In the words of Canadian illusionist Doug Henning, “the art of a magician is to create wonder” for a sense of wonder fills us with joy. Evoking a sense of wonder is by no means solely the prerogative of magicians - many artists and designers aim at exactly that and Ben Storms is one of them. The Antwerp-based Belgian designer loves pushing the boundaries of materials to create mind-bending yet functional design pieces that question common notions. Does marble and steel always have to look heavy and hard? According to Storms and his series of sculptural tables and mirrors the answer is a resounding no: marble can appear as light as a pillow and steel as soft as a fabric. “By creating shapes that verge on the impossible”, he explains, “I confuse the viewers, make them lose their balance briefly, and stimulate them to look at familiar materials with a fresh eye.” Combining age-old traditional techniques with cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, the designer’s creation process is just as paradoxical as his impossible-looking works.
“In Vein”, Storms’ first expectation-defying creation which he designed as part of a design course, manages to encapsulate the subversive boldness of his practice. Taking the form of a trestle table, “the mother of all tables” as the designer explains, it consists of an ultrathin four-millimetre-thick marble table top resting on slender trestles, “something you don’t do with marble plates because it would normally break” as he says. The piece not only challenges marble’s association with solidity and weight, it also defies the very concept of the table as when one turns the table top around and places it against a wall, it doubles as a mirroring sculptural object.
Undoubtedly his most awe-inspiring design, “In Hale” is a monumental coffee table consisting of a massive piece of marble that floats on top of a metal cushion. Crafted in various versions (rectangular or circular marble tops can be paired with copper, brass or stainless steel bases), the piece is the product of creative ingenuity as much innovative craftsmanship. Sourced from leftovers, the marble slab is polished on top but otherwise kept as found, its rough and unpolished finish revealing the material’s natural beauty as well as hinting at the table’s inspiration – Storms came up with the idea while looking at a discarded piece of marble. For the steel base, the designer uses a hydroforming technique whereby two sheets of metal are welded together and injected with high-pressure air to create a three-dimensional cushion which is then sculpted in order to fit the marble slab’s underside and filled with foam.
The paradoxical concept of the same metal pillow is echoed in the fittingly named “Ex Hale”, this time a marble table taking the form of a monumental cushion. Using the same hydroforming technique, a metal cushion is first crafted and then scanned in 3D, allowing a CNC machine to mill the same shape from a block of marble. Also functioning as a coffee table, the marble cushion nevertheless looks soft and comfy thereby making you think twice before putting your coffee cup on it.
Storm’s affinity for illusory cushion-shaped objects ultimately finds its climax in “Twin Mirrors”, two identically shaped, wall-mounted and inflated mirrors, one in stainless steel, the other in Noir de Mazy marble, an exquisite Belgian marble known for its deep black colouration. Using the aforementioned techniques, the piece is a paradigm of cutting-edge manufacturing whilst at the same time it’s also the product of laborious and time-consuming craftsmanship: the marble is sanded and polished by hand, a process that takes days. The mirrors’ mind-bending forms are complemented by the distorting reflections. Seemingly unsatisfied with undermining our perception of materials such as marble and steel, Storm’s unending quest is to challenge our perception of reality in his ongoing endeavour to evoke a sense of wonder.