Design: The toasty-warm world of Jam
to trash has put recycling back on the menu for private buyers and businesses. It's a harum-scarum, Fablon-coated thing - but somehow they're holding concept and commerce together.
Anley, one quarter of the group of designers known as Jam, is on the make in every sense. Anley, his partner Astrid Zala, Ricardo Alvarez and Frenchman Matthieu Paillard are a paradigm of one strain of Britain's design sub-culture: young, personable, and as hot-wired as a runaway Mini-Cooper nicked from The Italian Job. Jam almost belong to another time, a fab and febrile strobe flicker from the not quite dead vibe of the 1960s.
It's easy to imagine. Just ease into a slow fade to 6pm on a winter's night in London with an edge like a steel blade. There's a whiff of Aqua Manda in the air and, somewhere nearby, a tranny whacking out "Hey Joe". We're in a suddenly ghostly Goods Way Road, a couple of stone-throws south of the hulk of King's Cross station and overlooked by the stark outline of a vast rusting drum kit of gas- holders. There isn't much else, just a petrol station and a pine shop where the furniture gleams like vanilla and butterscotch and just has to be made of Norwegian wood. And let's not forget the film crew - they're here too, with a clapper-board carrying five chalked words: "Blow-Up, director Michelangelo Antonioni".
And... cue dishy David Hemmings bounding up dusty concrete stairs to the studio above the pine shop, the Nikon swinging across his paisley shirtfront. Cut to studio interior. Hemmings confronts two guys and a dolly bird in a white space chocker with weird stuff. "OK," he barks, raising the camera, "getyour clothes off and start getting it on with those washing-machine drums! C'mon, let's go! Go-go-go! Yeah, that's it, man, it's a happening. Yeah! Gimme-gimme-gimme!" And the Nikon going k'shink, k'shink, k'shink.
But, like Jimi said, when the six becomes a nine we mustn't mind. It's 1998, after all, and here is young Anley leading the way through a studio full of artful junk with attitude: lampshades and a folding screen made of trashed 35mm film stock, sponge rubber furniture that can be pulled apart to form some other object of desire, and chairs made of sawn-off aluminium ladder parts and slabs of recycled squeezy bottles that blitz the eye with a hail of Monet-like dots, dashes and smears. Anley pauses to pick up an eviscerated Philips downlighter bulb and announces: "And this is what's going to take us off the bread-line."
It's hard to take it all in, for though the principals of Jam are not necessarily geniuses, they are massively ingenious, a posse of deconstructivist junkies whose addiction to cast-offs has put recycling back on the commercial menu for both private buyers and businesses. At Norman, a chic new Leeds brasserie designed and furnished with mostly bought-in kit by Jam, "menu" is the word. There's a door made of toast. Repeat, toast.
We are in the realm of a harum-scarum set of talents, though there's nothing green about them except the wads of folding stuff they intend to make. They're fun, tend to cut across each other in conversation, and they giggle and hoot with laughter. They've produced a Vervey promo video that's pure Beatles Magical Mystery Tour; and master Anley is developing mid-Atlantic consonants - as in creeayding an opportuniddy.
And that's no joke. As he points out: "There's no agency to handle modern design work in this country. There's nobody who'll stock it. In Iddaly or Japan, no problem." Paillard puts it slightly differently: "There's no amazing respect for design from the public. I think it becomes more of an underground, more opportunity for people to try something."
Their training did not prepare them for Goods Way Road: Anley studied architecture at the Bartlett, University College London; German-born Zala took a First in fine art at Goldsmiths; and Paillard dipped into art deco and architecture in Nice. They became designers by accident.
Anley and Paillard were working for an architect in Toulouse in 1992, making sculptural pieces out of recycled aircraft parts when Paillard found a vast amount of 35mm film stock at a dump. "Huge, big rolls. It was all Mad Max and Lethal Weapon. Fontasteec! We used to go to the scrap yard all the time."
They made a window blind out of the celluloid, then a lampshade. "The most exciting thing about the film was that, with the light behind it, it made a projection like a textile," says Zala. "The idea of making a lamp was just, like, hanging around for a long time."
Paillard cut in: "Yes, you find something because it's hanging around you all the time and so you probably play with it. It could become really obsessive. It's quite ludic, the way we work (ludic means absurd, pop pickers). With recycling, the work of some people is quite heavy and obvious."
Anley's twist on developments reveals him as Jam's mover and shaker, at least in terms of doing the bizz. "More and more, we're trying to focus our ideas towards what will develop a company in the right direction."
Jam's creation of furniture and household items made of Zotefoam is a perfect example. "The way that started was that a friend made a catalogue cover out of the foam and sent it to us and said check it out, this stuff is kind of interesting. And we phoned up the factory and proposed our design and communication strategy, which is to bring attention to the material by using it in a totally different context.
"We're all interested in developing a company which will draw people to ask us for ideas. And the recycling aspect was a means to an end. At the early stages, without any investment capital, it was just one way of beginning to do what we enjoy doing."
