Chicago-based artist Noel Mercado has a thing for cars. So when the opportunity to reimagine iconic Knoll designs arose, there was only one way to go. To him, “full creative freedom” meant car parts and accessories—think seat belts, speakers, “little trees” air fresheners and all sorts of materials carefully picked out of auto-salvage yards and then elevated into high-design objects. Working with the Cesca, Spoleto and Wassily chairs as his canvas, Mercado instills new life into Knoll’s furniture while respecting the origin and history of the original at the same time.
The cross-media artist has been working with salvaged pieces and upcycled materials to recreate homeware, garments, accessories and everything in between. The core of his practice? To explore the essence, life cycle and cultural meaning of found objects. “Deconstructing Knoll furniture has taught me a lot about structure, materials, beauty, and the balance between them all,” says Mercado, who puts experimentation first and urges artists, designers and makers to do the same. “How can we make what already exists more captivating even if it’s just for a moment?” he asks. The answer lies in tapping into personal memories, experiences and in daring to think big.
Newcity meets the artist at a compelling intersection between automotive culture and iconic furniture pieces, where he discusses the inspiration behind his innovative fusion of materials, the role of sustainability in his work and the way his unorthodox approach challenges and expands traditional perceptions of art and design.
What inspired you to choose specific car-related objects, like car parts and accessories, to incorporate into the classic Knoll chair designs?
I originally made the Wassily Junkyard Dogs chair a couple of years ago, and it was one of my favorite chairs I’ve created. I wanted to rethink the idea of strap replacements so I decided to continue that story of used car parts, specifically interior parts. These chairs represent how when you get in your car, you adjust your stereo, put on your seatbelt, and check your rearview mirror before shifting into drive. This led me to shape these chairs into that mundane process.
You mention a personal connection to the “Little Trees” air fresheners used in the Cesca Chair project. How do memories and experiences influence your work?
One of the most enjoyable parts of creating objects and art is naturally being drawn to certain materials, brands, forms, et cetera and then later being reminded of your connection to those things. While wiring the Spoleto Noise Violation chair, I was getting flashbacks of being a kid taking apart my headphones and wiring them into my model cars and playing my CD player with the aux cord. Now I’m doing the same thing as an adult, just on a larger scale. Memories and experiences evoke feelings that come through in the work.
Considering the heritage and aesthetic importance of Knoll’s furniture, how do you strike a balance between honoring their original craftsmanship and infusing your own artistic vision during the process of deconstruction and transformation?
The balance feels pretty natural, which is why I’ve been drawn to their pieces for such a long time. I think we share similar principles of what design means and how viewers should and can interact with what is produced. I respect how Knoll exists in the world as well as what they make, and I try to emulate that spirit in my work.
Knoll places a strong emphasis on sustainable design. How do you align your use of salvaged materials with this ethos, and what role do you think artists have in contributing to the conversation about sustainability in design?
Sustainability in my everyday life and work is instinctual at this point. I think this three-chair collection is a visual representation of how Knoll tackles sustainability that’s intertwined in their manufacturing process. Artists should always have a voice and opinion about sustainability, but I think it’s more important that big companies take responsibility and make efforts to consider how they can be environmentally friendly at a large and small scale.
In what ways does your transformation of these chairs challenge traditional perceptions of art and design, and what conversation do you hope to provoke among viewers?
My overall message is to give yourself a box and then think outside of it. How can we make what already exists more captivating even if it’s just for a moment? I want viewers and makers to challenge traditional blueprints and experiment because with experimentation comes innovation. You never know what a crazy idea can lead to—a crazy idea in the right hands can change the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.rigouvasia.com