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Johannes Hemann

Issue 71 Feb / Mar 2013

A fascination with the forces of nature and a love of the creative process itself provide the drivers behind the organic forms of designer Johannes Hemann.

While notions of nature and natural forces run like fibrous, thematic strands through the work of German designer Johannes Hemann, it is a love of creative process that seems to truly define the pieces he produces.

When invited to take part in the Future Primitives selection at last year’s Interieur show in Kortrijk, Hemann eschewed the standard show-and-tell set-up and instead constructed a miniature, wooden Ferris-wheel loaded with his decorative lighting pieces. Hand-made and hand cranked, the wheel turned the visitor’s role from a purely passive to an interactive, physical one, engaging the viewer in the act of understanding his work.

“It’s true, my work is very often process driven,” Hemann agrees. “Sometimes the way to the result is at least as important as the result itself.”

Among the multifarious pendant’s hanging from Hemann’s wheel, the colourful coral-like forms of Udo and Karl - representatives of his Storm Series – were perhaps the clearest example of this approach. Formed inside a specially constructed ‘storm box’, each piece is unique. Small particles of coloured, synthetic material are blown around an adhesive-covered base structure until a layer has accumulated. A further spraying of adhesive is added and the process is repeated, allowing an organic structure to slowly grow. The size of each piece is limited only by the size of the storm box, but Hemann will often call time well before this point. “More important for me is when I can find different ‘faces’ or ‘aspects’ in the object, when it has reached a complexity that makes the object not only a light, but a light to explore.”

Though the process remains the same, by allowing the natural laws of chaos to contribute, the results are consistently different. Within the series, different ranges exist, linked by the type and colour of the synthetic particles used. Each is given a unique name, shared with a contemporary weather system. “During the process, I check the names of the low pressure areas that are circling around the world at the time of production and decide on one them,” Hemann explains. “I never pick the very strong or horrible low pressure areas like Katrina. I would rather people not connect the series to bad storms; I want to show the good forces of the storm, the creative forces, not the destructive ones.”
It was ‘process’, again, that provided the hook for Hemann’s next series, Lokta Lights. During a visit to Nepal, he became intrigued by the local production of traditional Lokta paper. He worked with experts in Katmandu to learn the manufacturing process - the layering of pulp onto submerged, fabric mesh frames - and adapted it by using a wire-based structure to create three-dimensional forms. The result was a series of decorative pieces that, when illuminated, emit a natural, textured glow.
Back home, Hemann shifted his focus away from the synthetic structures of the Storm Series and started to develop a range of furniture formed from single pieces of wood. “I was a bit tired of just using synthetic materials, so I had a closer look at natural material,” he explains. “I looked at wood and realised that, of course, it is a fibrous structure. I started to experiment by applying pressure on small pieces of wood to try and deform their natural look into a more technical shape.”

As part of the collection he developed a pressed wood pendant. Taking a single piece of untreated timber, Hemann slowly introduces a pyramid-shaped wedge, gradually increasing the pressure over the course of many days in order to force the piece into the desired shape.

“Nature is always very inspiring for me,” he comments. “The Storm Series is based on a law of nature, that wind can not only destroy things but can also create. The Pressed Wood series is a more material driven concept, but both use the enormous potential of physical laws.”

Hemann originally studied product design at the School of Art and Design in Offenbach am Main, Germany, and during his studies spent one semester at the Department of Product Design at Kingston University in London. His designs have been exhibited in Berlin, Milan, Tel Aviv, London and Tokyo, among countless other destinations around the world.

Since establishing his eponymous design studio in 2011, his playful interpretations of traditional design forms have received much international attention. In 2012 he was nominated as Young Designer of the year by the German Design Awards, and has twice been nominated for Design Newcomer of the Year in Germany.

Whilst he continues to work with wood, Hemann has also returned to the Storm Series to experiment with new materials like porcelain. “In both series, I have to push the result a bit further,” he says. “I have lots of new ideas for furniture and lighting in mind, I just need the time and the passion to develop them.”


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