Southern Guild, together with iconic designer Porky Hefer, will once again take to the world’s stage when they represent South Africa at the inaugural London Design Biennale being presented at Somerset House this September.
Showcasing design installations and exhibitions from over 35 countries, the Biennale – founded by the team behind the London Design Festival and overlapping with the festival to introduce a new international element to London – brings together the best national design talents to discuss, debate and celebrate the possibilities of design innovation.
Southern Guild, the collectible design gallery directed by Trevyn and Julian McGowan, has collaborated with Cape Town designer Porky Hefer to showcase his suspended animal-cocoon environments for this representation of South African design – a fitting portrayal of the Biennale’s 2016 theme: Utopia by Design, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Moore’s book, Utopia.
Hefer’s work, all crafted by hand at Woodheads leather merchants in Cape Town, is a fantasyscape consisting of five animals: M.Heloise (manta ray), Crocodylus Eugenie (crocodile), Lolita Blackfish (lover whale), Piranha 1: Nerina (piranha) and Panthera leo (lion). Panthera leo is the designer’s self-portrait, and the only animal displaying sheepskin, rather than leather, on the outside. ‘He’s like a massive teddy bear,’ Hefer says of the first male he has created, adding to his Monstera Deliciosa, Volume I series, the title of his solo show at Southern Guild earlier this year.
‘There’s an enormous amount of fantasy, joy and self-expression in South African design,’ says Trevyn McGowan, ‘and Porky’s creations manage to take this even further by reimagining a world filled with playfulness and liberation.’
Of the theme, Utopia, she adds: ‘Pieces will appear to be floating, but are connected to a rope. It’s like a society dangling by a thread while inviting you in. The creatures welcome the inner beast to come out and play. They’re experiential and transformative and encourage you to see a different universe.’
Says Hefer: ‘The floating sensation has been likened to that of being back in the womb. It blocks you off from the world and protects you – almost like going back to the beginning, giving one a chance to do things differently.’
For the celebrated designer, these environments offer little hideaway spaces where one can disappear for a while and view the world from a different perspective. ‘They are their own little islands of utopia,’ he says. ‘There are no power jacks or chargers, screens or WiFi.’
In addition, no computers were used in either the design or manufacture of these pieces, as Hefer works directly from his sketches. ‘It’s just the hand and good old-fashioned skill, experience, teamwork, new boundaries and techniques,’ he says. ‘It’s about protecting the idea of handmade items, and going the extra mile when it comes to detailing and using techniques that are rapidly disappearing in an increasingly automated and mass-production world, where experience and time are seriously disrespected.’
Having titled this installation Otium and Acedia, Hefer explains that otium, the Latin term for leisure time, talks to one stepping away from daily systems and mechanisims to engage in more artistic and enlightening activities that can enrich and evolve one’s mind and thinking. Acedia, a state of listlessness (not to be confused with the negative state of sloth or depression), references withdrawing from normal life and the decreasing physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. This can be done annually through hibernation, or on a daily basis, and is used to conserve energy for survival.
‘I like the idea of a human hibernating in an animal,’ Hefer reflects.
Porky Hefer has been captivating global audiences in recent years, with works going to the world’s top museums, galleries and design collectors. His killer whale, presented at Design Miami by Southern Guild, was the most Instagrammed piece of design at the popular fair.
‘I see my work as being bold, brave and different,’ Hefer attests. ‘It doesn’t take itself too seriously.’ He recognises that it may appear to be a little dark, but insists that this is just a first impression and stigma associated with these creatures. ‘Once you come close and interact with the pieces, you realise it’s in the mind,’ he smiles.