Adam Nathaniel Furman: Building Across the Boundaries

Adam Nathaniel Furman: Building Across the Boundaries

Identity Parade installation, Adam Nathaniel Furman

Identity Parade installation, Adam Nathaniel Furman; Photo: Gareth Gardner

"People in the last couple of years have been asking what I am. Am I an artist? A maker? A ceramist? An architect and interior designer? I think nowadays part of the joy for my generation is that none of those things really apply any more, because of the freedom we get through the tools we learn with." One thing Adam Nathaniel Furman most certainly is, though, is a talker. Open, honest, and positively fizzing with energy, our conversation meanders from the brilliance of the toilets at the Young Vic via the rights and wrongs of the public school system to his admiration for deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. At moments it feels like I’m the interviewee, as he quizzes me on a student production I took to the Edinburgh Festival well over 20 years ago. When I point out this conversation is meant to be about him, he lets out a slightly disappointed groan.

His wildly coloured, 3D-printed ceramic vessels were a highlight of the Crafts Council’s touring exhibition "Space Craft" (at Habitat’s Platform Gallery on the King’s Road throughout May). The eagle-eyed will also have spotted his pieces at last year’s Designers in Residence exhibition at London’s Design Museum. But Furman is no conventional maker. When we meet, he’s just preparing for a new adventure – having won the Rome Prize in Architecture 2014, he’s completing his final week in the architecture side of Ron Arad’s practice, Arad Associates, in anticipation of going to Italy for six months in September.

"I was kind of keen to do something different," he tells me. "I get itchy feet." Born in North London, the 31-year-old comes from an eclectic background. His father was originally from Argentina, while he describes his mother as a "mishmash." "Mum’s sort of Japanese but mixed," he ventures. They met in Israel before moving to London in the late '70s. You get the sense it was a creative household. His brother is a writer, and Furman was obsessed with reading as a child – he still loves poetry and literature, often with three books on the go at a time. A passion for architecture soon developed too. "At nine, I was dragging my parents around London and endlessly talking about Denys Lasdun," he giggles. But it was the more garish commercial Postmodernism of Terry Farrell that really caught his eye. "Farrell was basically my god as a kid," he says emphatically.

Interestingly though, he didn’t initially go to architecture school, and instead did the foundation course at Central St Martins. It wasn’t an altogether happy experience, but one element of the course he did enjoy was Spatial Design, and his tutor, Saskia Lewis, encouraged him to enrol at the Architectural Association. This turned out to be a revelation from the outset. Looking back now, he’s happy to confess: "I am a product of the units I went through, 100 percent."

Having spent time at the offices of OMA in Rotterdam and Ash Sakula, Furman joined Arad Associates in 2012 (after several applications). It’s an interesting choice because Arad too refuses to fit into a simple category. Making has also been vital to his practice. Apparently, though, it was the "childish wilfulness" behind Arad’s work that appealed. Throughout this time, Furman had also been developing a minor obsession with ceramics, initially though a significant collecting habit. "The more I discovered the more enchanting it became," he says. "All aspects of human endeavour seemed swept up in this little material."

Eventually this led to producing his own stuff, often by 3D printing – a tool, he discovered, with its own set of limitations. "When you print, it’s very powdery and porous, and the binding agent’s mixed in with the powder," he explains. "You end up with an extremely, light low-density clay, kind of like the shittiest terracotta you can imagine. Everything has to be much thicker than it would otherwise be, if it were slip-cast or turned, say. So you end up with these really fat elements. You can’t have any detail on it. Things bend a lot in the kiln because it’s very weak. You can do forms within forms within forms, but it has to be really inflated and low in resolution. It also needs a very thick glaze to bring tension to the body to give it strength."

For Designers in Residence, he ran with the Design Museum’s theme of "Identity" to imagine a character stressed with the complexities of modern life, and locked in a flat for three months as he blogged and Facebooked, but also feverishly produced. Furman’s central question: What would this character make during this period? The answer: A museum in miniature, where the maker of objects, blog and a film, was also the collector. "It’s all about making, actually," Furman says. "The studio potter is no longer the studio potter. Everyone can be the studio potter. Free of the market, you can produce things that very much embody your sense of self at any moment."

Having just showed in an exhibition that he co-curated at the Sto Werkstatt showroom for Clerkenwell Design Week, things are in flux. What, I wonder, is his long-term ambition? "On a boring level the goal is to get work. Then obviously things will build their own momentum. But I don’t think I’m someone who can plan their career – things have just happened. I’ve been ridiculously lucky." Lucky? Perhaps. But good too.

This article is from issue 249 (July/August 2014) of Crafts magazine, published by the UK Crafts Council.