With its fully furnished interior space fitted-out in overstuffed cowhide, and an exterior clad in poly-carbonate panels Jimenez Lai’s White Elephant (Privately Soft) operates as both a free standing mini-building and as maxi-furniture. It’s “Super–Furniture” as Lai, a Taiwanese–born, Canadian architect and designer explains in a Kickstarter video that features the White Elephant (Time-lapse footage of an assembly and installation of the work begins at 1:24).
Lai established three criteria at the onset for the White Elephant (Privately Soft) installation: 1. A building withing a building; 2. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside; and 3. Multiple orientations.
There is no fixed orientation for the work; the form allows for the piece to flip and tumble into eight different viable positions. So that’s ✓✓ and ✓.
The MoMA installation of White Elephant (Privately Soft) also includes a seven page architectural graphic novella with an imaging of the how such a sheltering structure might come to be. No stranger to the graphic novel, Lai is the founder of Bureau Spectacular, an online studio given to fanciful architecture and design narratives and imaginings.
As kids, most of us built all manner of marvelous makeshift tents and forts. In my neighborhood and at my house we built them both indoors and outside. They were all pretty spectacular, but it was the indoor tents, constructed along the back of a sofa or using the dining and kitchen chairs with every couch cushion, pillow and blanket we could find—or were allowed to use—that ruled. Looking at the White Elephant I like to imagine if were to jump inside the installation—which of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t since this is a museum object and everyone knows that’s an absolute taboo—but if I could…and if someone were to set it cartwheeling…. I imagine I might easily get tumbled way back to one of our brilliant living-room, “super-furniture” forts.
The White Elephant is currently installed in the Performative Architecture section of the exhibition Conceptions of Space: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Architecture, on view through October 19.