The Spanish designers Rosario Hurtado and Roberto Feo set up studio together in 1997, calling themselves “El Ultimo Grito” which translates roughly as “all the rage”. Ever since, the duo have ploughed a highly intelligent and critical path towards developing a design and manufacturing system free from “traditional methods of production”. Sophie Lovell investigates their latest installation in Houston, Texas.
Hurtado and Feo's system is all about being hands-on. They create fantastical, yet functional, structures from discarded packing materials such as bubble wrap and foam “packing peanuts”, binding them around wooden and cardboard frames using gaffer tape. Their resulting works look weird and wonderful, unified by brightly coloured, plastic scaly skins made from thousands of circular stickers, specially printed for each project. “Applied over surfaces”, they explain, the stickers “function as a plastic ‘skin’ that keeps all the parts together, and as a graphic layer, unifying the forms into a ‘Total Object’.”
El Ultimo Grito’s works are not just a reaction to the straightjacket of manufacturing, they celebrate the public use of space and human interaction. They are made for people: to be sat upon, climbed over, played with, used and explored. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, Feo and Hurtado have as much experience creating installations in museums and galleries, such as the V&A and Design Museum in London, ARCO in Madrid and MARTa Herford in Germany, as in informal public spaces. The trick is in understanding the context and then adapting accordingly: “To design a public installation in the middle of a city is very different from designing one in a gallery context. In the city, the functionality of the object is justified by its context; people continuously confront it. In a gallery, functionality is deprived of real context. There is no need for a functional object in an art gallery, people do not go [there] to have a coffee or read the newspaper.”
So for their latest installation Garden Object at the Rice Gallery in Houston, Texas, the strange pseudo-organic form of the giant piece invites visitors to sit and interact with the “wildlife” displayed on circular screens like giant flower heads. “We wanted to make sure that visitors would come in and spend time in the installation, exploring and using it rather than just consuming it as an image behind the glass wall”, they explain. The installation is inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1500-1505), which hangs in the Prado in Madrid, which both Feo and Hurtado know well. Following the format of the painting, the installation is divided into three spaces: “one light and airy, one dark with projections of ever-flying birds, and one in which a phosphorescent water feature lends a feeling of the surreal.”
Garden Object, like much of El Ultimo Grito’s installation work, is gratifyingly unpretentious. It is one of those rare things – like architect Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonie building in Berlin: only complete when people are in it. With its cheerful palette and wobbly forms, their work may seem simple and slightly childish at first sight, but here is spectacle with purpose and statement without ego, politics with proselytising. It’s design designed to serve – and delight – the user, but founded nevertheless upon rigorous strategy and intent.
– Sophie Lovell