© Jeroen Verrecht
© Jeroen Verrecht
© Jeroen Verrecht
© Jeroen Verrecht
© Jeroen Verrecht
© Jeroen Verrecht
© Jeroen Verrecht
19 February 9 May 2020

MANIERA 21

Bernard Dubois & Isaac Reina

MANIERA, 27 – 28 Place de la Justice, Brussels (BE)

Tangible Abstraction

MANIERA 21 is about twos: two designers, two practices, two materials, two craft firms, two ways of seeing. The edition shows a joint project by the Brussels-based architect Bernard Dubois and the Paris-based designer Isaac Reina. It is a collection of ten pieces that speak the same language on various scales. The grammar of this language is based on reduction and the tactility of design that Reina and Dubois share. Isaac Reina trained as an architect but switched to the fashion industry after his studies. He focused on leather accessories during his time at Hermes before establishing his own brand of leather accessories which radiate purity and elegance. Bernard Dubois studied photography prior to architecture, set up his practice in 2013 and developed an architectural aesthetic that based on formal clarity and composition. In 2018 Dubois designed Isaac Reina’s first shop in Paris, which displays the basic principles of both practices. Their collaboration for MANIERA 21 is an act of perfect balance, with their design practices merging into each other in a series of objects which originate from exercises with volumes, surfaces and geometry. Each piece is a study of forms that are materialised to interact with daily life. The collection in its totality suggests a domestic setting, but refuses to be caught up in direct definitions of function.

The first impression of each object evokes rigidity due to its regular, sharp geometry. Square, triangle, rectangle and (partial) circle recurrently designate each piece, though the pieces themselves have varying dimensions. The objects have different facades, their appearance changes constantly when seen from different angles. Their bottom, top or side doesn’t depend on a certain function but rather upon one’s need for and interpretation of each object. They owe this impression to their abstract shapes. Etymologically abstraction comes from the Latin verb ‘abstrahere’, which translates as ‘to draw away, detach’. The word was introduced into philosophy in 15th century to describe the withdrawal from material objects or practical matters. In the 20th century, ‘abstract’ was more widely used as an adjective to describe art works that have only an intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content. Though in the beginning abstract art referred to simplified forms from our surroundings, it soon also incorporated the description of non-objective art that uses geometric shapes for its compositions.

In terms of form, Dubois and Reina’s designs for MANIERA 21 relate to the withdrawn nature of abstract art. This is not an innocent act, as they touch on a delicate point in the definition of furniture, by seemingly becoming detached from the practicality of it. Yet the conscious definitions of the heights, widths and depths of the objects in the collection suggest several ways of using each piece. As playfully as a child would imagine a house underneath a table or a horse to ride on the back of a sofa, Dubois and Reina’s objects trigger the spectator’s imagination through abstraction. They play with surfaces and volumes without assigning one single task for their shapes to perform. Only the smallest volume, a lamp, is the exception to this. Its footprint, shaped like a drop, is the combination of a three-quarter circle and a square. Despite its small scale, the object demonstrates perfect craftsmanship, a quality valued in both Reina’s and Dubois’ practice. The vertical piece is covered flawlessly with natural cow leather, letting the light shine softly through a horizontal cut at the bottom. No stitches can be detected and the lamp can be seen as a massive leather volume. The seamless appearance of the objects derives from the shared ambition of both designers to reach simplicity without compromising in tactility. This attitude is found consistently in all the leather pieces.

Yet as natural as the flawlessness of leather might appear in execution, it can only be reached with patience and precision. To reach the effect that Dubois and Reina aimed they worked with the Niyona leather workshop in Brussels, where traditional techniques are applied to accessories for contemporary use. Because of the meticulous corner-finishing of each leather-covered piece, the collection seems to celebrate continuous surfaces. The leather acts like a layer of varnish homogeneously covering all volumes. One version of the three low tables wrapped in black lacquered leather almost confuses the perception, as from a distance it looks more like a glossy painted volume. Yet at the first touch its soft surfaces reveal that it is leather. Another version of the same low table wears natural, vegetable tanned leather which can more easily be recognised as such. The same yellowish-orange colour covers the two tablets, two foldable tables and the foldable screen. As a result of a traditional trunk-making technique, there are no hinges on these foldable pieces; the wings of the foldable tables and the shapes of the room divider fold out like paper.

When the surfaces of these objects are touched to open them or when everyday objects are put on them, traces of use will add a patina to their surface. Though not as receptive as leather, the collection’s wooden pieces will also alter with the passing of time. Their execution was entrusted to Atelier Ternier, which has already produced many excellent editions together with MANIERA. Like Niyona, Atelier Ternier pays great attention to the nature of the material. The grand bureau, the chair and the third version of the low table proudly show their bodies, carved and assembled in wood by rigorous craftsmanship and finished with high-gloss varnish. Both timber and leather bring their respective pasts into the objects: the solid oak pieces reveal it through the flames and knots on their surfaces and the leather with the faint fold lines from the cow’s neck. Reina and Dubois are designers who appreciate the nature of materials and look forward to the effect of time and use on their designs. MANIERA 21 looks forward calmly to its own future, since the timelessness of clear geometric forms will be balanced by the marks of time. Dubois and Reina arrive at this quality by using well-conceived and well-crafted simplicity as a key to making objects which work on various levels, with various roles in daily life. In this regard, their design for MANIERA 21 brings to mind to what Marcel Breuer said during a 1931 lecture on the subject of interiors:

“… Basically: A few simple objects are enough, when these are good, multi-use, and capable of variation. We avoid thus the slavish pouring of our needs into countless commodities that complicate our daily lives instead of simplifying them and making them easier.”

Text by Asli Çiçek