Along the Lines of Happiness is a unique experiment between artist Laura Ellen Bacon and furniture maker Sebastian Cox to challenge the versatility and properties of some exceptional but underutilised U.S. hardwoods: American soft maple, American cherry and American red oak.
In an evolution of The Invisible Store of Happiness, a project created for Clerkenwell Design Week 2015 and initiated by the American Hardwood Export Council, Along the Lines of Happiness will be presented in Italy for the first time and will evolve on site into a very expressive form.
Bacon and Cox will literally open the borders of the installation in a live performance that will take place during Salone del Mobile, at the Porticato Largo Richini at University Estatale of Milan during Interni Open Borders (11th to 23rd April 2016).
On 19 May 2015, the Invisible Store of Happiness by Sebastian Cox and Laura Ellen Bacon was installed in the archway of Order of Saint John in Clerkenwell, and after months of thinking, designing and making.
But in some ways, even though the project is technically complete, this is just the beginning. The role of the installation, in the words of AHEC’s marketing director David Venables, is to “inform the debate,” which for David is more about provoking questions than providing answers. “It should make people think: ‘How did they do that?’ or ‘What on earth is this?,’ he said. “I love it because I can still hear all the questions people were asking: ‘How long is it going to be here for?’ ‘What sort wood is that?’ and ‘Who made this?’”
“I don’t think my job is to make people buy more American hardwood,” he said. “I think my job is to create an environment where people are choosing to use American hardwood because of a better understanding of the materials.” That understanding encompasses everything from craftsmanship to environmental concerns.
They say it takes a village, and despite Sebastian Cox and Laura Ellen Bacon being the lead designers on the Invisible Store of Happiness project, they’re by no means the only people making it happen.
“Everybody ready?” Cox asks. “Ready” replies Jo Weaden. “Ready,” says George Mead. “Ready,” yell Becky McGowan, Kate Finlay and Jack Huberry in unison. “Laura?” he prompts. “Ready,” she replies.
Cox pops open a small door and pulls a 2.4m length of steaming hot cherry wood onto his shoulder, moving quickly towards his team. Together they position it into the jig. “One, two, three,” says Cox and they bend the now pliable wood around a specially made form. Within a matter of seconds G-clamps are holding it in place as it starts to cool.
Laura Ellen Bacon is a sculptor. Sebastian Cox is a furniture designer. Laura sketches in 6B pencil. Sebastian uses a 2H, or a computer. For Laura, the form and scale of a piece dictate the material. Sebastian designs objects that make best use of his material. Laura’s creative process starts with the space she’s designing for. Sebastian rarely knows where his work will end up. Laura works with her hands, often using willow because of how it feels in her fingers. Sebastian uses machines, and even when he’s making by hand there’s a tool between his hands and the wood.
What these two very different designers do have in common is a love of wood, and a love of making. “Every maker derives such a lot of joy from the making process,” says Laura. “That shows in your work – it has a fullness to it. Everything you make has an invisible store of happiness hidden inside it. We poured over ideas for months, but in the end that’s what it came down to.” So the seed for the Invisible Store of Happiness was sown.
Furniture designer Sebastian Cox is passionate about English coppiced hazel. So he’s perhaps not the obvious choice for the American Export Hardwood Council (AHEC)’s installation for Clerkenwell Design Week. But then AHEC aren’t known for making obvious choices. Their installation for the 2013 London Design Festival – designed by dRMM as an investigation into the structural properties of hardwood – was an Escher-inspired Endless Stair.
What excites Cox about coppiced hazel is its sustainability. Coppicing involves felling trees every 14 years. They regrow and, as long as they are coppiced, will never die of old age. But it’s also about giving value to an underused resource. One fourteenth of the wood is cut every year, so there are always trees at every stage of regrowth. British woodlands were managed in this way for thousands of years, so whole ecosystems of plants, insects and birds evolved to live in these unique habitats. A decline in coppicing due to the falling value of the timber is threatening these species. “My motivation is putting money back into the woods by making objects that people want to buy,” said Cox.