Interview by Lauren Palmor
Photographs courtesy of Omer Arbel
Finding the secret lives of materials through experimental processes has propelled architect and designer Omer Arbel to a world of original and inventive forms. Through his radical engagement with the natural forms of things, Arbel has found unique ways of transforming common objects into otherworldly experiences. The creative mind behind the projects of Bocci and Omer Arbel Office speaks about finding beauty through process, letting materials decide design, and looking for the sublime.
You describe promising your clients beauty, and it almost seems that beauty is secondary to your work. Do you aim for beauty or is process the driving force?
That’s a very good question because for a long time I was obsessed by the idea of beauty. I feel that our culture has a problematic relationship with beauty—it’s a force that operates behind the scenes in every human and cultural interaction that we have. This is never acknowledged openly, and it’s always understood in a consumptive and personal way. It’s difficult to point to an idea of universal beauty. This puts people like me in trouble. You can’t justify decisions you make by saying “This will be beautiful,” because beauty is so problematic, and people have different definitions for it. Beauty is a fundamental part of our lives and it can transport or uplift us, it’s our understanding of something beyond ourselves that we find hopeful and that’s a really important component of being human. Beauty, at its best, is a form of optimism. It’s something designers need to face in some sort of way.
As your work is so process-focused, would you say there is perspective that could equate your work with performance?
Yes, of course. Performance is an essential part of what we’re creating, but time is very elusive as well. I often am terrified by the finality of construction in the case of architecture or production in the case of industrial design. Because it means things can’t change anymore. I’m terrified by the fact that when something is built, it can no longer change. That addresses the idea of performance because the process of making a piece is open-ended. I enjoy that aspect of working. I guess the idea of performance requires an audience and it requires being self-aware, you can’t be unconscious and performing at the same time and you can’t perform alone. There is definitely an aspect of that in our work as we try to be extremely conscious all the time in a way that acknowledges an audience, and documenting that part of it almost as much as we document the finished piece.
Read more in N˚4: Flight.