How Serendipity Helps Omer Arbel Materialize the Unseen
Omer Arbel, an Israeli-born, Vancouver-based artist and designer who creates boundary-defying objects and architecture, gives shape to abstract intangibles—such as light or a magnetic field—by incorporating them into artfully manipulated, often volatile matter, including glass, wax, and concrete. Each form begins with material research, in which he makes space for the intrinsic qualities of a substance (instead of a preconceived idea for it) to inform its appearance, resulting in work that’s conceptual, but not inaccessible: Recognizable pieces, such as sand-cast brass coat hangers or lampshades made from randomly rolled pieces of raw porcelain, are enhanced by Arbel’s experimental strategy for materializing the unseen.
A new monograph, Omer Arbel (Phaidon), edited by Stephanie Rebick, an associate curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, celebrates the depth and breadth of the polymath’s work. It spans from his debut design, 14.0, a cascading chandelier of clear, cast-glass spheres that was introduced in 2005, to 94.0, a forthcoming series of residences, built using cedar burl offcuts from the local logging industry, on a cliff in Governor’s Point, British Columbia. (Arbel, who presents work through his design studio, OAO Works, and Bocci, a lighting brand he co-founded, titles all of his projects with a number that indicates the order in which it was conceptualized.) Here, he speaks with us about the role serendipity plays in his practice.