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Questioning the Collection – Blow (Inflatable Armchair)

March 5, 2017

Blow (Inflatable armchair)

Jonathan de Pas

Donato D’Urbino
Paolo Lomazzi

Carla Scolari

The chair was designed in 1967
and manufactured in 1968. Its production used the newly developed process of high frequency welding, which was developed in the 1940s [1] and therefore exemplifies its first use in furniture, where it was used to join the PVC panels. It was designed for city dwellers due to the fact it could be deflated and stored away, providing more room in cramped apartments, whilst this storage option also made it suitable for use when travelling [2]. Despite its low cost the chair was still marketed as a glamourous product contrasting its stereotypically ‘cheap’ looking appearance of the PVC with more luxurious backgrounds such as Paris and women in their advertisements. [3]

The inflatable chair is now seen as a pop icon of the 1960s as it captured the playful nature of the time. [4] Whilst it also marked the start of the Made in Italy movement, and changed market dynamics as the low price allowed high end design to be accessible to lower classes.

Despite the significant cultural impact of the chair, this appears to be dismissed by the V&A, as the description provided for the chair is focused solely on its advanced manufacturing. Thus, this could be considered a reflection of the V&A perception of design as a discipline seeing it to be a craft-driven process. This is furthered by their choice to display a transparent version of the inflatable chair instead of a one of the various coloured ones made, the use of colour captured the playful nature of the product, however as this is not its purpose in the collection, this may be why a transparent version was chosen instead, as this draws more attention to its manufacture.

The reasoning for the lack of cultural context for the chair could potentially be found in its link to the objects it is surrounded by within the cabinet. Initially, there is no immediate link between the inflatable chair and the rest of the cabinet, which is primarily 19th century decorative upholstered chairs. However, the museum justifies the pairing of these objects by each chair marking a transformative moment in upholstery.

The chair itself is positioned poorly within the cabinet as the height the chair was sat at was too high meaning it could not be viewed properly, despite Will Newton (assistant curator of the furniture gallery) describing the piece to be ‘a design icon’ [5] suggesting it should be able to be admired fully. This joined with the fact that the chair is transparent means the chair is easily missed, or its significance is underplayed in comparison to the highly detailed embroidered 19th century chairs it is surrounded by, which sit at eye level.

The designers of the product have had no influence on object description. This could be considered to obstruct the purpose of the product being seen and instead focuses on a manufacturing process which was not the sole purpose of the craft of the chair, as the designer Lomazzi describes the chair to be a result of being ‘young, full of life and wanted to break with bourgeois traditions,” [6] however this is not conveyed in the object description.

References:

1. Solution Plastics. (2015). Plastic Welding. [online] Available at: 1. http://www.solutionplastics.co.uk/?q=plastic-welding [Accessed 3 Mar. 2017].

2. Designindex.org. (n.d.). Blow – Zanotta – inflatable chair (1967) – Products – designindex. [online] Available at: http://www.designindex.org/products/design/blow-zanotta.html [Accessed 3 Mar. 2017].

3. Voices of East Anglia. (n.d.). Blow Up – Quasar Khanh’s Inflatable Furniture – Voices of East Anglia. [online] Available at: http://www.voicesofeastanglia.com/2013/07/quasar-khanh-inflatable-furniture.html [Accessed 3 Mar. 2017].

4. pamono.co.uk. (n.d.). De Pas, D’Urbino and Lomazzi Online Shop | Buy Furniture/Lighting/Design at PAMONO. [online] Available at: https://www.pamono.co.uk/designers/de-pas-d-urbino-lomazzi [Accessed 3 Mar. 2017].

5. Jones, O. (2016). How the inflatable Blow chair became an anti-establishment symbol. [online] Ft.com. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/bf83c716-d17b-11e5-831d-09f7778e7377 [Accessed 3 Mar. 2017].

6. Jones, O. (2016). How the inflatable Blow chair became an anti-establishment symbol. [online] Ft.com. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/bf83c716-d17b-11e5-831d-09f7778e7377 [Accessed 3 Mar. 2017].

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