The Kingdom of Stools

Dung Ngo


“Alice looked all round her at the flowers and the blades of grass... There was a large mushroom growing near her, about the same height as herself; and when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on the top of it. 

She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large caterpillar that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.”

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865

Away from the bright light, they can be found tucked in the underbrush of the sea of legs and moving blankets. Short and often unassuming, they tend to thrive in this thicket environment, somewhat dark and low to ground. Those that can be identified have fanciful names like Rooster, Butterfly, Pirkka, and Fjord, but many are considered 'wild' and still to be classified, having yet to be designated a proper genus. 

I am speaking, of course, not of mushrooms on a forest floor but the stools that have been gathered for this exhibition from Joel Chen's vast furniture warehouses. One hundred and eighteen, to be exact—an edited but still sprawling sampling of this most primordial of furniture type. 

Ilmari Tapiovaara

Often described as the designer who captured the essence of modern Finnish identity, Ilmari Tapiovaara made significant contributions to design in the post-war era. The architect and furniture designer admired the ideological beliefs of Alvar Aalto bringing functional design to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status. His high quality, but affordable work draws inspiration from the handicraftsmanship of traditional Finnish farmhouses most often created in birch wood. He designed furniture with the whole environment in mind including the architecture that surrounded it.

Tapiovaara came from a creative family—his grandfather a skilled carpenter, his older brothers Tapio a successful visual artist, and Nyrki a film director. At age 20 he enrolled in the Department of Furniture Design at the Central School of Applied Arts in Helsinki later graduating 1937. For a short time, he worked as an assistant in the office of Le Corbusier in Parisbefore returning to Finland, where he worked as an artistic director and designer for the country’s largest furniture manufacturer Asko Oy. His first designs were destroyed by bombings during the war and never produced.

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