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July 4, 2014

British artist and designer Tom Price discusses his ‘Meltdown’ pieces

British designer Tom Price’s “Meltdown Chair” (2008), made by applying a heated seat form to a mass of polyvinyl chloride tubing, can be seen in Gallery L6 in the Bloch Building at Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Sculptor or designer? London-based Tom Price, 40, straddles both categories. This summer, he’s showcasing his fine art side in the exhibit “Presence & Absence: New Works by Tom Price” in the Bloch Building Project Space at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (see Sunday’s A+E section for a story about his exhibit).

A design piece by Price has been part of the museum’s collection since 2012, after a Kansas City collector, now living in Los Angeles, bought one of Price’s well-known “Meltdown Chairs” at the Design Miami 2011 fair and gave it to the Nelson.

“Meltdown Chair” (2008), created from polyvinyl chloride tubing (see video below), can be seen in Gallery L6 in the Bloch Building. With Price in town to install his Project Space exhibition, it seemed like a good time to find out more about his signature chairs. There are two in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg also owns one.

Where did the idea for the “Meltdown Chairs” come from?

It started when I was playing with a length of plastic rope. I was interested in the way you can melt one part and transform its properties from something soft and flexible to rigid and smooth, and how a simple intervention with heat can transform a familiar object.

The series is about what material does when you impose heat and re-form it.

What’s the process?

I create a bundle of material — in the case of the Nelson piece, by knotting and weaving polyvinyl chloride tubing — and I have a metal chair former (seat form) that gets heated from inside that I place on top of the mass, and it slowly melts down. The seat shape is based on an Eames bucket seat.

Had you done chairs before?

Prior to the “Meltdown” series I took a more conventional approach, designing a chair on a piece of paper and measuring everything. Then I started working more experimentally and bringing sculpture into design. The “Meltdown” series was a shift, bringing in an element of chance. I use chance as a means of going beyond the limits of my imagination.

How many “Meltdown” chairs have you done?

There are typologies. There are 12 types, and each one was done in a limited number. There’s eight, for instance, in the PVC hose edition.

What other materials did you use?

Polypropylene tubing. Zip ties — I tied 10,000 of them into a big ball. Polypropylene sheeting, which I scrunched up like crumpled paper. I did three chairs from polyester fleece clothing. I’ve used woven plastic rugs and pink plastic bags. The first one was blue polypropylene rope. I also made a bronze cast of a melted plastic one.

Are they functional?

It was important to me coming from a design background that they can support a person’s weight. The Nelson’s chair is the most comfortable because it has a lot of elasticity.

You’ve also done “Meltdown” bowls?

The bowls were a commission for a hotel in Dubai. I did 90 bowls for table centerpieces. They’re all made from a high-grade polypropylene rope. The Dubai bowls are red. I’ve also done them in yellow and petrol blue.

I’ve made tables using polypropylene tubes, and I’ve also made trees from polypropylene tubing. The foliage comes from thousands of cut sections of tubes melted on a large hot plate I made. One tree piece was called “PP Trysting Tree.” It was a commission for Bloomberg in London.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4763 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

Go to www.tom-price.com to see videos of the artist creating a “Meltdown” chair and bowl.

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