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!