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Elkeland captures a sense of place in sublime materiality and form

Elkeland captures a sense of place in sublime materiality and form

by Purva Chawla

If you ever needed to comprehend how a ‘place’ can express itself in objects and their design, look at the work of Ida Elke. Working from a wood cabin embedded deep in the tranquil Danish countryside, Ida’s creations are the physical incarnation of the mystical, ethereal and thoughtful nature of their birthplace.

The first work by visual artist Ida which I saw, was her Mountain Mirrors collection. The pairing of hunks of rough cut Granite or Soapstone, with discs of mirror-polished steel placed in grooves within them, had a profound impact on me. Viewing her other works shortly after–Ovo-ovO, the Mirror Mobiles, and Woven Mirrors–I had similar reactions. In each case, the objects created by her emanated a sense of calm; each triggered a thoughtful and reflective mood in me, and for all of these works, the materiality felt pure and minimal–almost sublime.

This reaction to Ida’s work seems natural when you learn of the ethos and motivations at Elkeland, her studio. Here, the focus is on “slow processes, and simple compositions” Ida says. This simplicity and almost slowing down of time become evident in the works emerging from the studio–each of which seems to halt time for the viewer. Also evident, is the fact that each piece is crafted patiently by hand. The latter attribute ties in with Ida’s desire to be engaged consciously in the small-scale production of what she calls “peculiar objects, for unconventional homes.”

Beyond these enchanting and thoughtful qualities, Elkeland’s work conducts a subtle commentary on issues that hold meaning for Ida, as well as explores her continuing interest in how objects and surroundings can influence our consciousness. In her collection Ovo-ovO, she makes physical the playful and mind-bending concept of a Palindrome through a multi-functional furniture object. 

   Ovo-ovO   by Ida Elke, draws inspiration from the concept of a Palindrome

Ovo-ovO by Ida Elke, draws inspiration from the concept of a Palindrome

For international design collective Form&Seek’s Age of Man exhibit at Milan Design Week 2017, Ida responded to the pertinent theme of the ‘Anthropocene’ or the age influenced and shaped by Man, by creating an almost primitively beautiful chair titled the 'Three-Pillar Seat,' cast from a composite of fossil wax and carbon. Here is our recent conversation with Ida, where she talks about the materiality and intent of this project, and her work at large.

   Three-Pillar Seat   by Ida Elke, created for the  Age of Man  exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017

Three-Pillar Seat by Ida Elke, created for the Age of Man exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017


MD: What are the primary materials and techniques you have employed to create the 'Three-Pillar Seat'?

Ida: The chair is cast from a composite of fossil Wax Paraffin and Carbon. Paraffin is derived from crude oil and is therefore closely connected to the escalating human impact on the planet. It is widely used in industries today, and at the same time, it is easily overlooked. It is used in thin layers, especially for its “-less qualities” so to speak; It is odor-less, color-less, taste-less, reactive-less. In this way, it bears witness to how our civilization is coated (and polished) far beyond recognition of its substance.

I could have chosen to work with renewable plant waxes instead. But for this project, I wanted to draw fossil wax into presence, and to explore how this almost “material-less” substance–a manifestation of negation–can form a piece furniture, a throne of denial so to speak. 

 Casting liquid Wax Paraffin and Carbon in a mould of clay, for the   Three-Pillar Seat   by Ida Elke, created for the  Age of Man  exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017

Casting liquid Wax Paraffin and Carbon in a mould of clay, for the Three-Pillar Seat by Ida Elke, created for the Age of Man exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017

Carbon, on the other hand, is one of the most common chemical elements of all known life form, and in the universe in general. It has often been referred to as the “King of elements.” In this wax composite material, it is used in the format of graphite powder, which gives the wax a dark silver tone. In addition to that, the chair is cast in a mold of wet clay, which provides a rough surface and gives a monolithic appearance to the piece.
Despite its sturdy appearance, this material is exposed to changes in surface, since every handling will leave small imprints. So in many ways, it articulates a paradoxical relation between power and precariousness.

 Casting a composite of Wax Paraffin and Carbon in a mould of clay, for the   Three-Pillar Seat   by Ida Elke, created for the  Age of Man  exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017

Casting a composite of Wax Paraffin and Carbon in a mould of clay, for the Three-Pillar Seat by Ida Elke, created for the Age of Man exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017

MD: How does this piece relate to your practice as a whole?

Ida: My practice so far has been orientated around slow processes and handmade objects. I am interested in how we connect with objects, and how objects and surroundings can influence our consciousness and offer us profound resonance. For the last year, I have worked mainly with woven hinges and mirrors from polished steel, as decorative objects that alter the perception of light and space. So visually there is an obvious shift from the polished metallic surfaces to this rough chair, but my approach remains the same.

   Woven Mirrors (In flamed steel)   by Ida Elke

Woven Mirrors (In flamed steel) by Ida Elke

MD: The ‘Age of Man’ captures our relationship with the environment and our age–both in what has passed, and how the earth has already been impacted and in the ways in which design is responding and adapting to it. How does this theme express itself in your work?

Ida: This is a theme that concerns me deeply. What troubles me most, is how slow mankind has adapted to the insight of these now irreversible changes. I think innovation and sustainable development are very important but they are no longer enough. The responsible reaction to the current circumstances affecting our planet requires structural changes on all levels, I believe. 

In our consciousness, in organizations, industries, and politics–national and global–a change towards a shared responsibility for the common good, not only for humans but all life and ecosystems on the planet. Honestly, I feel a bit powerless about it. When I try to cope with this, my starting point is to work with awareness regarding our surroundings on an abstract level.

MD: What reaction to your design are you anticipating (and hoping for) from viewers in Milan?

Ida: The material for the chair appears very rough and heavy, so I think at first glance, viewers will see an unpolished manifestation of primitive power, like an ancient throne perhaps. It has an asymmetric construction with three pillars, one is displaced to the right, with a slanted connection to the seat. The construction appears to be odd.

 Textures and hues for the   Three-Pillar Seat   by Ida Elke, created for the  Age of Man  exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017

Textures and hues for the Three-Pillar Seat by Ida Elke, created for the Age of Man exhibition, Milan Design Week 2017

If the viewers choose to have a closer look and perhaps touch the seat, they will perceive that the material differs a lot from stone. Maybe this will cast doubt about its soundness, and call into question how stable this primitive seat really is. Overall, I hope to evoke a subtle feeling of connection between power and precariousness

MD: Tell us about your involvement with Form&Seek and how you feel about this unique collaborative of designers.

Ida: I am very happy and honored to be invited to this collaboration, alongside so many talented designers. I think it is very important for our professions that people collaborate and meet across borders. I know there is a great amount of work involved making that happen, so I am very grateful that the initiators from Form&Seek decided to get this up and running.

MD: Thank you Ida! Readers, do learn more about Ida's work and Elkeland here.


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