Tobias Wong

A couple of years ago (when ‘the improvised life’ was just an idea), we stumbled on this picture of Tobias Wong‘s file cabinet bed in Reference Library, and bookmarked it, thinking we’d write a post about it someday. It is such a great, direct idea, with many possibilities for implementing in different ways. But we didn’t think then to follow the little link below the photo, to Wong’s website, where we would have seen just what a gifted designer and conceptual artist he was. We discovered this in the saddest way possible: reading in the New York Times of Wong’s recent death at thirty-five.

Wong’s work was very much about mocking the pretensions of “great design” in thoughtful, clever, often angry ways. He famously hacked – and mocked – the work of other designers – to their outrage –  for his creations. He coined the word “paraconceptual” to describe his work. “When I do pull a prank, it’s my means of sending out a conceptual idea. It’s not just laughing at them.” Although he didn’t like being called a designer, all of his work had the grace and harmony of good design, while pushing you to think or experience things in a new way, like his Stoop Installation:

Tobias Wong

“Loose river pebbles were used as the foundation for this stoop design. The pebbles were intentionally chosen for their unsettling quality as customers temporarily lost/shifted their balance upon step (especially those with high-heels which sunk deep into the stones). Thus, causing a minor distraction simulating a ‘cleansing of the palette’ between the exterior and interior space.”

…and his Room Partition made of stacked window fans:

Tobias Wong

“Freestanding and modular with industrial cable ties as fasteners”

…and a one-size-fits-all computer screen cover made from an Issy Miyake dress (with its famously stretchable pleated synthetic fabric):

Tobias Wong

…and capsules filled with silver leaf:

Tobias Wong

“Pure silver passes straight through the body and ends up in your stool – resulting in sparkly shit !

( who says everything has been designed?)

We wish we could ask Wong about his defiance of the idea that if you do what your heart tells you, and stay true to yourself, things will eventually come: “…that’s bullshit,” he told an interviewer. “It’s all about strategies and risks.”

…We’ve often thought that staying true to yourself and doing what your heart tell you IS all about strategies and risk…

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7 replies on “missing tobias wong

  1. (sigh) more cold water. each of these pictures strikes me as clever but dumb. i know – do not speak ill of the dead, but i am just looking at the ideas. maybe these are all suppose to be ‘arty’ and so i don’t ‘get it’ somehow.

    a platform bed on top of ugly filing cabinets – ugh.
    coarse gravel at the entrance to an establishment – lawsuit waiting to happen.
    sixteen fans blowing across a room – my eyes are drying out just looking at it.
    a computer screen cover? – huh, why?
    silver sh*t – eh.
    ok, he got me riled – is that the point?
    sorry, these don’t stir the creative juices in me…

  2. Design can be about nothing more than delight and folly. Each of these projects changes the way I’ve thought about something and encourages me to see it fresh. Thank you for that gift.

  3. We’re glad you’re here reading and commenting Pippin, sharing what you think, even if you don’t like it!

  4. ….What Wong’s visions do for us is inspire our own ideas…like when we first saw Tobias Wong’s filing cabinet bed, and imagined many possibilities, including making fabric panels – a tall squared-off, minimalist bed skirt, for lack of a better description – that could work to disguise the file cabinets…plus nice lighting, bed side shelf/table etc….

  5. I have to say it’s sad to read about a clever, witty, “out of the box” designer who’s no longer among us. I have never heard of the guy until today. His expression in art seems to poke fun and stir controversy, but I still like it because it invokes us to think outside of the “norm”, which we all seem overly loyal to.

    RIP TW

  6. File cabinets as a bed support? I did that in the 80s, except a bit nicer than this, I think. I used flat files instead of file cabinets. My inspiration? Holly Howell from the Photography Gallery in La Jolla, CA. She had a single drawer with a lock built under her bed to store her valuable photographs.

  7. It IS a great idea. There are some that would say the Fung shue would not be good, that the space under a bed should be clear. But how would it be to be sleeping over financial papers and such. But what if you were sleeping over beautiful photographs or art or letters from friends?

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