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Magnifying the microscopic: Porky Hefer’s Molecules

Design Miami was treated to an ‘African-pop punch’ at the end of 2019 with Southern Guild’s bold presentation of collectable furniture, kinetic lighting, sculpture and large-scale ceramics by top South African artists and designers. Featuring vibrant colour, futuristic forms and strong shapes, the collection centred around three brand-new hanging seating pods by internationally acclaimed artist Porky HeferCreative Feel spoke to Hefer about his latest creations.

Well-known for his inhabitable sculptures that take their inspiration from his natural environment and creatures such as toucans and pufferfish, with his new collection, titled Molecules, Porky Hefer reduces his vision to the microscopic. The series comprises three large hanging orbs whose titles point to the chemical compounds they represent: Dihydrogen MonoxideFluoroheliate Monoxide and Hydrogen Difluoride.
     Molecules follows Hefer’s fascination with the reactions and energy a piece can generate in a space, and opens up philosophical questions around matter and the world we live in. Inspired by the fact that molecules are made up of atoms held together by chemical bonds that form as a result of the sharing or exchange of electrons, he asks us to explore the complex bond of human connection – to each other and, most importantly, to the natural world.
     Hefer’s shift in focus was born of a desire to simplify. ‘I deal with objects and shapes that most people can recognise and relate to. For me, the simpler the forms and the ideas, the better. Molecules and atoms are the building blocks for everything – solids, liquids, gasses, even empty space,’ he says. 
     Wrapped in bright, brilliant leathers that reference the international colour codes all atoms are known by (white for hydrogen, red for oxygen, green for chlorine), the pods were manufactured by the leather artisans at Wolf & Maiden in Cape Town. Founder Wade Ross Skinner and his team of leather smiths collaborated closely with Hefer, applying the impeccable craftsmanship the studio is known for, albeit on a much larger scale. The pods’ interiors are lined with plush sheepskin, inviting people to climb inside and nestle within. 

Porky Hefer Dihydrogen Monoxide hanging seating chairs pods Molecules
Porky Hefer Dihydrogen Monoxide PHOTO Hayden Phipps Production Jo Youens

With their bright colours, the large-scale pods have a universal appeal that is almost pre-language. They resemble children’s toys or billiard balls. Their function, says Hefer, is to reach for something innate in all of us and to communicate across cultures. 
     ‘These molecules are made for sharing, for people to collide and exchange energies, emotions and ideas. I want people to look a bit deeper than the surface and think about the composition of things – their origins, their make-up, their fragility – the bonds and connections that result in the final things,’ says Hefer. 
     The current water crisis in South Africa informed Hefer’s decision to make one of the molecules Dihydrogen Monoxide (Water). ‘I thought making such a tiny but important molecule very big and heroic was apt. The colour was also a coincidence – it being red and signifying danger is almost prophetic,’ he says. 
     Before working as an artist/designer, Hefer spent 16 years in advertising, during which time he worked as a Creative Director in Cape Town and New York agencies, and became one of South Africa’s most awarded creatives. Realising that the higher he climbed, the less he personally created, in 2007 he left advertising to start up a creative consultancy, Animal Farm. Four years later he founded Porky Hefer Design. 
     In his creations, Hefer embraces Africa and the skills and processes that are readily available indigenously, rather than trying to emulate foreign processes. Making use of traditional techniques and crafts that focus on the hand rather than machinery, his work ensures that age-old skills are preserved and kept relevant in a modern age. 

Porky Hefer
Porky Hefer PHOTO Steve Marais

Fascinated by the weaver bird, Hefer’s life-size nests, woven with Kooboo Cane, are a result of his in-depth study into this social bird’s nest-building skills, made relevant for a human audience. His work’s progression into limited-edition leather seating environments has further evolved this exploration in ways in which living pods can be represented. 
     Hefer has had numerous solo presentations of his work and is a two-time winner of the Design Foundation Icon Award (2013 and 2018). His first solo show, Monstera Deliciosa, Volume I, was presented at Southern Guild’s Cape Town gallery at the end of 2015, garnering rave local and international reviews. In 2016, he represented South Africa at the inaugural London Design Biennale, which was followed by a solo exhibition at R & Company in New York in 2017. His Endangered collection of sculptural seating pods made of eco-friendly and recycled materials was exhibited to widespread acclaim at Design Miami/Basel in 2018, and proceeds from the Endangered project benefitted the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. 
     Hefer’s work can be found at the Namib Tsaris Conservancy in Namibia; at an island resort in the Maldives; private lofts and homes from Manhattan to Tel Aviv; in the gardens at Babylonstoren and in Cape Town’s Company Gardens. Later this year, his work will be installed at a luxury boutique safari camp in the Okavango Delta. Hefer is currently working on a major installation for an international museum and numerous private commissions. 
     The response to Molecules at Design Miami has been ‘overwhelming’, says Hefer. Collectors and visitors to the fair have loved the work and responded to its bold use of colour and playful concept. South African audiences will get the chance to explore the pods at Investec Cape Town Art Fair this February.

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