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Maria Bruun
Crafted Contrasts
1 june 2024 - 18 august 2024
Opening on 1 june, 2-6 pm

Design does not have to feel comfortable, nor pleasant.

It can be difficult, awkward, even uncanny. There is something in all of us that is inexplicably drawn to these qualities, something that we identify with. Furniture and objects should reflect and challenge that tension, that nature.

This serves as guiding principle as Danish designer Maria Bruun (b.1984) contextualises a suite of previous and new work in the exhibition Crafted Contrasts. 

Here, she rejects the assumption that a designed interior or object can only be justified by function and logic, refuting the notion that everything needs to be understood to make sense. Her work completely eschews convention. Part collectible design, part commercial. There is a wild side to it. The boisterous, the emotive, the intellectual, the democratic, all are aspects strongly present in her furniture and objects. 

Bruun’s designs want something from you. Through gestures of scale, reference, proportion, her work feels familiar yet aside from it. It tells something about the intention, without making the intention banal. They exist in their own right, weighting the specific as more essential than the general. 

Three barrel chairs made specifically for the exhibition serve as an embodiment of her ethos and process—created in the constant interchange between artistic object and functional furniture. Handmade and constructed from strikingly different materials—white-painted solid wood, birch burl and anodized aluminium—they are kindred spirits spun from three radically different perspectives. 

A classic lounge chair would be inviting and softly curved. Turning the order of things upside down, the wooden versions look and feel like formal replicas of the more industrial aluminium chair, yet every element is assembled using classic joinery. The different materials and exercises in form all have their justification in her practice. They inform each other, and they inform the user. They narrate and materialise the creative process of giving form, an elastic entity, our furniture sometimes serving the purpose of teaching us something new about form, material, and comfort.

Changes to the design are done in response to the material and its particularities. The idea is willing to bend, but only to make room for a more interesting object. Such is the case with the birch burl, a noble material the result of an abnormality in the birch tree. Its irregular and slow growth means that the material has a treasured, characteristic structure, which paradoxically makes it less common in solid wood constructions. The process was therefore about accepting the conditions of narrow planks and redefining the topology to speak to the material at hand. The result is exquisite, a definitive nod to the barrel chair's centuries-long place in design and cabinetmaking history. 

These distinctive pieces demonstrate the form and materiality that derives from translation of tradition, technique, and material to a contemporary context of aesthetics and technology. The designer forges a bond between observer and object made palpable by what she calls the ‘minimal ornament’, a minute but not insignificant presence of craft and intention—in the upholstery, the weave, or the mouth blown glass. The idea is perhaps most poignantly captured in Dependables,  a sculptural storage system inspired by the simple ritual of storing. Handcrafted wooden boxes with perforated sides are decorative, even precious, but also tell the tales of their contents. 

Maria Bruun is not a designer who thrives in front of the computer. One could be tempted to call her a ‘designer’s designer’. Old school. Most comfortable in workshops, in dialogue with materials, machinery, and other professionals—her knowledge derives from working 'on the shop floor'. Her hands are an essential part of her profession as a designer, the ultimate tool. Bruun advocates for a slow creation process, where craftsmanship, embodied knowledge and manual skills are  entangled and reflected in the final pieces. 

Crafted Contrasts is both an exhibition and a series of furniture where sensory surfaces of different materials serve as a caring gesture to the observer and user. It showcases new and old works in variations, a dialogue between unique pieces and commercial objects, a driving tension in her work. The exhibition presents four series of works primarily made of wood, exploring a range of production methods, from traditionally crafted objects in steam-bent wood to modern processing experimenting with CNC technology. 

Here, Bruun leans into the connection between furniture and space to underscore the importance of the objects we surround ourselves with. After all, we are inextricably linked to the designed object—the everyday scenography. Design becomes part of the individual's fundamental self-understanding, as in the case of the monolithic Reflected Surroundings mirror. It begs you to reflect on the self in relation to the object and the context it is in. Much like the exhibition itself, the design potently raises the question: Who are you when you enter a space? How does the form speak to your body, the materials to your hand, the weight to your mind, and the context to your understanding of yourself? How do you fit into the whole?

Alisa Larsen

Supported by Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, Nationalbankens Jubilæumsfond, Statens Værksteder for Kunst, Poul Johansen fonden, Statens Kunstfond og by Fredericia Furniture.

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Maria Bruun, Invitation card #1, Designed by Studio Atlant, Copenhagen, Photo by Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen

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Maria Bruun, Invitation card #2, Designed by Studio Atlant, Copenhagen, Photo by Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen

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