Porky Hefer and his delicious monsters

I heard about Porky Hefer from a South African interior designer whom I met on a holiday in Sri Lanka. As soon as we planned a trip to Cape Town, I knew Hefer was a must-see on our itinerary. And so I rang the door bell in the Southern Guild gallery in Woodstock, Cape Town’s thriving art district, ready to enter the beautiful world of Monstera Deliciosa.

The delicious ‘monsters’ really moved me, not just visually but also in a very sensory way. I was allowed to crawl inside the beautiful mantaray M.heloise, and it was one of the most amazing experiences. I felt like a little insect inside a flower, or a caterpillar inside a cocoon. But this is just an attempt at describing at how I felt. It was pretty surreal, in the most beautiful way. The softly lined up interior of M.heloise provided such comfort, peace and seclusion, amidst the hustle and bustle and the heat of Cape Town. I immediately wished I had one made for me. I hope one day I’ll be able to live in a place big enough to provide room for such installation. But before that wish materializes, I had a chance to speak to the man behind the lovely monsters, and it was truly a delicious conversation.
Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 16 (currently on sale).

Did you know from the start what effect would your underwater creatures have on people?

The more you believe in an idea, or rather focus energy on it, the more you perfect it and complete it, the more effect it will have. I have been focusing on the concept of environments. Each of the animals is an environment of its own on the inside. They differ with the amount of the environment and your senses that they control. Most affect your hearing and disconnect you from the world outside. They also limit your view of the outside world, with the manta giving you only a small porthole of view of the outside world that is also always changing and beyond your control. The swinging effect also takes you off the earth and into another sensation which is which most likened to the feeling of being in the womb. They also smell of an animal. Giving you a feeling that there is something, or even someone, else present. (…)

Your first nest was made in 2009. What has been your biggest challenge since then?

Thankfully, there will always be challenges. But I guess the biggest one was coming up with the idea for the first nest – convincing everyone that it was a good idea and then – convincing someone to make it. It’s got easier from there. I have been lucky to focus on one idea and just explore different executions of it. The one naturally evolves from the other, as I find I learn so much through the process – you learn the boundaries and thresholds that you can then push yourself to the next level. It would be boring if it wasn’t challenging. Improvement only comes from making mistakes that you can learn from, I am sure every young male bird has felt like this. (…)

Working in an advertising agency you came to a point where you didn’t want to take briefs from clients any more. How does one make a turn like this and become a designer of objects?

It was all about the object actually, or more correctly, the product. I found that in advertising the process became more important than the product. It was about keeping marketing departments busy and happy, keeping the systems going, rather than doing good work. Politics and democracy took up way too much time. I wanted to do more than just a good job – the product was so fleeting and really didn’t make a difference. I started Animal Farm in 2007, inspired by George Orwell’s concept of ‘all animals are equal’ and wanted to get humans out of creativity, so instinct would rule rather than ego. I want clever people to rule, not powerful ones. (…)

Your pieces are not just about the aesthetics. There is also the steel construction, the weight distribution, the suspension points. How big is your team of co-workers?

The process starts with me drawing the object from numerous angles and focusing on the details such as nostrils, fins, feet, how the mouth opens etc. This is to fully understand the object and to try find problems before they arise. I am not very technological, so I don’t do 3D drawings or anything like that. I then work with a welder who helps turn the drawings into reality. I don’t make small models or maquettes, as I find I need to work at actual scale to get it right, rather than a simulation with other materials or gauges. It’s during this stage that I work out the weight distribution and the suspension points, the engineering. The final weight of the leather or cane has to be considered but this gets easier with experience. Then it goes over to the team at Woodheads. They are a leather merchant in Cape Town that has been around since 1867 and still believe in good old fashioned craft, although they have moved with the times and updated the machinery, so we can achieve incredible results. (…) I then work with a team of marine rigging specialists who do the splicing for the ropes. I use old splicing techniques which are both strong and beautiful to look at. They just stink of hand work. None really unusual but I guess most of them unseen. We have ignored the art that goes into hand crafted objects and the skill of the craftsman. They have been downgraded by machinery, mass production, modernization and disposal. But they are making a come back. (…)

Human-size nests. That’s such a great idea. Please tell me you sleep in a big nest instead of a regular bedroom?

Unfortunately, I still sleep in a square bed in a square room. But it must be a good bed, it’s where I have dreamt up some wonderful things. We will build our own house soon and that’s when I will inhabit my own nest.
Thank you Porky, for the thoughtful conversation and a wonderful time in London!

Photo credits: Adriaan Louw; photo of Porky: Justin Patrick.

MUST SEE: If you are in London before September 27th, do go to see Porky’s work at the first London Design Biennale in Somerset House. You will be blown away!

 

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Throw back to South Africa

It’s been our second trip to South Africa. We travelled around the country, did 3 thousand kilometers in 3 weeks and got back 3 months ago.

And I honestly don’t know what took me so long to share some photos from that journey. My guess is that first I was digesting all the emotions that arose during the time spent in this amazing country. Then, reality kicked in, and I got busy with work-related projects, which always keeps me away from the blog.

But SA is always on my mind. I recently started noting down some ideas for our trip next year. In case you wonder, it is going to be South Africa again, for the 3rd time. There is so much to revisit and so much more to discover…

But before we go again, and come back with hundreds of new photos, here is a handful of snapshots from our most recent Southafrican trip. Enjoy.

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PS. I also have an extra treat for my Polish readers – a little feature I wrote for the Polish edition of Harper’s Bazaar. It’s been published in the June issue (currently on sale – until June 20th).

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La vita e bella for Punkt.

The founder of Punkt. is on a mission. He doesn’t plan to take over the world of technology but he has a pretty clear vision of what he wants to achieve with his brand. And that is … taming the technology and putting it right back where is started – at the service of human beings. I talk to Petter Neby about his life after Punkt. was launched, the fundamental role of his stepdaughter in the whole story and, in the process, find out that he really isn’t after material possessions. It is the idea that possesses him. Read on.

Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 14 (currently on sale).

(…)

Let’s talk about Punkt. Did you have an „aha” moment that led you to Punkt.?

It’s been a long journey but there was indeed a clear moment which led me to Punkt. I have a stepdaughter, who is actually turning 26 now. But when she was a few years younger, in her late teens, and being of the first generation born into the internet, I noticed that she was always on a smartphone, always connected. It was difficult to make her understand the importance of not always being “on” and that was certainly the kind of an „aha” moment for me.

But we are told that the generation Y cannot function without smartphones and being always connected. Their whole world revolves around being “on”. Their smartphones are their most valuable possessions. 

It is not just the generation of young people. I learned how poor we are, our generation. We think we are better at controlling technology than we actually are. Yet some of us are as bad as the teenagers or 20-somethings – in many cases the central element of our lives is a smartphone. So our generation has been caught with our pants down, thinking to be in control, but in fact, every so often we see ourselves in restaurants having dinner with our partner, and we are both in deep conversation with … our devices. Of course, the advantage is that we have some anchor of knowledge about what it is like to live and to be present “in a moment”. However, the younger generation also sees what is happening and they are able to see some damage, see friends having anxiety problems. I really understood this when some of them came to me (after I already launched the cordless phone) and said – “Why don’t you make just a simple mobile phone”? These are some early signs that people are getting a reality check.

(…)

How do you market your mobile phone?

We certainly market it as ‘take your life back’ or ‘get the conversation back’ device. But we don’t want to say how and when people should use it, there are several different options. I use it to make calls and a phone that can be always on, even after office hours. The phone helps me define when I work and when I don’t.

Does that mean that only your friends and family have access to this phone?

This is where the next step comes in. I have one number for my professional life and one for my private life. What I do is take my smartphone when I travel and forward that number to my Punkt. phone. So all my calls will go there, but during the weekend I will just switch off that call forwarding, so I don’t receive professional calls over the weekend. I try to keep a balance between my working and private hours and my phone helps me do that. The nice thing about the phone conversation is that you get things done, because you get an immediate response and understanding. Meanwhile, when you email someone, your message will just sit there and only when it comes back, you understand how people understood you. A spoken conversation makes a big difference.

I do believe in conversations. A lot of people though don’t know how to talk anymore. 

It’s true. We are very fond of the writer Sherry Turkle and her books, in which she touches upon technology and conversation. Her first book was about technology, the greatest thing on earth, in the the second one she was starting to see that maybe there are some issues with the importance of technology, the third was about what is really happening with the way we communicate, from toddlers to teenagers. She notices how so many young people don’t know how to talk. I do lectures at universities, which I like a lot, and the first thing I say to my students is „Switch off all your phones”. If you want me to travel from Florence to Milan or to London to have a lecture, you might as well respect me by switching off your phone.

So, do you feel like you are launching a revolution or like you’re a part of an evolution?

Well, there’s the business side of course, but the bigger picture is the purpose. I feel it’s not a revolution, it’s too big a word, but I’m a preacher of an important issue. And I’m just one of several preachers, except rather than writing books I make products. I love technology but I’m in disagreement with the current evolution of technology. For me it’s all about making a public dialogue about the issues we are facing sociologically. Technology is a serious sociological issue.

(…)

My last question to you is what is your most valuable material possession and why?

I don’t know. You know, my father is a collector – as a result, one of the things I really don’t want to happen to me is to be owned by objects. There’s nothing really that I would have to rescue from a burning house.

And it wouldn’t be the phone?

I couldn’t say that, could I? You know, these phones are my children, so I’m so fond of them. We only make things that we think are important, we don’t make crap. We only design things that we believe add value and are something that should lasts for a very long time. I’m very fond of my fixed line phone – every time I come to the office and I see the phone, that was launched already 4 years ago, it continues to grow on me how beautiful an object it is.

So, La vita e bella for Punkt., si?

La vita a veramente bella, salute!

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Special thanks to Petter Neby, for an enjoyable and inspiring conversation.

Photo credits: Punkt.

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