Stuart Haygarth first made waves as a designer—–and gained a reputation as something of a pickup artist, too—–in 2005 when he unveiled a quartet of over-the-top chandeliers at Designers-block London, an annual three-day design event. Cruising beaches, discount bins, and flea markets, he assiduously collects, categorizes, and arranges the unremarkable remainders of mass consumption into creations greater than the sum of their individually insignificant parts. Haygarth’s highly personal Tide chandelier—–a five-foot-diameter, candy-colored explosion of individually hung found objects—–attracted widespread attention upon its debut and serves as an apt introduction to the uniquely painstaking process that shapes his work.
"Maybe once a month, I would walk my dog along Dungeness beach in Kent, about two hours from London, and I just started collecting the manmade things I found along the way," he recalls. "I have lots of fond memories of walking along the coastlines of Europe and picking up pieces of plastic." Haygarth’s habitual beachcombing gave rise to his Dungeness Project, an ongoing work from which he selects the items used in pieces like the Tide chandelier and Tide Mark, a chromatic spread of neatly organized wall-mounted objects. "It’s an archive of what gets washed up on the beach, really, and of the amazing amount of stuff that gets manufactured in the world these days," he explains. "The Tide chandelier is made using all these different objects that are united by their translucency, where they were found, their overall aesthetic." Its shape is a reference, he says, to the moon and its role in delivering such oceangoing debris to shore.
Haygarth had a predilection for collecting even as a boy: "I guess from a young age I collected things that interested me—–picked up bizarre things from the street, put them in boxes, or took them to my room." After receiving a BA in graphic design and photography from Exeter College of Art & Design, he worked as a photographic assistant before establishing himself as a freelance photographic illustrator. It was during this period that his harmless hobby of collecting began to take on a growing, though well-mannered, life of its own.
"I needed to have an archive of objects in my studio that I could use if I got a commission from a magazine to illustrate something," he explains. "I would go out looking for specific things that could tell a story. But if I was at a flea market or charity shop and saw something that, for whatever reason, really interested me, I’d pick it up or buy it, take it back to the studio, and put it in a little box." Even after 15 years of scavenging, Haygarth’s studio is a meticulously organized archive of clearly labeled crates, boxes, and bins containing all manner of material: eyeglasses, lampshades, countless confiscated carry-on items. He traces such tidiness to a uniquely ordered personality—–he finds the act of sorting thousands upon thousands of items "therapeutic"—–and describes creating order out of chaos as being an important and satisfying element of his work.
Artists may bristle at being referred to as designers—–and vice versa—–but Haygarth is comfortable blurring the distinctions between functional and sculptural. "I’m quite happy in that kind of no-man’s-land," he says. "You can make lighting out of anything, but you have to dig deeper and have a strong narrative in order to create a successful piece of art. The final work should make the viewer think about the objects, whom they belonged to, and why they came to look like this."
Haygarth’s efforts often result in pieces that convey not just a physical narrative but a temporal one as well. The Millennium chandelier, which was completed in 2004, is an example of his skill at elevating banal detritus—–in this case, 1,000 plastic party poppers collected after London’s 2000 New Year’s celebrations—–to a more meaningful position. "I went for a walk near the Thames before work, where all the partying had been the night before," he says, "and I came upon a sea of colorful plastic party poppers and thought it was quite interesting that they represented a very important historical moment." Knowing he could use them for something, though not what, he stored the harvested poppers in his studio for safekeeping. They remained there for several years before he felt suitably inspired to revisit the party with a Chinese lantern–like chandelier.
He’s been referred to as "the poster boy for the green design movement," but Haygarth finds such labels inaccurate. As he explains: "I didn’t set out to be an eco-designer. I think the eco-friendliness of my work is basically a healthy by-product of where I find much of my inspiration: from found objects that have already had a life."
Going forward, Haygarth would like to focus more on purely sculptural work like the three pieces recently installed at London department store Selfridges’ new boutique, the Wonder Room. Hanging offshoots of his Dungeness Project, Barnacle (Black) and Barnacle (White) look like deep-sea relics from the future, while Harpoon 321, is made entirely of reddish-orange rubber fishing gloves arranged to resemble a 1,500-fingered sea anemone. With similar intentions, he’s collected broken vehicle side mirrors for years and is drawn to the "life in the fast lane" narrative they suggest. He also happens to think they look quite jewel-like after being run over a number of times.
Not surprisingly, Haygarth—–with his photographer’s eye, archaeologist’s patience, and archivist’s organizational skills—–has no shortage of objects with which to create, though he envisions mind-numbing laboriousness to play a lesser role in the future. The one thing he finds harder to hoard is time to catch up on existing work and to explore new ideas. When faced with 1,000 plastic party poppers in need of careful hanging, every minute counts.
Michael is an associate editor at Dwell. With a background in art and design, he has high hopes that this gig will help legitimize his obsession with all things aesthetic.