Surprises seen in free-wheeling exhibit

L.A. Cicero Leys

Graduate student Colter Leys' vertebrae-like chair is on exhibit at the Design Redefined show at the T.W. Stanford Art Gallery through May 8.

For a work that he called Combtainer, graduate student Mark Scallon grew his hair nearly all quarter and then cut it off to use as the raw material for the construction of a nest-like bowl for a black plastic hair comb. Nicole Kahn created a series of welcome mats using materials including feathers, striped knit socks and red wax lips (the last, called Kiss My Feet). The vertebrae-like wooden slats in a chair designed by Colter Leys (It Goes to 11) can be adjusted to fit the individual curve of a user's body.

All part of an exhibition at the T. W. Stanford Art Gallery titled "Design Redefined," the works exemplify what Matt Kahn, professor of art and art history, calls a preference for surprise over predictability. Kahn (no relation to Nicole Kahn) encourages students toward "constructive disobedience"—respecting the spirit of class assignments while breaking the rules, he said.

The work is by 50 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in design classes in the Department of Art and Art History and in the Joint Graduate Program in Design, a collaboration between the Design Division of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Visual Design Studies in the Art and Art History studio program. The exhibition includes inspired work by students at elemental levels of study as well as advanced undergraduates and thesis candidates. "Most exhibitions are at just one level," Kahn said. "The students love this—and they learn from it."

The exhibition also encompasses a broad spectrum of graphic arts and media, ranging from film to wooden construction to textiles, furniture, clothing, jewelry and products including dishes and clocks. The list of materials used to fabricate the works is equally head-spinning: Velvet, driftwood, precious metals, leather, paper, plastic, felt, rubber and ready-made objects are all used, often in fresh juxtapositions.

"The exhibit is about risk taking and surprise," Kahn said. Written large in the introductory panel that accompanies the exhibition is one of his credos: "If you don't take risks, you don't get gifts."

The exhibition is on display through May 8. The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. A show exhibiting the work of Master of Fine Arts students will open May 17 and run through June 12.