This is the story of a table – okay, wait a bit, the story is worth it, honestly. The photo here is not a table, it is an art construction called the Vanke Cloud that was designed in Beijing and put up in Chongqing in three months, total.
What it is and what it is all about is up to the imagination, but it looks good and the gal guesses that it would make the neighbours comment if you put it up in your backyard in South Bend, Indiana.
The Vanke Cloud is installation art by a company called BAM. They specialise in, say, composing a display of 497 bright red lanterns, which they exhibited in Shenyang. Is this what modern Chinese art is all about?
In fact BAM, which stands for Ballistic Architecture Machine, is led by three Cornell graduates, Allison Macneil Dailey, Daniel Gass and Jacob (Jake) Walker. Jake Walker first caught the design world’s attention with a thesis on mobile dining systems.
He worked for Will Alsop in London before moving on to be design director of Martha Schwartz. He managed entries for the design of the cycling Velopark for the 2012 London Olympics. He specialises in translating controversial ideas into open space strategies, apparently. And that brings the story to the table.
Jean-Jacques Reibel is a rare breed. His brain functions both on the management and the creative sides. This last week, in Hong Kong, he, as boss of the 514-room InterContinental Hong Kong, had a full house with 800 delegates at the annual Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific HICAP.
It was so well organised that every hotel guest found perfect grapes in the bedroom the first day, three perfect apples the second day and three perfect figs on the third day and, throughout, it seemed every one of the 700 employees knew, and pronounced, your name correctly. But on the creative side, Reibel wanted a table, as installation art for the luxury hotel’s magnificent lobby.
So Reibel and BAM got together, and the result was installed last Tuesday, October 9th, 2012. The ‘thing’ is about 12 feet long and it meanders, amoeba style. It weighs a staggering two tons and how they, whoever they were, got it in to the lobby without damaging man or marbled floor is a mystery.
Jake Walker designed a wood structure, with a body of African Padauk, an outer border of American burled Poplar and a top of African Rosewood. The entire structure, which Walker says can also resemble a whale’s belly, is lacquered in highest gloss to reflect the lobby’s lighting.
It sits on solid wood legs, rather like big match sticks (they have steel cores, for strength). I am reminded of the coloured ‘knitting needle legs’ of Toronto’s art college, designed by Rosalie Wise, the design-aplenty wife of Four Seasons’ founder, Isadore Sharp.
Reibel’s table already, by its second day, became a magnet. The only hotel guest who did not lean on it at some point was Ivanka Trump, but she was only in town for four hours, during which she held court first in suite 548, which she borrowed for her stay, and then briefly in the hotel’s own Steak House.
Now Ivanka is one amazing design-aplenty lady. She has her own range of jewellery, shoes, handbags and what she calls ‘outerwear’. She also, of course, is design director for Trump hotels but mainly she is her own brand.
And what is so incredibly amazing is that besides having written a best-selling book, and playing golf, and being married to the publisher of The New York Observer and having a daughter who is nearly two, she is so NICE. She is my kind of gal.
Anyway, she did not have time to lean on the table. The ideal would have been if she had lain along its Rosewood top, that would have made a picture, certainly (for her lightning trip to Hong Kong, en route from New York to Beijing to promote Ivanka Trump Jewellery, she wore a mid-calf tight-tight cream skirt with slit, and an extraordinary sleeveless top with black back and a vaguely-Chinese front, and lightning-conductor-high shoes, presumably Ivanka Trump Shoes).
But here was Bernhard Bohnenberger, polo and spa specialist who heads Six Senses Hotels – Resorts – Spas. Perhaps you lean on the table and get a bit of Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM support, by osmosis. By the way, I discovered yet another TCM metal nugget in my ear today, after nearly a week. Wonder what it has done to me?
And it was girls as well as guys who radiated to the table. Lesley Reynolds runs one of the best global headhunters. Perhaps she found the table, or the people around it, was a good spot to spot potential leaders of the future?
Talking of leaders, it is amazing how body language enables you to assess a person’s leadership quality. One of the panels at this hotel conference saw top – male – CEOs talking, among themselves, for an hour straight.
They sat, in a straight line, their legs crossed. They all had grey or greying hair. They all wore dark grey suits with plain, discreet, ties, and black socks and black shoes. The two based in the USA wore pale blue shirts, the other two had white shirts.
The only people not wearing ties, by the way, were the boss of Yotel capsule hotels, which deliberately does things differently, and a highly experienced design advisor, who I believe always carries a tie in his pocket ‘just in case’. Oh, here is another group radiating towards the table.
Here is Patrick Imbardelli, the hyper-energetic Aussie who is here today, there tomorrow, trying to keep up with the Ivanka Itinerary as he rushes around the world to see Pan Pacific hotels (which he runs), both those already open and those that will come, in future. I must remember to tell him how much I loved the Pan Pacific Hotel Xiamen.
Oh gosh, here is another tie-less wonder, Neil Jacobs (did he leave his tie in Marrakech, where he held a three-day birthday party that rivalled that of Sir Philip Green at Rosewood Mayakoba – at least the fun level was the same, although presumably Mr Jacobs did not spend the $20 million that Sir Philip is reputed to have done).
Neil Jacobs is another spa and wellness guru, so with him, too, leaning on The Table That J.J. Built, with more than a little help from BAM and Jake Walker, this bodes well for the table’s future.