2005
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The fourth dimension of wood

Tibor Uhrín: Vessels from branches, 2005Tibor Uhrín shared with us some of his thoughts about wood in our previous magazine issues including its methods of processing and how a utilitarian and attractive object can be formed from this material. He documented his opinions mainly on artefacts and the products of a variety of designers. His words, however, reveal he is not only a thoughtful person but also a very experienced practitioner who has tried out the content of his ideas, and that wood is a very well-known phenomenon for him.

It may therefore sound surprising that his diploma work at the Department of Design of Slovak Technical University in Bratislava in 1989 took the topic of the robot, and he was focused on innovations of only technical solutions. This study of machines and the relationship of function and design were, however, also useful for a future specialist in the traditional technologies of wood processing, and possibly this is why Tibor Uhrín is so open to experiment with design while preserving the purity of classical technology. He says that he was then already interested in the possibility of impacting things to a deeper level, focusing on an issue with concentration, understanding the connections, and consulting with people. He is able to join the responsibilities of head of the Department of Design at the Faculty of Art of the Technical University in Košice and at the same time deepen his understanding of material, processing and the use of wood. The following interview will present Tibor Uhrín as a designer, wood connoisseur and explorer...

One can discover a specific uniqueness in every type of wood. I do not like using beech as I regarded it as a less interesting wood, but when I think about it, the whole production of the Thonet Company is built on beech wood, and we know how successful they were. It is not difficult to interchange woods and possibly even use exotic ones, but I hardly ever use them. The beauty is in its charm, in the soft structure of the wood … I like our woods. We have a wide range of them, starting from the softest to the hardest but what we do not have are the border types in hardness such as, for example, very hard palisander. Our hardest wood, even though it is not original, is common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) – this little bush can last up to hundred years as it is so thick. Recently I discovered that working with bent wood, a wood that nobody is interested in, is that it is very interesting to make, for example, various parts of tools or furniture. I have now started to pay attention to this phenomenon.

“Pôvabničky” – are small vessels created from branches. I was always sure that the best wood to use is straight. But I was naïve since I thought I would cut them horizontally and then bend them. These wooden tubes broke when I tried to bend them, and then I tried to stretch and straighten them or drill them, but none of these methods led to success. Then the last possibility came to me – to take a bent branch and drill it from both sides. To finish the final shape of a hole I used a super slim knife that I bought in Sweden and which can be used for working with wet wood such as maple similarly to a potato. When the half finished product is ready, I clean up the bark and ends and that’s it. Maple is great because of the fact that it does not break and it is very easy to work with.

I obtained some initial experience in Sweden where the natives naturally use techniques that ceased to exist a long time ago in our country. Here I discovered the fourth dimension of wood – bending it. Ever since then I have been dreaming about bending wood. Really, when wood is bent it is a similar feeling as when someone rides a bicycle for the first time – when it happens it is a miracle, a new experience. When wood is bent, it is bent against a form – similarly to some thermal plastics. I did not even believe that it is possible to do this in domestic conditions with primitive equipment. I started to experiment with various types of wood. At the place where I used to live there were abandoned houses and gardens – I obtained many interesting woods from there. It is a technique where one needs to wait for five years until the wood dries – you cut it and pour hot water over it. You need to wait to bend it until the wood changes its characteristics. I learnt this continuously. Working with green wood is an independent discipline, and there are turners that work only with green wood. It has many advantages: there is no dust, the machine does not get hot, and the wood is much softer. However, drying it and finishing it is the real art. There are many tricks to it; however, sometimes it takes years to discover them.

Authentically made objects were created as if by one breath and with a skill and a certain impreciseness, and the reason for the object gives it its own value. Products in ÚĽUV’s catalogue are freshly made according to traditional technologies. I prefer my own methods. Similarly, if I can become inspired by a technology, I will not fight it but will instead preserve it. Naturally there are techniques that cannot be replaced that consider the surface, for example work with an axe or knife. But in many cases it is not necessary to copy it exactly. There are things that can be innovated, for example shepherd’s mugs, and their function will not change with new processes. May be they would be even more attractive in our households nowadays.

Well, it will be hard to filter out all of those learnt and heard praises for wood so I can express what really fascinates me. It is hard for me to see wood the same way as an ordinary consumer. I perceive it as a whole, its creation, smell, sound, mistakes and all those physical and chemical characteristics and possibilities for processing it. However, it would be hard to sing the praises of a pile of fire wood in a woodshed. It takes on its human dimension only after being processed by a human. But not all that glitters is gold! Even a perfectly processed wooden object does not necessarily have the right feel. Frequently, the connection between good craft, design, spontaneity and individualism is missing. That is what fascinates me most about old wooden objects. And also a sign of past time.

 

 


 

Further articles in the magazine Craft, Art, Design 04/2005:

 

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