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Tree-ness, Dean Brown. Photography by Federcio Floriani
11th August 2017

Water: Q&A with Dean Brown

As the elephant-brained among you will remember from the school science lab (or from time pondering the peculiar geometries of a straw in a G&T), when light travels from air into water, it slows down and starts to bend. It’s this quirk of physics that designer Dean Brown is aiming to replicate as part of Water, a week-long group show exploring the potential of H2O during this September’s London Design Festival. 

Dean Brown is one of thirteen designers who will present aqua-related objects and concepts range from philanthropic water-gifting robots to blueprints (and footage from) an underwater camera made from household objects. Responding to the theme himself, Dean has built on his penchant (and expertise) in glassware to simulate the bizarre optics caused by the refractive power of water without a drop in sight.

Originally from Scotland but now based in London, Dean’s output spans a multitude of different disciplines, from tiny, delicate objects to spectacular multi-storey retail installations. He’s designed porcelain vases that demonstrate how the glazing process works, a flat-pack Museum that has travelled the world from Milan and Helsinki to Beijing and Hong Kong and has just completed his second collaboration on a new design destination in an Austrian castle. 

Formerly a senior consultant at Italian ideas hotbed Fabrica, Dean’s practice also has a well-feathered research wing, from translating John Ruskin essays into guides for contemporary making to creating furniture concepts that blend online and offline identities. He’s now a member of the similarly thought-provoking Interaction Research Studio at Goldmiths, which has also contributed to the Water show. With LDF approaching faster than a school of shark-chased minnows, we caught up with Dean to chat about his mind- and light-bending project, called Reflections.
Designer, Dean Brown. Photography by Marco Zanin (Fabrica)
Tell us a little bit about Reflections…

The project is fundamentally about presenting an object and the mirror image of the object as if it was refracted in water. As with a lot of my work, it’s going to be something that walks the line between functional products and an installation that uses objects to communicate a theme – in this case the optical effects of water.
A Matter of Colour, Sevres Vase by Dean Brown. Photography by Gerard Jonca (Sevres)
What’s your take on the brief?

The collection opens up a scenario where the effects of water are felt, without any water being present. It’s really celebrating the qualities and behaviour of water. It deals with the doubling of objects – you have the thing itself and its watery effigy. It’s interesting and slightly mind-boggling to think about not only designing the piece but also its reflected counterpart. Some of the items will be found objects, so there I’m not designing the object itself but purposefully seeking things out to design ‘a reflection’ to accompany an existing thing. In doing so I’ll completely change its presence and meaning. It’s a fantastic brief. 
Reservoir Rug by Dean Brown (Fabrica). Photography by Paul Graves
How will you make Reflections?

I’m currently doing a lot of tests involving glass blowing, laser cutting, metal folding and wood turning. The overall effect will be an eclectic palette of materials coming together to bring form and definition to an otherwise non-existent water surface. 

What will be the life of the products after the show?

They will be available to buy as editions, with prices on request. They are positioned as surreal, playful objects for a gallery context, so ideally they find they will find their way into Mint Gallery or SEEDS, or they could also be a starting point for a Milan exhibition in 2018. The collection also lends itself to sight-specific variations for interior commissions.
Transit Vases by Dean Brown
Visit Water at Copeland Gallery from 19 – 24 September. For more info visit www.waterexhibition.co.uk 
Reflections, work in progress.
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