Anley's clinical honesty belies a start which was part Keystone Cops, part hey, hey, we're the Monkees. Operating from their ex-council flat in Euston, Anley and Zala decided to make stools from washing-machine drums. "When we started, we were doing exactly what we're doing now," he said. They slept on washing-machine covers and cleaned limescale off the drums in their bath which, as a result, has become an enamel- free zone.
"And it would be a telephone call at night," says Zala, hooting with laughter, "sometimes at 11 o'clock from a girlfriend. `Somebody's just thrown a washing machine out, round the corner.' And Jamie had, like, this doctor's bag. Into the car, quick drive."
"Yeah," Anley interrupts, "we used to give birth to a drum out of the back of a washing machine within 25 minutes, 22 minutes was the record. No anaesthetic, just straight out."
"Yes, that was part of the costing," says Zala. "He even climbed over the wall once at a dockyard to get something."
Predictably, the yellow brick road proved elusive and despite occasional sales they remained virtually skint. "Oh, we did everything," Zala says. "Jamie was still at college. I worked in a bar, printer's shop, wallpaper shop, cleaning." The darkly handsome Paillard was paid to lounge around Vic Naylor's bar near Farringdon and look glamorously dodgy to give the place some atmosphere.
But the key lesson had been absorbed. What Anley referred to as "the washing-machine drum experience" wised them up fast. `It was basically our first range of furniture, which started with buying a drum and putting an upholstered seat on it - and then realising that if we were going to secure a market we could not continue to source drums from skips and scrapyards."
Today, Jam's Robo seating and storage cabinets - two items out of a range of 25 diverse products - are manufactured and marketed by a company near the Whirlpool washing machine factory in France. And according to Anley, "it's only now that Whirlpool have sat up and gone yeah, because we were targeting this company and saying - look, if we have the direct supply then we've secured the market."
They have just begun to pay themselves salaries and will have to find a bigger studio soon - "a beautiful space", as Zala puts it. Yet Jam's overt quest for financial success ("generading brand equiddy for clients") remains rooted in the offbeat and the pragmatic.
Take that door made of toast. Two weeks before the opening of the Leeds restaurant, Paillard happened to be picking up some TV screens for an overhead installation co-designed with Roger Mann. "When we walked up the stairs there was, on the wall, this installation - like, just a square of wood with lots of toasts. So I thought, why not do a door in the restaurant like that. Then we went up to the office and the girl was the girlfriend of the guy there and I said, are you interested to do a door? Afterwards, we just sent her two doors and she covered them with toast." The trick? The artist, Tracy Davidson, set a grid of toast into a quarter-inch layer of wax on the door, then coated it with a top coat of wax to produce graphic yum- yums.
The kitting-out of the restaurant has showcased the work of several designers and studios which Jam plugged into the project, and they included Tom Dixon, Fly, Inflate and Sam McEwen. Jam's input included a lusciously gloopy wall above the bar made of concrete sculpted on to wire mesh.
The confluence of concept and commerce remains the key challenge, and Jam do seem to be able to get major manufacturers to part with materials for the strangest of projects. A concept bed made of scaffolding and wired for surround-sound and ceiling TV projection was "such a funny one", says Anley. "We brought four totally different companies together to do the installation. The bed went, like, on BBC2's Hot Gadgets, for 8 million people to see. It was, like, fer gahd's sake!' Sir Richard Rogers turned up at its London debut and, says Zala gleefully, "started rubbing up against it".
The challenge, as far as Jam are concerned, is to remain rooted in the idea of creating objects that suggest products, rather than the reverse. Thus, despite their burgeoning commercial success, they may still be classified as `out there' in design terms.
Consider, for example, a few blurred hours in the life of Paillard: "I went to a Turkish restaurant," he says, beginning to giggle. "It was two o'clock in the morning and I was quite drunk. And there was this big guy cooking. I mean, 'e was exactly like a balloon and 'e was talkin' to us. And 'e said, what are you doing? And I say my passion is balloon and I was, like, whaaat? I hadn't even thought about it until then! And then I started talking about balloons for two hours. And then I went back to my 'ouse and had a dream about something floating away." The fruits of that evening are being kept under wraps.
Meanwhile, Jam's upfront approach shows signs of paying off elsewhere. They're talking to Reebok about doing something wild with the material used for their shoe soles; they've been approached by Formica; they're hoping to do something big on the club scene; they're trying to convince Philips Lighting to supply empty downlighter bulbs to be recycled as mini- vases; and they're toying with an idea to coat the interior of an Underground station with Fablon.
Fablon? Holy lava lamps, it must be time to roll the groovy closing credit sequence ...
Jump-cut to closing scene of Zabriske Point; a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Mojave desert exploding and re-exploding in treacly slo-mo. The dust begins to settle. Camera tracks back to reveal three familiar figures peering at the wreckage over the top of a dune.
Paillard: "Are you sure zat was a Turkish takeaway?"
Zala: "Forget the kebabs, Matthieu. Just look at all that stuff lying around!"
(Cut to extreme close-up of third guy's face.)
Anley: "Yeah. Opportuniddy knocks!"
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