Emma Scully’s first New York show brings together eight disparate talents to reevaluate the parameters of contemporary industrial design.
Emma Scully Gallery, 16 East 79th Street, New York, NY
13th May – 25th June 2021
FIRST DEPLOYED ON a mechanised scale in the late 18th century, cast iron was a cornerstone of the Industrial Revolution. From extensive railroad links to expansive bridges, this coal byproduct left an indelible mark on the built environment. It allowed engineers to construct larger, taller and more efficient structures with less material. Closely linked to the rapid evolution of mass production, with its improved cost-effectiveness and convenience, this malleable yet sturdy alloy was also brought into our homes as appliances and decorative elements.
Through colonisation and later globalisation, cast iron reached every corner of the globe and eventually became universal. Though other materials have since surpassed this composite, it remains a symbol of this period, one defined by accelerated development. In many ways, the recent introduction and mass dissemination of digital technologies has had a similarly significant impact. This so-called “Third Industrial Revolution”, a term coined by social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, has completely changed how we communicate and consume.
A new exhibition, ‘Cast Iron’, envisioned by design gallerist Emma Scully explores this striking parallel through the lens of eight designers from around the world, including Chen Chen & Kai Williams, Tellurico, Brecht Wright Gander, Bradley L. Bowers and Charlotte Kingsnorth. Commissioned to develop cast iron objects using 3D modelling software, the designers sent their digital designs to Scully, who had them produced at the O.K. Foundry in Virginia. On view in the gallerist’s new Upper East Side Manhattan space, the ‘Cast Iron’ exhibits range from monumental planters, to totemic sculptures and delicate luminaires. This capsule collection of contemporary cast iron objects represents the full scope of today’s collectible design scene – designers deeply invested in material experimentation, self-expression and iconographic inquiry.
The fact that this project was developed during the long months of quarantine further solidifies its conceptual framework: emphasising the extent to which our globalised and digitised world offers an antidote to isolation, while also increasing the desire for tangibility, variation and a better understanding of how things are made. “This project was entirely a Covid-19 baby,” Scully reflects. “It came out of the time everyone spent reassessing their lives, choices and how they went about doing things. Personally, I took a hard look at my industry, collectible design, and thought about how we might do better – making fewer and better things with less environmental impact.”
Part of Scully’s impetus for this project was to work with a geographically diverse group of talents. “The nice thing about this approach is there was no difference between working with someone in Dubai and someone in Brooklyn,” she explains. “I think that international designers get penalised on the New York market because of the practical and financial considerations of shipping this type of work. To show work in this city, you have to be at an established point in your career; hence galleries have to be able to charge a lot of money and build in that cost.” The works on view range from $3,500 to $15,000, which is a significantly lower price point than offered at most New York galleries.
‘Cast Iron’ incorporates different strains of contemporary design output and even affirms some regional variations. Nel Verbeke’s work, ‘Two Alcoves Joining’, for instance, brings a more European sensibility, reflecting an inherent understanding of craft. By bringing in Palestinian designer Faissal El-Malak, Scully sought to incorporate something other than the western tradition.
The exhibition also spans different generations, which adds to the complexity of its central theme. “American designer Ryan Decker is the only Generation Z talent in the show. His Instagram account is his art,” the gallerist explains. “He’s a digital artist, and the ‘Bionic Knees for Atlas’ is essentially an animation. We were able to translate his initial concept into physical form. It’s an added value for him. The tangible sculpture is something he wouldn’t have been able to realise on his own.”
On view until 25th June, ‘Cast Iron’ is staged with a custom backdrop designed by New York-based studio Wallpaper Projects, which features a deeply patinated metal texture. Many of the works are also adorned with lush greenery and integrated glass elements. Although many of the designers have yet to see their pieces in person, Scully hopes that they will be able to at some point soon.
Cast Iron at Emma Scully Gallery runs until 25th June 2021.