Monstera Deliciosa: Porky Hefer’s Animal Inspired Works You Can Sit In

You’ve probably seen Porky Hefer’s work before, even if you didn’t know it at the time. Ever taken a selfie in front of one of those expansive yellow structures that perfectly frame Table Mountain, or posed for a photo with the V&A Waterfront’s iconic Coca-Cola crate man?

The truth is that a lot of Porky’s work is exhibited overseas, but with an upcoming solo exhibition on local soil, you’ll have the opportunity to view his larger than life sculptures at the Southern Guild Gallery in Cape Town. Titled Monstera Deliciosa, the exhibition comprises of Porky’s signature hanging nest chairs, this time with an aquatic twist. Viewers will be able to sit in the mouths of killer whales, cute crocodiles, and pelicans as they take in the collection of animal themed leatherworks.

In light of his upcoming exhibition, Porky shared some process sketches of his new works and spoke to us about his childhood days spent travelling South Africa, a crocodile called Eugenie, and how environmentally inspired sculpture and design can have a place in the modern day home.

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This solo exhibition has been a long time coming. How are you feeling about exhibiting to a South African audience again?

I’m excited to see their response. For the last few years my market has mainly been Europe and the US. This might be because the weaker rand makes it attractive and possible for foreigners. But I think it’s important to have support close to home, so hopefully this work will start to win them over.

Your work is both informed by, and representative of South African wildlife and the natural environment. How have your international audiences taken to your work?

I think it’s what sets me apart. Not many people are referencing nature in their work at the moment which is crazy. It’s currently more about production methods that are more eco-friendly or materials that have a lighter footprint. I think my work is a break in the seriousness of most design at the moment. A current trend is work that’s very dark and pretty cold, with a lot of black and hard metals and stone. I want my work to be fun and bring a smile to your face. A lot of it has to do with nostalgia.

Your work in progress, ‘Eugenie’ forms part of a series of animal inspired works. Can you tell us a little about the idea behind the crocodile nest?

My previous animals had been more chairs in their function. I decided to make one long enough for me to stretch out in, and so the Chaise Crocodylus was born. The first sketch was very cute and I basically made that.

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You’ll also be exhibiting killer whale, hippo, and pelican hanging nest seats. What informed the move from birds to water dwelling creatures?

The underwater theme was an extension of suspension. You are suspended in water, for me the roof became the water surface. It’s harder to suspend outdoors as you need a tree or hook of some sort. If your roof is strong enough you can hang anything. So my mind wandered.

Teeth were the first requirements and the angler fish and the hippo exploited this feature. A huge mouth was another requirement. The killer whale and croc were a natural development of this and here I played with harder, sharper teeth. Manta rays have always fascinated me and the pelican is a great bit of design. His beak/throat is a fantastic net for fishing. It’s also very comical.

There is a strong link to the womb when you experience these environments. It’s enclosing and protecting, hiding you from the world. The feeling you get from the pod being suspended rather than stable on the ground is quite amazing. All the animals have female names because of this: Angler fish – Catherine and Dora Esca; crocodylus chaise – Eugenie; killer whale – Fiona Blackfish; hippo – Grace Amphibious; manta – M. Heloise; and the pelican – Pelicanus Iris. The nurturing spirit of the female is so important for creativity and it was my mother who gave me the courage to believe in myself.

My use of leather to create these was informed by the need for a longer lasting material than the organic cane I often use, which is naturally put outside even though this speeds up the degeneration process. With leather, people immediately keep it inside as they want to preserve it and maintain its value.

Kids will see a piece of furniture in the form of an animal and immediately want to jump into it. I imagine that adults would be a bit more hesitant. Are you hoping to appeal to your audience’s playful, childlike side with these pieces?

I haven’t seen a hesitant look yet. You can’t really help feeling childish in front of them. The scale also helps as they are big and you feel smaller. It’s close to the sort of scale that you were to your teddy bear and other toys you had as a small child.

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Previous works like the Coca-Cola crate fan were inspired by Lego and many of your nests resemble the childhood dream of building a tree house in the back yard to hide out in. Is sculpture something you knew you wanted to do since you were a child?

I wasn’t really conscious of that. I spent most of my childhood being dragged around South Africa’s game reserves by my father with the rest of my family. So I guess I was just collecting my inspirations and experiences when I was a child.

With sculpture, texture is integral. How do you go about selecting the materials for a piece?

Materials are definitely of a place, so it’s about picking the most appropriate material for a particular environment. This has to do with availability, sustained supply, tolerance of local conditions, and the skills to work with it. I want to explore this idea further, to investigate materials and craft in other countries to make similar objects with similar functions but with materials and techniques that vary. A nest/cocoon/environment done with kilims in Turkey and one with reed working with the Uros people on lake Titicaca are two on my immediate list.

You spent much of your early career involved in both local and international advertising agencies before you founded Animal Farm and later Porky Hefer Design. What made you take the risk to leave the advertising world to found a start-up creative consultancy?

The corporate process was becoming far more important than the product it produced. I saw far too many brilliant ideas get thrown away and wanted to spend my life making those types of ideas instead.

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Your work ranges from public sculpture and installations, to product and furniture design for the private home space. How do you approach each discipline? Does your public sculpture work inform your furniture design or do you like to keep them separate?

It’s all the same thing. The way you fill a space with an object and the reaction you create is the cool part. It’s about getting involuntary reactions from viewers. I like changing people’s head space.

To many, the link between art and activism isn’t immediately clear. How do you pieces speak to environmental activism?

For me the nests work on many levels. One is that you get children and adults for that matter to play in nature. It usually has a positive effect. It also leads to a far longer conversation about temporary versus permanent architecture. Vernacular architecture is where I believe the future of architecture is. Buildings that have a sense of place and a practicality due to them being so suited to specific environments and usages.

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Many of your public installations have become Cape Town trademarks for both locals and tourists. Would you like to do any similar work in the rest of South Africa or is Cape Town where your heart lies?

I would love to do work all over South Africa but it is difficult to land projects in other towns as there are locals who understand the place better and know the right people to get it done. I believe it is always in your immediate vicinity that you have the most opportunities, because you can see them.

Besides larger than life animals that you can sit in, what else can we expect from your upcoming exhibition?

That’s it I am afraid. But hopefully you will leave with a good dose of inspiration, an appreciation of leathercraft and a big smile on your face. And who knows, perhaps a 2 meter long crocodile chaise lounge under your arm?

Porky’s solo exhibition opens on Friday, 20 November at the Southern Guild Gallery and runs into February 2016. 

See some of his previous projects below, and visit his website for more. 

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