Design & Living / Design Digest

Talking Postmodernism and Memphis with Furniture Firm AQQ

Billie Muraben sits down with the founder of the LA-based collective creating curvaceous, flesh-toned pieces that Ettore Sottsass could only dream of

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Photography Courtesy of AQQ

Furniture designer Matthew Sullivan founded AQQ – an acronym for the Latin phrase "al que quiere" which roughly translates as “for he who wants it” – with the belief that betterment was very much a relative undertaking. Rather, he believes design ought to be concerned with its associative, cultural weight, and its past and future narrative. Sullivan’s furniture is a response to his ongoing research; reading, writing and a growing collection of imagery that gathers as he continues to “strain his neck, hear and eavesdrop on that which is unstable... the expression of which can sometimes be a chair.” The furniture of AQQ takes on the forms of Corinthian columns, folk artistry, postmodern curvature and Memphis-inspired tupperware. Here, we speak to Matthew Sullivan about his views on functionality, the role of language in his work and the prominence of the postmodern aesthetic.

Furniture and Function 
With the thinking that, as humans, we are predisposed to assign ourselves a role in some larger scheme, Sullivan believes that our obsession with functionality is a false obstacle – one that we create "in the hope of appearing important". His preference is for "more beauty perhaps. More exuberance. More maypoles and wild dervishes. Less unapologetically, self-congratulatory ‘design geniuses’... You want to design a good chair? Sit on a rock and talk to a close friend. The most ergonomically designed office chair will still be uncomfortable if you work for a dickhead."

Another flaw, in his eyes, lies in the lack of experimentation that comes with a fear of decoration: "Most high-end furniture looks like the designers of them are scared of having an un-chic vocation or appearing out-of-touch." For Sullivan’s AQQ, soft curves, dusty shades of pastel pink and suggested donations for telepathy surpass strict definitions of function. But the objects and furniture don’t fall entirely for the delights of form. Made from oak and aluminum, marble and maple; the tables, chairs, vases and ornaments stretch the limits of their context without collapsing into the ridiculous.

The Impossibility of Language
Language, both written and visual, is key for Sullivan: "The height of culture, or theory, art, or whatever you want to call it, is to put pressure on language and try to transcend it – make it visible whilst still retaining some sort of beauty or erotic joy." An obsessive reader, he also writes texts as part of AQQ, and keeps a research blog that holds extensive imagery of furniture and interiors, as well as Neoclassical pillows and comic strips. The texts on the studio site cover themes including choice, decoration, nature and the concept of success. On writing, Sullivan says that he "enjoys the impossibility [of it]", seeing language as "like a ruler or a ladder floating in space... As humans, language is all we have, but not all there is."

On Postmodernity
Postmodernism has clearly had a long-standing influence on AQQ – Ettore Sottsass is cited regularly, as well as many plant-heavy, softly furnished and lit interiors, and Roman statues. "It is apparently too important for me to compress it into a brief statement," Sullivan explains of his fascination with postmodernism – "too much vitriol and obfuscating nuance comes to my lips to do the question justice." Rather, he supplies this quote from the aforementioned Sottsass on the artist Piero Fornasetti as an alternative:

"I don't know if it was during the day or the night, but suddenly he must have seen the whole world and all of history and the accumulation of its figures, memories and all the stones, the bodies, the trees, the houses and monuments… Everything was broken into pieces, all the logical connections were lost, all reference was lost, all the systems were disconnected, all standards had gone… He walked without an umbrella, while the magic blizzard of the exploded world still fell slowly around him. While walking he gathered fragments from the earth as one might gather mushrooms in a wood, but he collected allusions, flashes of images, stray memories, sentences from unknown works, a variety of tatters… He would suggest a beautiful new world that perhaps did not correspond to anything."

With thanks to AQQ.

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