Platform Two – RCA


The value of a piece of wood.
February 23, 2009, 12:15 pm
Filed under: Christmas tree project, Fabien Cappello, Nature, public space

I started this project back in mid-December 2007 when a Christmas tree stall popped out around the corner, where I was living in London.

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I saw the piles of trees arriving and I said to myself that it was quite a lot of wood. I think at this point, I actually noticed the fact that Christmas tree were also wood, I don’t think it came to my mind before… I waited for the beginning of January and I saw all the trees popping up in the street again, but this time the party was over. They were on the bin.

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I decided to collect them, and that was not difficult to get thousand of them.

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My design is not about solving the problem of the collect of (nor it is about recycling)… maybe it does, but that is not the point. I am looking at how the things works. I am interested in how we live in the city for instance. And what truly compose a city. Not really at an urban scale but more at more in details. I focus on facts that I notice and analyse; for instance : there is at some point of the year a lot of Christmas tree send into the city, this amount of trees represents a lot of wood. From those facts it creates a lot of possibilities, especially in this case because I could easily had access to those trees. This wood was interesting (not only because it was a free material) but moreover because it was a part of a very precise system and economy organised around Christmas and I wanted to create my own world within it.

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It makes me think of the story of timber-rafting in North America back in the 19th Century. Timber-rafting is basically a log transportation method in which log are tied together into raft and drifted across a lake or down a wide river. This practise used to be common before the advent of the railroad and the improvement in truck and road network. The raft men -which could number up to 500 used logs to build galleys and organise the space they shared aboard. With the small timber they had to transport, they built cabins, furniture and tools. Those boats could navigate up to 5 or 6 months from one point to an other in an complete autarky. So that the raft became an island, with a micro-society evolving temporarily apart from the rest of the world and the wood shipping economy.

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Once arrived the logs were untied from the raft and the timber undo from the cabins and the pieces of furniture. The raft men were going back to their starting point or continued their trip further down another river, with a new boat and a new crew. I found in this story the most beautiful and strong aspect of locality. They created a real parallel society… but they were only transporting some piece of tree! They took advantage of and abuse (but in a very good way) the system they were living (and working) in. They didn’t “hijack” the wood shipping economy, they turned what they had to achieve into a complete, and very beautiful way of life.

I intend to create different small piece furniture that, once together work as a sort of house showcase, a total living environment. The pieces I want to create can also be envisaged separately as small occasional furniture.

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All together it is an environment, but they can exist in their own. Actually, I have in mind the idea that those pieces are meant to replace another one already existing… For instance if you break one of your stool, you could come to the Christmas tree carpenter around the corner and buy a new stool. At the first sight you might find the pieces a bit clumsy, you might think that they have strange proportion, or details. But they can perfectly fulfill their assigned function. So that pieces after pieces your home get slowly colonised by the Christmas tree pieces. And obviously it change slowly the space you are living in and the way you live.

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Agglomerated needles board.

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Samples and trials

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Those piece of furniture are designed with the desire of the amateur or of the passionate getting excited and being lead by the envy. It might sounds a bite naive, but it is like this French postman called “le facteur Cheval” spending all his free time on decorating his house with thousand of stone collected during his round.

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The house of Mr Cheval in France.

He does it, that is all. It is not solving any problems, neither it is answering any needs, but it makes his heart beats. I am also very interested in activity that does not answer to any economic logic. We call those kind of activity a hobby. I am doing it very seriously but I am on the side of any official efficient production or any official economic society… I collect and use the left-over material from the party organised by the Christmas industry and take them apart from the capitalist economic system. The details of the objects relate to this desire: for instance the wood is curved in a very inefficient way, but with a lot of pleasure and a great care of the aspect given to the piece of tree.

I imagine the Christmas tree carpenter working and selling the Christmas tree collection in a small shop, in the center of the city where the tree were picked up. I really like the way London kept a lot of small shops and local services, I wanted to create a new one.

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I wanted every step of this project to happen in the inner London : the raw material is picked up in the street, it travel to the small workshop where the pieces of furniture are made and sold… It is a project at a local city scale. Everything is manufactured with a very light wood worker equipment, the same machine one would find in his local joinery or carpenter workshop.

There is an average of 1,8 millions of Christmas trees in the London’ street every January therefor a lot of material is available.

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A christmass tree farm in denmark

At the moment the project is based on an existing situation. We could either imagine that it would evolve and grow within this situation. It could become more and more organised; in the collect of the tree, in the manufacturing and in the distribution with a growing and evolutive range of pieces. But we could also imagine that the project would evolve in another way: it could develop its own system. The pine used for christmas is a fast growing tree: it is cutted and used for christmas when it is 2 or 3 years old. A christmas tree farm could use temporilaly a wasted space in the inner city.

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There is so many space wich are un-used for years in the city (most of the time those spaces are temporarily out of function, waiting for a refurbishment of the area, or a delayed building site…) It would provide a litlle greenery, and of course christmas trees for the inhabitants of the area. Those trees would be collected after the christmas period and would be transform into wooden furniture or use to fix and repair collectivity or private broken piece of furniture.


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