Malafor are a duo of designers from Gdańsk – Agata Kulik-Pomorska (born 1976) and Paweł Pomorski (born 1974) – who create furniture and other everyday objects with reference to recycling and ecology, giving new meanings to common materials and objects.
The Red Dot Award (commonly known as the design Oscars) they got in 2012 serves as proof of the international recognition of their work. Malafor was awarded for Blow Sofa – a sofa made from inflated recycled paper bags. In 2012, a series of other objects from the Blow collection were presented at the duo’s exhibition in the Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Toruń. Design exhibitions in venues that generally present contemporary art are very rare in Poland, but serve to prove the growing position of Polish design, especially in its conceptual, small-scale form, of which Malafor is a perfect example.
The exhibition was the starting point for Malafor. In 2003 Agata Kulik-Pomorska received the Award of the President of the Republic of Poland (editor’s translation) for the best final art school project for her prototype of a shopping basket for wheelchair users). The award was followed by an offer to present her work in the Królikarnia Palace – a branch of the National Museum in Warsaw. The artist reminisces:
They gave me a year to prepare the exhibition and 100 square metres of space, which was a challenge, as I hardly had anything to show. That’s how my work as a designer started.
In 2004, along with her husband Paweł Pomorski, also an alumnus of the Faculty of Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, founded the Malafor studio – an abbreviation of small laboratory of form (Polish: małe laboratorium formy), an expression often used by Prof. Adam Haupt of their alma mater. The aforementioned exhibition in the Królikarnia included their first projects, among others the two-metre-high Ladder (2004), with a seat on top, inspired by the saying that ones’ point of view depends on where one sits. Pomorska explains:
The piece enables one to see the world from a different perspective.
They decided to produce everyday objects in short series. Their furniture is always simple in form, easy to assemble, and friendly to the environment. Despite such pragmatism, the artists also aspire to artistic concepts. Trunks (2005) is probably their best-known work and proves how versatile a piece of wood can be. These stools made from oak trunks on a shiny steel frame were an instant success. Agata Kulik-Pomorska explains:
Inspired by countryside trunks (seats), we wanted to modernise them in a way which hides their rawness. We used a mirror-like reflective surface and added a practical holder.
A few years later Malafor created a new version of its project. Fire Trunk was created through a natural thermal wood treatment method. The project has three variations – depending on the amount of treatment – 1/3, 2/3 and fully burnt.
The duo not only uses natural materials in their work, but also industrial ones as well. The Pipe Line bookstand is made from cut PVC pipes, later painted and assembled in a pyramid structure. The number of pipes and their configuration is dependent on the user’s preferences. The artists say:
Our idea was to make use of available materials to create something different from what they are normally used for.
The result of their philosophy is also the Second Life collection, in which basic tools are given a second life, i.e., a shovel is transformed into a beach seat (2009). Polish Walking is the artists’ contribution to Nordic walking – they created lightweight plastic profiled handles which can be attached to wooden sticks or easily stored in the user’s pocket. KLAPs – a stool and magazine shelf in one – is also a creative storage idea. The magazines should be stacked between two lapels and compressed with a strap.
Sometimes we create an object for the new functions it entails, but it also happens that the object creates a new function. We take the usefulness of our products very seriously, but allow ourselves to play with the visual concept and general idea.
The aforementioned Blow series serves as an example, where the regular appliance of paper has been modified: it served as a seat and surface for taking notes.
The Blow Extreme collection is a continuation of Blow: a set of three pieces of furniture made from inflated bags in dacron sailcloth covers. Thanks to its durability it proves better suited for outdoor conditions then the previous paper version.
The idea used in Blow can also be seen in the Air series, containing an armchair and three types of stools, all based on the same concept: an inflated pillow placed in a simple oak frame. The Wool & Air series also benefits from the versatility of inflated objects, but has a slightly more cozy touch: the metal frames serve as a contrast to felt pillow covers.
Apart from chairs and stools, Malafor also experiments with tables. Inspired by the theoretical works of Oskar Hansen, they created Table – a countertop with interchangeable boards of different wood treatment. The designers used oak wood, both in its natural and a slightly burnt form. The remaining boards were made using ash and maple wood, resulting in a big variety of colours and textures, allowing the user to compose the countertop according to their liking. The designers were concerned about the local aspect to their products, which is why they only used wood from lumber mills in the Kaszuby region of northern Poland.
Bolo Acoustic Men, shown for the first time in 2008 at the Łódź Design Festival, is one of Malafor’s most striking projects. It is a suspended loudspeaker system from epoxy resin, bearing a visual resemblance to soap bubbles.
The designers also took a look back at Agata’s graduation project. Activ Basket is a grocery basket for wheelchair users. The designers consulted with disabled people, making it truly responsive to their needs, and is compatible with all kinds of wheelchairs. It is at the same time the first product that Malafor created with the idea of mass production in mind. They also launched a website for it: www.activbasket.com. In 2012, Activ Basket won the prestigious IF Design Award. The designers underline:
Although we live and work in Poland, our goal is to reach out to the international market. We think that the connection that we have with the place we work in adds a sense of credibility and quality to our products.
Malafor has taken part in numerous showings of Polish design, like the 2009 Unpolished exhibitions, the Just a Thing exhibition in Berlin, POLyphony – Contemporary Polish Design in Madrid (2011) and at a presentation of Eastern European design in Holon (Israel) in 2012/2013. Their products were also shown at the Polish Pavilion at EXPO 2010 in Shanghai and at the Polish Institute in Budapest (2008). Malafor also won prizes at design fairs and contests abroad: in 2006 they won the Grand Prix at Nagoya Design Do! for Life Alarm (an alarm which sounds when there is a risk of unconsciousness) and the Grand Prix at Targetti Light Art in Florence for Multicube (a cubic light sculpture from LED lights).
The article used fragments of interviews with Agata Kulik-Pomorska published in Discovering Women in Polish Design and issued the Dizajnerki series on DOMO+ (www.domoplus.pl/2010/dizajnerki).
Article originally written by Paulina Kucharska, Jan 2013, translated by WF, Oct 2017.
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