A collective surviving through punk
Two years ago, Sint-Niklaas-based designer Nicolas Erauw built his own machine, called TONK!, and developed a fresh way of working which combines two oldschool techniques: candle-dipping and casting. His shiny yet vigorous objects are bringing him to the attention of the rarefied echelons of the design world.
Interview by Louise Souvagie
Photos by Tatjana Henderieckx, shot in Sint-Niklaas
Being in touch with a material is very important, I like things brutal
What are your designs based on?
My ideas often stem from basic objects or techniques. I was trained as a furniture designer so I’m very much used to working from the ‘form follows function’ mindset. However, the more I make, the more I try to deviate from this initial approach. Lately, I get inspired by a lot of shapes on the streets, like concrete sewer pipes.
Does the explicit visual character of your objects come from the techniques you use?
Yes, mostly. The machine I work with has a set of limitations that I have to keep in mind while creating. I always start with designing the separate basic components of the shape I want to make. For each part I draw vertical constructions with strings, as I learned that dipping works best with vertical string setups. Then I drop the string constructions in a bath of hot wax. Once they’ve reached the right width, I take them out of the machine and bend the wax before it cools and sets. People from a bronze foundry in Oostakker put the structures in a plaster cast which goes into an oven. The wax melts and aluminium is cast into the void. Finally I polish all the casted components and assemble them into an object.
What attracted you initially to making furniture pieces?
I initiated my interior design studies at a point in my life when I really wanted to go back to physical labour. Being in touch with a material was very important. I like things brutal. The designers who inspire me distinguish themselves not through a specific aesthetic but through their common interest for manual craft.
Who are those designers?
For example, Anton Alvarez, who I interned with in Sweden. He also builds machines for his designs and that really sparked my enthusiasm to make my own.
There’s this interesting tension in your work between on the one hand the machine, which stands for reproducibility, and on the other hand, the interest in manual work and the individuality of each of your works.
Indeed, each piece is unique. The machine allows me to make similar objects which serve the same purpose while still remaining completely unique. It’s a way of working that sometimes makes me more of a sculptor.
The designers who inspire me distinguish themselves not through a specific aesthetic but through their common interest for manual craft
How did you experience the transition from the safe environment of school to the art and interior design scene in the outside world?
I calmly kept developing my works and technique. You need to have faith for a while. It’s a whole new world you’re stepping into. Social media is a big help. It makes it more easy to spread your work or to connect with fellow designers, gallerists etc. For example, my collaboration with the new Antwerp-based Everyday Gallery started from a conversation on Instagram with founder Boris Devis. It resulted in a fun group show with a lot of talented young designers.
What other projects can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m looking for a new way of working which could translate my fascination with the marble carvers of Carrara to a project with a cheaper and modern material. Besides that, I will keep on perfecting my machine. I’m hoping to find possibilities to build bigger and more complex structures.