoë Mowat’s Dressing Table.
The dressing table is a stand-alone, specialized object that may seem like a narcissistic indulgence in today’s culture of shrinking, transformable, designed environments. Nevertheless, Mowat acknowledges some important connections between furniture and design that are beyond function. This design in flat MDF, glass, mirror and metal uses attractive, fashion-forward rather than neutral colours. Its form creates meaning by composed and coloured geometric parts rather than heroic material presence. These two aspects may be reminiscent of the 1930s zigzag moderne aspect of the Art Deco era, but the implied lifestyle emphasis, combined with a dynamic, asymmetrical compositional balance, reminds me instead of the postmodern experiments of the early 1980s.
In furniture, postmodernism is often associated with the exuberance of the Memphis group, which introduced novel new forms and used surface and colour in playful ways that appealed to a mobile, youthful consumer culture. Postmodern objects invited us to consider ideas about meaning and its construction in a media saturated world. I am reminded to the late work of Canadian artist/activist/designer Tim Jocelyn and especially his Folding Screen (1983) in the ROM’s furniture collection. Such experiments gave voice to objects and transcended the sanitized modernist orthodoxy that had become acceptable cultural currency. Several current critical historical projects are re-examining this design period, such as the amazing photo archive The Triumph of Postmodernism on Tumblr.
EQ3’s inclusion of Mowat’s Dressing Table in this collection reminds us that we are still in an evolving postmodern moment. Why couldn’t this be a desk? For the laptop-equipped contemporary user who might not need a desk, this designed object is presented as gender-neutral zone of self-creation. It has a mirror and a shelf for ointments; it has a multi-purpose storage drawer; its elegant but whimsical physical presence invites reflection and creativity. The geometric richness, colour, and even the commercial context of distribution acknowledges a familiar system of values: dressing/styling/self-presentation holds an increasingly important function that justifiably demands its own furniture type. I’m glad that, in its diversity, Canadian object design can make room for us to explore new aspects of our behaviour in nuanced and stimulating design language.