“Authenticity is absent in our lives and from design, for sure.”
Harsh? Maybe. Typically Michael Anastassiades? Absolutely.
The London-based designer isn’t one to react to trends or get caught-up in the world of social media. As demonstrated by the above one-liner, his life philosophy is as honest and fluff-free as his reductionist designs. In short, expect (well-proportioned) fireworks when the sculptural lighting specialist presents at Design Circus, the much-respected annual design event that brings industry big-hitters to Perth to talk candidly and openly about their careers.
For Anastassiades, this career began with studying civil engineering at London’s Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine. After getting his masters in Industrial Design from the Royal College of Art, he took his first steps in the world of design. Since establishing his eponymous design studio in 1994, he’s collaborated with names such as furniture brand Herman Miller and lighting specialists FLOS. His work can be found in the permanent collections of museums such as MoMA (New York) and V&A (London), plus his designs have been exhibited in Vienna, Stockholm, Belgium, Istanbul and his birthplace, Cyprus.
He takes time out of preparing for Design Circus to talk with Broadsheet about the past, present and future of design.
Michael Anastassiades: “The quality of light in Australia is phenomenal. I didn’t expect that. As a lighting designer, my favourite thing is, of course, natural light, so to experience natural light in such a beautiful way is phenomenal. I think everything in your life inspires you to design something. The fact that it’s nature is just overwhelming and there’s an abundance of it in this part of the world. Living in a big city in London, you can feel a bit trapped. It’s not easy to get out of the city and into the countryside. Here you’re in the wild and the city, and then in 15 minutes you’re at the beach and the most incredible places.
“Everything I’ve done in my life has been out of a process of elimination. I always tried many things in order to realise that this is not what I wanted to do. I guess it’s a very slow process of finding out what you really want to do with your life. At the end of the day it’s a good thing because the slower process makes you more mature in your decisions and how you make things happen for yourself.
“I ran away from engineering. I realised halfway through that it’s not something I wanted to do, so I graduated as I wanted to complete it. I always come with the mindset that you always have to do what you set your mind to rather than stop. Then years later I see my work and it has an engineering reference, so really, I think that you can’t run away from anything that you do in life. It’s all experience, whether it’s your education, your training or visiting places. Everything affects the way you think and everything affects the way you design.
“I never really felt my career had any breakthroughs, it’s always been slow with me. Then one day I woke up and I realised that more and more people were aware of what I do and know my work, which was flattering. Obviously in the last few years certain collaborations that I’ve done are more widely acknowledged because of the brands that I design for, like FLOS for example. They are big companies so they have a very different way of operating and they have a way of spreading your name out there. I think FLOS has been an interesting meeting for me, a turning point. But, I prefer the slower way of doing things and getting from A to B because it’s more thoughtful and considerate. You do things because you want to do things, not because it’s a reaction.
“The early pieces are quite important for me because they were the first pieces that I tried to test myself with and they are quite significant. The pieces that I have developed in my collection are things that, in my mind, are uncompromised because I had full freedom to do what I wanted to do. This is why I started my brand, because I wanted to make things in the most uncompromised way.
“The future? I don’t know, designers need to ask themselves that question. Where do they see design? Unfortunately, it’s a fast design culture and everyone is interested in speed and making money and creating things, but without any reason behind it, just to consume. It’s definitely not going in a nice and interesting way and there’s only very few people today that are thoughtful in the things they produce.
“In this world of social media everything is about this instant image and how impactful this image is to attract attention. Everyone is dying to attract attention and their lives are assessed by how many likes they have on a picture on Instagram or Facebook. I find the whole culture a bit sad because everyone has become a victim of an image and everything that we surround ourselves with is about how our lives and how people look through these experiences in images
“It isn’t about the quality of the object itself anymore, it’s about if the object photographs well in relation to me. It’s interesting that the design industry reacts to that by creating objects that are superficial. There are very few companies that go beyond that.
“Even if you look at how designers operate, they design something that will become a prop for photography, so things aren’t real anymore. It’s a prop for a picture and, sadly, this is what the speed of culture has brought us to. When it comes to originality, they see it as how they compare to everyone else? How can I get more attention than this person or that person? Nothing is authentic anymore. Authenticity is absent in our lives and from design, for sure.
Act One – Michael Anastassiades is on Monday December 18 at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia. Tickets are $35 and all proceeds will be donated to charity. Tickets are available online. Supplementing the talk will be a Mobilia & Friends x Caesarstone collaboration featuring local art and furniture inspired by Anastassiades’s work. The works will be exhibited at COMO The Treasury in February 2018.