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The journey is the destination

In a hidden corner of suburban North London, designers Tim Simpson and Sarah van Gameren, who form the Studio Glithero, produce an impressive range of furniture, products and installations

Glithero’s products include beautifully crafted paper aeroplanes made with an envelope-folding machine and scarves woven with organ music using punch cards and a loom. All the pieces in the Les French Furniture Series — coffee tables, shelves — are built first in bamboo and wax and then cast in bronze. Tim Simpson and Sarah van Gameren, who met at the Royal College of Art, founded their Studio Glithero in 2008 — and became a couple.

Their Blueware Collection uses traditional blueprinting techniques to make white-on-blue china patterns that echo the classic Wedgwood Jasperware. As Simpson explains, weed specimens are pressed, dried and carefully applied to blank vases and tiles treated with photosensitive chemicals. These chemicals turn blue on exposure to ultraviolet light: when the leaves of the weeds are removed, their white imprint remains.

Glithero now has hundreds of weeds stored in large glass containers. They also invented a machine which serves as a darkroom and “rotates the vases like a döner kebab”.

This project seems straightforward, compared to the studio’s Poured Bar in the ballroom of London’s Corinthia Hotel. To make this, Simpson, van Gameren and a small army of workers poured layers of quick-setting concrete, dyed in different shades of blue, into six-metre-long moulds. Once each layer had hardened, it was flipped and hoisted on to a wooden frame. The resulting collage of polished blue served as a temporary pop-up bar for the 2011 Bafta Award party and London Fashion Week events.

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In 'Burn Burn Burn' a flame moves slowly over the wall, dances on the floor, up the chairs and down the table legs, connecting and unifying objects. Sarah van Gameren created the flammable paint in her kitchen.

Equally astonishing is the installation Burn Burn Burn inspired by Fred Astaire’s ceiling dance. In this work, a flame made from flammable paint moves slowly over the wall, dances on the floor, up chairs, down table legs, leaving a trail of charring behind. “The idea was to create an animated moment for a large gathering like a wedding or a funeral,” explains Sarah van Gameren. She thought up the concept in her kitchen and developed the paint with the help of a chemist. The paint, she says, “has a texture like silk-screen paint and can be dyed in any colour you like.”

As with most of the studio’s projects, the making of Poured Bar and Burn Burn Burn was carefully choreographed and filmed. Boundaries do not seem to matter in Glithero’s work. At first glance, much of it seems like art for art’s sake; but every project, large or small, carries a serious message. Each project records the process of making it, from the moment when a design starts from nothing. In Glithero’s words, “The journey is the destination and the reward.”

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“For us the process is just as important as the finished product,” says Tim Simpson. Born in 1982, he comes from Swindon in South West England. Sarah van Gameren (b. 1981) is from Utrecht in the Netherlands. They met in 2005 while studying product design at the Royal College of Art. Simpson’s student projects included a set of coin-operated telescopes intended to reinvent cityscapes. Van Gameren, meanwhile, worked on The Big Dipper, her graduation piece. It was a machine that made chandelier candles by dipping wicks into vats of molten wax. As much a performance as a product, The Big Dipper played out the life cycle of Van Gameren’s chandeliers, from the moment of the product’s conception to its melting and fading away.

“We found we had a lot in common,” Tim Simpson says. “We both wanted to explore issues of mass production, consumption and accidental aesthetics.” This interest led to a personal and creative relationship. In 2008 they formed their Studio. (Glithero is the maiden name of Tim Simpson’s mother).

They also wrote a manifesto. “Miracle Machines and the Lost Industries” is about man’s relationship with the machine. The booklet aims to stimulate, critique and add depth to design. “The more we know about manufacturing methods, the less we will be at the mercy of those industrial concerns whose only motive is profit,” says the book. “When it is understood and rationalized, an object becomes more tangible and rewarding to us. And if we are able to relate a deeper emotional attachment to it, we will value it more.”

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For the Blueware Collection, weed specimens are applied to blank vases and tiles treated with photosensitive chemicals that turn blue under ultraviolet light.

This is a poetic approach to design that, Glithero hopes, will forge a connection between man, machine and designer. “We want to bring responsibility into the world,” says Tim Simpsom. “If you can understand the work — where it comes from, how it was made, the thinking behind it — this makes a huge difference.”’

Text: Josephine Grever
Photo: Glithero