How A Life-Changing Event Changed Designer Ron Gilad's Idea Of What Home Means
Ron Gilad has fond memories of Singapore—the Israeli artist and designer recalls his awe at seeing verdant foliage amid the urban landscape during a visit several years ago. “I was quite amazed by the mix of urbanism and nature,” he says. “Marvellous trees in the middle of the street, almost competing with the skyscrapers.”
It’s the first observation he makes, upon our introduction at the Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan. We’re here to view his first collaboration with the Italian company Magis: a screen, entitled Swing. “It’s a very modest and humble product,” says Gilad. “There is no excessive design, it’s a very simple panel with pivots which can be opened and closed.” The room divider matches his pared-down aesthetic with elements of versatility and mobility; the hinges of the screen sub-divide it into more sections, resulting in an ever-morphing object.
Gilad is pensive with the replies that follow, as we discuss his past and recent works. The designer is currently based in New York, choosing to work alone to focus on a few projects each year while teaching the next generation of young designers. “I’m trying to pick my partners very carefully,” he explains. “It’s important for me to receive 100 per cent dedication to each project.”
You were once evicted from your home in New York; could you tell us more about that?
Ron Gilad (RG) For the six years that I lived in New York, I lived in a former factory that was converted into artist lofts. There were some issues between the landlord and the municipality that were more political and not related to the artist tenants. One night at midnight, the police arrived and evicted the tenants. It was a very intense situation. I was homeless for three months; I moved 11 times. It’s an experience; now I’m sitting here in comfort, it’s in the past. But it gave me a certain perspective about spaces and architecture as well as the meaning of domestic environments.
Even after living in New York for so many years, I’ve always felt like a guest. To be detached from that home, it kind of shakes up everything about your perception of what is home, a place that is supposed to bring comfort. The first exhibition I did in 2006 was all about places; it was all about micro-architecture. Ever since then, I’m trying to please myself by creating things that speak about spaces.
Is this sense of space something you try to teach your students?
RG The world is three-dimensional. However, if you’re thinking about social media, everything is becoming flat; it’s on a screen, it’s an image. Teaching at the polytechnic and working with students, I find that the younger generation sees everything from the front; the best picture, the best position. They don’t take the time and energy to walk around and look at things from different angles. This is a matter of conceptual and physical perspective that people are starting to lose. It’s flattening life, in a certain way.
To evolve in life, you need to explore, to take the time and distance to look at things from every possible position. That’s what I try to teach my students; to be brave and not just to accept things for what they are.
(Related: The Secret To Crafting Instagram-Worthy Spaces)
What other advice would you give to aspiring designers?
RG Sometimes I will answer, “Don’t become a designer, it’s a hard job”. It’s a hard job for me, but there are other people who can enjoy it a lot. It’s a matter of your personality and your collaborators; sometimes there is a good match, sometimes it’s a disaster. You need to develop thick skin in order to survive in this industry.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not but my skin is very, very thin; I’m very emotional about things. Design for me is not a sketch; design is a small part of who I am. Over the years, I am creating a family, an alphabet, a language. Although some of the letters are at Magis, some at Flos and some at Molteni&C, it’s still the letters that I was creating and it’s important for me at the end to write a story, a coherent sentence.
I want to reach a certain perfection. It’s not just about promoting a product that would be sold. I don’t think I’ve ever designed a bestseller for a company; none of my pieces are amazing sellers. It’s not about making the perfect project. The room divider is a simple idea. It’s not brilliant or aesthetically amazing. It’s there but it has enough reasons to exist. That’s what I like; it’s not vulgar. There is nothing else I can do, there is nothing else I know how to do. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy sketching and creating objects. Sometimes they’re more functional, sometimes they’re just sculptures; I give myself the freedom to travel between different worlds.
In your opinion, what are the qualities of good design?
RG I don’t think that there’s a pure formula to it. Sometimes I appreciate a work that is purist and minimalist. Sometimes I like excess and things that do not follow my personal taste. Good design starts from a good idea. The question is how you shape it, how you present it and how you use it. Good design can have endless amounts of shapes and different scales; I don’t think that I create good design, I also criticise myself all the time. I try and sometimes I succeed more, and sometimes I succeed less. I always look further, hoping the next time will be better or more pleasing.
What keeps you inspired?
RG Dissatisfaction for me is a pillar of energy to keep trying to be better and to evolve. The result is good but it can be better. There is a term in Hebrew—when you achieve something, you should never sit and relax comfortably because that will make you numb and make you stop doing what you’re doing; I really believe in this term. It’s not that the work is done, we can celebrate. I think that this is just a step and life is made of many, many steps.
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