When Attitudes Follow Form.

Casey Doran Lewis's Ambiguous Vessels.

"The idea is to produce, produce, produce – without any inherent function in mind," says Casey Doran Lewis. "It's a bit anti-design." During his tenure as a Core77 resident in the Workspace, Lewis has explored a nether-world of designed forms in which the boundaries of an object's formal dimension begin to shade into ambiguities and suggest countervailing ambivalence about any defined purpose. In the past, Lewis has worked at product design firms including Fuseproject and Dror Benshetrit – but in his latest venture he is upending the approach of traditional industrial design – "which generally begins with a function or need, whereas with this I want to see what comes out of it if you provide only form."

Lewis is inspired by strange collisions of obscure ancient artifacts and the articulated skeletons of machined production. He describes ancient Roman ruins discovered during the construction of a McDonald's in Southern France, which were then preserved and offered as glimpses through a transparent floor, and fossils whose preservation has recorded surface tracings that recall the patterns of a modern microchip. (Fellow Workspace members Mogollon, with whom Lewis is exchanging ideas, have a similar interest, their explorations they have dubbed "Neoprimalism.") Lewis is chasing this variety of strangeness, a oneiric aura of objects in which "the future seems to press up against the past."

"You don't really know where this object comes from," he says of one of the images of prehistoric relics. "At the same time, I’m inspired by technical form-language, things that look structural. Though I’m not always altogether interested in what it actually does, I’m interested in bare-bones, industrial forms. Mixing those with forms that have a neolithic or archaic feeling to them. I'm interested in that contrast."

In many ways, his approach to producing these objects encodes them from the beginning with the often opaque particularity of industrial processes. Made en masse on the Workspace's 3D printers, they often evolve through accidental iterations: "I'm finding ways to manipulate the 3D printing process. Using errors in the prints to create new things. For example, when you’re laying down a print, it starts with the build plate, or raft – there's a layer which can be peeled off." The onion-skin quality of the disposable layer became another form. "It’s been interesting to see that, in these failed experiments, some opportunities have arisen. And those failures themselves can have form-language."

This exploratory approach to design made Lewis consider the work of Robert Stadler, the Austrian conceptual designer who recently exhibited a selection of sculptural anti-products at the Noguchi Museum. In a text accompanying his monograph You May Also Like, the Belgian critic Jan Boelen describes Stadler's recondite objects as following from a process of creation that "... simultaneously hides the designer and allows him to function and experiment on a meta-level of physical artifacts."

In contrast to his earlier professional work, Lewis similarly has inverted the equation: "It's as though I've flipped the design process around. You don't really know where this object comes from. When the user looks at them they impose a function." Boelen characterizes Stadler's work through a variety of convolutions of Louis Sullivan's "form follows function" – "form follows the unexpected," or the algorithm, or the position. But in Lewis's project, those things follow from the form – the objects come into existence as vessels, which can contain as many meanings and uses as any number viewer can impose upon them. But at the same time they aren't sculptures: "There's still the feeling that these things are there to be used," he said. "I'm not an artist. Personally, I feel like I sit in the middle of those worlds, so maybe this is sort of an expression of that. The way I see these objects, the user gets to decide, and that gives them a place. And a sense of ownership."