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IKEA Hacking With Jeff Carter

By Ben Schuman Stoler in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 23, 2011 6:00PM

We found out about local artist Jeff Carter's IKEA hacking in October. Then, we wrote about his Gropius building models in response to the city's controversial decision to demolish the south side "Bauhaus campus." Then, in early February, three of Carter's works went up in Columbia's 310 Contemporary gallery on Michigan Ave.

At 310, all three of the Depaul professor's works are models of the Tribune Tower. Although similarly named (Untitled #1, Untitled #2, and Untitled #3), you can see in the gallery above that they're each quite distinctive. Each uses different IKEA material, different colors, and different flares of personality. And each comments on the connections between IKEA, Bauhaus, and the overlap of contemporary design with that movement and this city.

As far as future shows, Carter said his "Gropius/Michael Reese Hospital project will be shown in a separate exhibition this summer at IIT's Crown Hall. I'm really excited about the space, and of course the humorous relationship it sets up between Mies [van der Rohe] and [Walter] Gropius."

Carter took the time to answer a few of our questions.

Chicagoist: Why the Tribune Tower?

Jeff Carter: I'm interested in the Tribune Tower for a few reasons. I think the relationship between the Bauhaus and IKEA is interesting and complex. IKEA'’s global marketing of idealistic Modern notions of design-centric living, combined with the use of cheap materials of limited durability, seems to both embrace and reject fundamental tenets of Modernist ideology as envisioned by Gropius and others at the Bauhaus. I am interested in the dissonance between the philosophical and the practical as manifest by the design objects produced and marketed by IKEA. I feel this relationship is particularly relevant in the city of Chicago, with it’s rich Bauhaus legacy.

C: What's with the motor, the cacti, and the video?

JC: The video in Tower #3 is 5 IKEA finger puppets on my hand, so as to appear that they are standing in the elevator. The motor in Tower #2 turns the carved wooden drill - was it not on when you saw the show? This is a reference to the DIY nature of IKEA and by extension of the piece itself. The cacti in Tower #1 are also an IKEA product, they come in a 3-pack, and they are there to suggest people standing on the balconies of the tower.

C: Can you describe a little about the "hacking" itself? Do you buy pieces specifically for the sculptures or are they left over from defective/found/unused IKEA sets?

JC: I have been using IKEA products in my work for five years, and continue to be interested in extracting formal and conceptual value from it. I've used both "as-is" (scratch and dent) material as well as entire pieces of new product, and I try to incorporate the leftovers in each next piece. I'm afraid I know my way around the IKEA store in Schaumburg a lot better than most people.

C: Is IKEA aware of this project?

I don't know if IKEA is aware of my work in particular, but IKEA hacking is a fairly widespread and well-documented DIY subgenre (IKEA Hackers is a recent spinoff/ripoff of an earlier blog called IKEAhacker). One of my recent pieces was included in a chapter on IKEA hacking in a new book, "IKEA The Book", from the Swedish design publisher Arvinius Forlag. In any case, I haven't been offered any sort of preferred customer card or volume discounts!

C: How do you feel about Legos?

I step on legos every day. Love em.

Carter's work is viewable at 310 Contemporary, located at 310 S. Michigan Ave., through April 9.