Born in Copenhagen in 1971, Mathias Bengtsson studied furniture design at the Danish College of Design. From 1992-93, Bengtsson attended the Art Centre College in Switzerland, then returned to Copenhagen where he formed the design collective known as ĎPanicí with four other graduates. Panicís raison díetre was to give young designers a voice within the Danish furniture industry, and as a result, they succeeded in creating new opportunities. Bengtsson moved to London in 1996, where he enrolled in the product design course at the Royal College of Art, directed by Ron Arad. After graduating in 1999, Bengtsson collaborated with fellow Royal College of Art graduates in the design studio called ĎAt the 3 Stroke' then went on to establish his own studio in 2002.
Bengtssonís work began gaining acclaim internationally in 1998, when his 'Slice' and 'Homage' chairs were exhibited at Galleria Post Design in Milan. In 2002, Bengtssonís work was presented in the Design by Aluminum exhibition held at the Design Museum in London. In 2003, the British Council featured Bengtssonís work in the Great Brits exhibition held in Milan during the Salone del Mobile, which later traveled to Tokyo and Sao Paulo. The plywood version of the Slice chair was acquired by the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. Philips, the New York Art auctioneers, exhibited and subsequently sold Bengtssonís spun carbon-fiber chaise lounge in 2004. The following year, Swedenís RŲhsska Museum held a one-man show of Bengtssonís work.
In recent years Bengtsson has gained acclaim for the materials he's explored in his quest to redefine the boundaries of design. His point of departure from conventional methods was his decision to treat design as a site of exploration and a basis for research. "My work is often kicked off by the hi-end technology pioneered by the vehicle and aerospace industries," Bengtsson explained, "but when Iím working on something, I sketch it by hand and eventually model it in clay. I like experimenting with new design technology, but what interest me most isnít just what the technology can achieve Ė itís the mistakes that are left in the programming. Most designers believe that mistakes are something to be eliminated, but to me, itís a chance to use technology to create something completely unique."
Bengtsson also makes forays into the natural world, where he returns with a rich harvest of metals, woods, and carbon. Could these indicate a craft dimension to his work? "Natural materials have a unique presence that synthetics donít. When I can, I spend my spare time kayaking in the ocean and hiking in the mountains," he said, "and I come back to my studio thinking about the textures and shapes I saw. That informs part of what I do, and probably why Iíve looked into using organic fibers and other sustainable materials. Thatís not to say that I donít appreciate manmade materials. I also like the vivid colors you find in acrylic and the metallic tones you get in carbon."
Itís typical of Bengtsson to push the boundaries between form, built structures, materials and technology, and forge unexpected alliances between them. As Bengtsson builds bridges between the visual, the synthetic, and the natural, his use of materials continues to challenge preconceived notions of what design can mean.
Written by Bradley Quinn
Other articles on Design /
Nordic Design Now
Scandinavian design: Beyond Blond
Louise Campbell: If it works in paperÖ
Driving fashion forward
Design in Sports
Trine Andersen: Wallpaper, contemporary walls
Johan Verde: Design to lift, angle, clean and store
Maija Louekaris: Channeling a spirit
Johan Carpner: To capture the untamable
Nina Jobs: Impressions of depth