From an essay by Ian Were, Senior Editor at Object Magazine Sydney, Australia 2003.
The design of Scott Branden is fast and furious and full of fun — it’s also thought provoking and well crafted
Scott Branden is a vibrant and astute designer / artist. He’s part of a new breed of artists who are making objects that are bold, accessible and utilitarian. A designer with an artist’s flair and an artist with a background in industrial design and invention. Branden has a lot to say about his work and how it fits into the world. His imagination runs wild; he’s lively to talk to and enthusiastic about life and art. He refers to himself as an ‘Industrial Artist–Environmental Designer’, and calls his current work ‘Electroentomorphics’ — machine creatures and lighting sculptures. They go by names such as LustMite, Astor Bug, Giger snake, Suck lamp, 100% Eros, Organized Fat, and Life Reset Button.
His objects could be described as funky — that is, exciting, pleasurable, human; an up-tempo style such as that which originated on the US west coast in the 1960s as a reaction against the New York style of cool abstract expressionism — but they are a step beyond this.
I first saw Branden’s work in the flesh in ReFurnished — an exhibition of innovative furniture and lighting at the Wollongong City Gallery in mid-2001 — but I had spoken to him about the work he was developing some time before.
Right now Branden is involved in mostly one-off pieces made from recycled materials which frequently embrace humour, satire and more than a little playful eroticism. Utilitarian sculpture really. The sort of stuff that could fit well at Chicago’s ‘Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art’, or maybe even at London’s ‘100% Design’ — 100% Eros would surely fit there. Will he go the next step of short-run production? We shall see. There are many contemporary examples of recycled materials being happily wedded to products made through small-run production. Architect Frank O. Gehry’s 1972 Wiggle side chair out of corrugated cardboard and Schamburg + Alvisse’s 050 series conference chair out of reprocessed plastic from old computer monitors are but two examples from across the spectrum. Ecological and financial concerns have also figured in this way of working, as they surely do with Branden. He tells me later that “LustMite has been produced as a production version in a short-run; very short”, but he wants to re-do this with better economy of scale via a specialised lighting manufacturer.
Branden comes from a different perspective to many others working in the same oeuvre. He says he was an ‘inventor’ from the age of five. “My first invention [in 1963] was a planetary gear system to counter rotate illuminated advertising in a department store”, and he went on to develop a series of innovations over the years: a ‘Surf Bike’ (1975), a water cutting gun for concrete (1985), a ‘Tubular Propeller’ (1987) which reduced cavitation among other benefits, a figure ‘8’ beam shape, three times stronger than a conventional ‘I’ beam (1992), and in 1993 a ‘Leg Brace Orthotic Device’, with an automatic lock and release mechanism providing a natural walking gate — the latter two for Sydney companies. His ideas just proliferated. Coupled with this Branden has been intimately involved in 3D computer–aided design, 3D animation, prototypes and research and development projects for a range of industrial design companies, some linked to his own company ‘3DGurus’ — of which he’s head ‘guru’.
His influences are suitably varied and striking: “The art of growing Bonsai trees gave me an understanding of balance and form; Star Trek because nothing is impossible…” He’s apt to make bold statements: “I aim to challenge the mindsets people have about their world and the things they do and the way they think — that is, a policy of no beige!” A residency at Wollongong City Gallery in 2001 gave him a timely boost. “I had practically stopped bothering to design and invent anything as it was apparent that I was in the wrong country. This combined with the impossibility of owning my own ideas meant I was facing the prospect of putting bristles in toothbrushes as an exciting career alternative.” After becoming involved with ReFurnished and meeting people from the Wollongong Gallery his attitude changed. Never being one to give up, this influence became an inspiration to take on a new career in art.
Branden has strong views about design and the environment. “I detest the waste of both our material resources and existing equipment due to poor design, therefore I want to implement a mandatory modular design ethos to allow repair to our technology by replacing individual components, instead of dumping whole things in holes in the ground as we do.” Branden makes extensive use of thrown away items and their parts such as old VCRs, TVs, radios, and factory machinery in part “to prove the components of these ‘useless’ items were really just fine to go for another few decades if we all just insisted on a modular design…” His objects may involve recycling but only high quality materials are considered.
In this current exhibition Branden’s concepts of creating living ‘creatures’ from the dead and discarded parts of this world have advanced a few steps further from his 2001 work in ReFurnished. Organized Fat is a good example of a ‘creature’ created from the waste and junk in the drains and piping under a city. Its short fat body and machine parts are from discarded materials dumped in our waterways. The Suck lamp, we are told, is about energy usage, apathy and the ignorance of consumers toward alternative power technologies such as magnetic generators and solar power. His Life Reset Button involves a fantasy game, and is best used when things are not going to plan. We are told that the device reads your thoughts about your particular situation and generates repairs to your local time-line to match your current needs. To operate, the user gently places both hands on the big red button and thinks about how their situation needs to change. Once this image is fixed in the user’s mind, and the mind scanning sequence is completed, the button may be depressed. “With an effervescent rush surging through the body the user is propelled into a alternate time-line” explains Branden. “There are two mode settings. The first allows the user to change the existing time-line, and the other creates a new parallel time-line. The latter mode is good for repairing unexpected defects in your life, small things such as avoiding injuries and accidents, car breakdowns, recovering lost items and avoiding people…”
What’s next? In the future Branden says, he’ll add an expanded sci-fi quality to his work, most likely using more electronics, anamatronics and robotics, and making greater use of available manufacturing technologies. He’d love to design for the movie industry, and wants to engage in a project or two with some well-established designers or artists. “There are a thousand concepts waiting to be built and a thousand areas in which to work… lighting right now, but also robotics such as utility and household robots, furniture, specifically seating, as well as designing all the really cool new stuff we don’t yet have that will go with the future.”
Ian Were is Senior Editor at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane.