Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting multidisciplinary artist Stuart Haygarth, who worked on a commissioned artwork for our client Devonshire Square in London. We discussed his fastidious practice, including the sustainability of his collection process, and the delicate negotiation between the meanings held by objects and their complex material arrangements. For the reception area of the space, the artist created a chandelier as an extension of his Flame series (2013). In Flame, Haygarth uses carefully selected vintage 20th-century amber glassware to instil ‘a feeling of warm Mediterranean evening sunlight’ by imitating Moroccan clustered lighting. Maintaining a balance between aesthetic and function, this piece was successfully delivered, not only as a site-specific sculpture but also as a lighting fixture. In addition to repurposing objects, Haygarth transforms the environment in which his work is exhibited through their inherent characteristics and primary meanings.
MM: How has your background in graphic design, photography, and illustration influenced the way you treat light in your recent sculptures? Was it natural for you to evolve from a 2D to a 3D approach?
SH: My earlier photography and illustration was based on construction of 3D environments. Thephotograph aspect included the use of artificial studio lighting to enhance the atmosphere and utilizing the camera as a recording tool. Therefore, my interest in combining the 3D element with lighting is certainly linked to my photography practice - light passing through different materials and surfaces to create a certain mood in space interests me greatly.
MM: How long have you been collecting objects, and why? Is your habit of gathering objects to reuse them informed by your concern for sustainability?
SH: I have collected objects of interest since childhood, but my collection really began to grow as an illustrator. To illustrate various stories through collage, I needed an archive of printed materials and objects. Found objects have a background and a story to tell - and as they wear, they also develop a unique personality. Since I've always disliked waste and advocated for recycling, repurposing them is a natural byproduct of my practice.
Found objects have a background and a story to tell - as they become worn over time, they also develop a unique personality.
MM: What characteristics recur in the objects you collect - such as color, material, shape, history, or use? Has anything caught your eye recently?
SH: I make my choices based predominantly on aesthetics - each piece varies in material, shape, and form. Aside from aesthetics, quality and provenance are also important considerations. My aim is to give an everyday object a new meaning. I like giving a new life to overlooked items that have been made redundant. During the past year, I have collected miscellaneous items, such as carriage clocks and hand mirrors. Throughout the past 5 years, I have also found balls that have been thrown out of reach, which I have rescued from inaccessible places like rooftops, canals, and fences.
MM: Could you guide us through the process of gathering pieces, arranging them, and finally assembling them into artistic compositions? Do you prefer chaotic or orderly, vintage or contemporary?
SH: Objects that are created by society have idiosyncrasies and patterns of behavior that emerge when they are viewed in large quantities. Their message is amplified. Archives are fascinating containers of human endeavors; the way we define the history of an object's design and how it defines us fascinates me. Through creating different archives and adding to them continually over time, I consider the relationship between the physical world and society, a way to process material. 'Tide' (2004), for example, is an archive of clear and translucent objects found on UK beaches.
It is possible to view this spherical display of objects as a celebration of modern manufacturing or alternatively, as a display of carelessly disposed waste by the seaside. Both interpretations can be traced to human behavior.
MM: Do you prioritize decorative or functional elements when designing? Are the two aspects related or independent of one another?
SH: Since my work is largely functional, it is important to fulfill this aspect. However, an industrial designer applies a different approach to their work, and prioritizes functionality to the extreme. My work has to be visually appealing to the viewer as well, but the concept is just as important; there has to be an explanation for repurposing the objects and displaying them in a fresh way. Through my work, I hope to demonstrate that there are many ways of seeing the world around us.
MM: What is the process for obtaining and selecting the vintage jugs, mugs, and plates featured in your 'Flame' (2013) series? Were these pieces chosen for their nostalgic qualities?
SH: The original 'Flame' chandelier was commissioned by a client in Cadaques, Spain, where artist Salvador Dali spent a lot of time. The client's house was themed after Morocco and Moorish culture. Warm firelight and lanterns were the starting points, and the chandelier was to run along a 4m long dining table crafted from a North African tree trunk. It was important to use items with culinary associations that would give off a warm light reminiscent of fire.
Amber glassware used in 'Flame' was produced between 1900 and 1970. It was important that the glasses would not be damaged, so they were selected for their shape, function, and quality. I couldn't use stemmed glassware (like wine glasses or certain bowls) since a 10mm hole had to be drilled through each piece. The vintage glassware was sourced online, at carboot sales, charity shops and antique emporiums.
MM: Amber glass is known for protecting its contents - be that medicine, food or cosmetics - from light exposure. Yet in this series, you use the color to create a complex illumination system. Why did you choose to subvert amber’s traditional use?
SH: This is an interesting point regarding amber glass used in medical fields to prevent UV light from damaging the contents. However, the amber glass used in the laboratories is much denser than the amber glass used to make decorative amber glassware. In 'Flame', the glassware is inverted in order to create a dynamic, upward movement that prevents dust and insects from collecting within the vessels.
MM: As a nod to the flickering shape of flame and the warm colors of evening sunlight, what led you to introduce these natural, exterior elements to an interior space?
SH: Fireplaces have been places of warmth and comfort where people have congregated and socialized for centuries. In my light installation, I wanted to mimic that atmosphere and replicate the feeling of warm light entering a room in the late summer afternoon.
MM: Most of your work is intended to be displayed indoors and usually makes use of ceramics and glass. Have you considered working with more resistant materials for an outdoor piece?
SH: Due to their resilience, I'm sure that glass and ceramic can be used for outdoor projects. In the past, I have created one weatherproof work, named 'GLASSHOUSE', which was installed in a garden. It is a life-size greenhouse with shattered glass panes and above-ground structure, based on the proverb "Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". This piece was created for the ‘Glasstress’ exhibition as part of the 55th Venice Biennale.
Words by MARTIN MAYORGA