CHAIR AS NARRATIVE
25-year old Mohamad Kanaan is making reflective art with a functional bent.
He creates minimalist chairs out of walnut, maple and mirrors, all of them leavened with a liberal dash of nostalgia. “Basically, they’re a series of self-reflections,” he says. “I was going back to my memories as a kind of fantasy about the spaces of my childhood. Each piece has a story about a person, place or object. I want to give it a new life through design.”
They all come with a poem, like this one for House, 2014:
We played house
A house full of secrets
We were children
Of the age of innocence
It was a lie
Hide and seek
Break and leave
Dreams of tomorrow
But only one can live today
We are the children
Of one another
Let’s go to yesterday
They are poems that embody a personal narrative for the Beirut-born artist, but are also open to interpretation to anyone else experiencing his work. His designs push the limits of what a chair can be, with an aesthetic that’s more about questions than it is about answers. “Growing up in Lebanon, I found that there are a lot of expectations about what something has to be, and has to look like, and how it functions,” says Kanaan, the son of a Lebanese engineer and interior designer. “I wanted to break away from that.”
He’s done that with mirrors. Each of his crisp wooden chairs features a reflective piece of glass that doubles as metaphor. He incorporates the mirrors to skew the user’s expectations, as reflective planes swivel and rotate in different dimensions, vertically and horizontally – the same way that memory can shift and distort events from the past.
“The perception of the chair becomes different, because you see yourself, and the back gets lost,” he says. “When the mirror is under the chair, the chair looks like it’s floating. It’s a distortion of the visual perception of what we are used to.”
With a chair he calls Youth, the back inclines, depending on how much pressure is applied. “It becomes unstable, unlike what you’re used to, so you’re interacting with something that you’re not used to,” he says.
Trained as an architect – he actually interned at the New York architecture firm Archipelagos – his focus shifted as he developed his thesis at the Art Institute. For that, he designed a theoretical merger between art and architecture, in the form of a new residence for an urban art collector. “It was a home where art was experienced and spatialized, and not just exhibited on walls,” he says. “I designed everything, from A to Z.”
When he returned home to Beirut, that merger became a reality as he began to blend art and architecture in his own design aesthetic – a minimalist, geometric approach that he applied to furniture design. “The thing is, with furniture, you can experiment,” he says. “At some point I realized that with architecture there’s a responsibility for those you’re building for. An overwhelming responsibility. But with furniture, architecture can be spatialized into an object.”
He’s in talks now to exhibit his chairs in galleries in New York and Beirut. Five of them – all custom-designed – have already found homes in both cities, as well as in Dubai.
That could only be interpreted as a positive reflection on his work.
–J. Michael Welton