stephen-burks

Wouldn’t it be great if we could see more collaboration between African artisans and western world designers? New York based designer Stephen Burks has recently finished a series of modular tables for the patio developed together with South African artisans. The tables are called Tatu and will be distributed through Artecnica. Today with a short interview I would like to highlight this interesting new product.

David Report (DR)
Please tell me shortly about the idea behind the modular table series.

Stephen Burks (SB)
The tables were developed as part of a consulting trip to Cape Town, South Africa, for the American non-profit organization Aid To Artisans in collaboration with Artecnica’s Design With Conscience project. I first sketched them in 2005 for a local artisan working in wire making small souvenirs. I asked him if he’d like to make something bigger like a table and he jumped at the chance. The following year we revisited the project and dissected the single piece table into three pieces for ease of shipping. As an option to the end user that would have to re-assemble them, we thought the top could become a tray, the middle a bowl and the bottom a basket!

(DR)
I like that you have developed them together with South African artisans. How did you find this group of people?

(SB)
As part of ATA’s mission in country, they are affiliated with a local organization called the Cape Craft Design Institute whose sole mission it is to promote, maintain and develop the craft traditions of South Africa. They were our conduit to all of the artisans we worked with in the cape.

(DR)
How will this collaboration help the artisans?

(SB)
The Design With Conscience project is based upon the idea of generating contemporary design objects that integrate hand craftsmanship with industrial production for international export. The more Artecnica sells, the more they produce, etc. The artisans involved therefore become financially independent entrepreneurs that build local businesses around the products I’ve designed, going on to take on employees and contributing to a sustainable local economy.

(DR)
Is this part of a bigger idea you have to join together industrial and handicraft production?

(SB)
Yes, of course. In this case, the table frames are all industrially spot welded, but the thinner wire that gives the pieces their character is applied by hand by the artisans. In other cases, the entire product may be hand made, but then finished industrially. In order to compete with fully industrially produced products, we found that it makes more sense to allow the machine to make what the hand doesn’t need to make or takes no pleasure in making.

stephen-burks-tatu

(DR)
Will we see further products from you developed with artisans in different parts of the world?

(SB)
Hopefully. We were in South Africa again about a year ago, Peru last summer working in materials as varied as topa wood and wool macrame, and will be heading to Mexico in March to explore clay ceramics. I believe there’s a real interest these days in the contemporary design world for products with a sense of regional authenticity.

(DR)
Is this mind set something you think we will see from more designers in the future?

(SB)
As we move into a more global market for design consumption and production, the creative voices of the lesser traveled places in the world will become louder and more expressive.

(DR)
What else are you working on at the moment?

(SB)
We’re working on everything from a modular lighting system to a limited edition event newspaper to fragrance packaging. I enjoy letting the work cross-pollinate itself, taking influence from one project to another. Kind of like my new website; a random collage of creativity.

stephen-burks

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