Lazerian is the brainchild of Liam Hopkins who, after spending his formative years taking scooters and cars to pieces and putting them back together again, is indulging his passion for innovative design in a distant corner of Greater Manchester.
Working from their workshop in an anonymous former mill in Denton, Liam and a group of associate designers and makers can be found, quietly reinventing the coffee table, the chair and the chandelier. The studio’s stock appears to be on the rise, not least to the growing fame of ‘Gerald’ the Lazerian dog, a remarkably stable paper sculpture of man’s best friend. But, there’s more to their story than the collectible paper pup that you can make yourself at home.
“People are having a bit of faith in Lazerian now,” Liam explains, “I started the journey about ten years ago doing a 3D Design course at Tameside Tech, then went to Manchester Metropolitan University doing 3D design there and started Lazerian straight after. It seemed quite natural to set up on my own, because all of my family had their own businesses. It’s also, in part, because I don’t really want anyone telling me what to do.”
The studio’s output is anything but conventional. Amidst the jumble of a clearly busy workshop, over which two of Lazerian’s remarkable prototype chandeliers hang, one made of nothing more than glued paper, unusual objects are kept under wraps. One of which is revealed as a prototype of a cardboard armchair.
Liam continues, whilst surveying water damage courtesy of a flood, which the chair withstood: “Over time and through Uni it’s been the same, messing about and bending the rules. I suppose education gives you rules, but I was told all the way through Uni that I wouldn’t get anywhere, which made me even more determined to do my own thing.”
“When we launch things on the scale of a carbon fibre chandelier, you never know how it’s going to go. Last year we took the cardboard sofa to Interiors and people were like ‘thirteen grand? It’s a cardboard sofa’, they couldn’t get their heads round it. There’s eight weeks worth of work in it, so you’re not looking at the value of the materials, it’s the craft of it. I suppose it’s similar to painting, the value isn’t in the materials.”
So, after considering the paper dogs, chandeliers and cardboard sofas, is it any clearer as to what it is exactly that Lazerian do? Probably not, but the boundless enthusiasm which Hopkins displays means that he’ll take all manner of contemporary design projects as they come and imagination really is the only limit.
He says: “We combine modern technologies with traditional craft. We manipulate things with computers and use traditional skills to make it. You couldn’t really design these sort of things without a computer, and you can’t rely on a computer on it’s own to put it together. So, it’s a combination of the two.
“How it always works is that we look at materials and it’s limits and work backwards. We don’t say ‘we’re going to design a chair’ and then it looks like everyone else’s chair, we look at the materials and assess its limits.
“The cardboard chair was based on crystal formations and honeycombs. We’ve worked with cardboard based on its natural strengths. Where everyone else starts making things in cardboard is stacking it up. By stacking it up it ends up weighing heavier than a normal chair and it’s daft, because they’re not using the natural strength of the materials. What’s the point? You might as well cast it in concrete.”
After a few years within the cycle of making and promoting their work, Lazerian are finding that friends are now becoming easier to make. Not least Manchester Art Gallery, who have one of their plywood chandeliers on display, surrounded by examples of the ubiquitous Gerald. It’s a relationship that is still going strong.
“I’m doing quite a bit with Manchester Art Gallery at the moment, we’ve got a little exhibition there and we’re extending that. They’ve commissioned a handling collection including a concrete clock, some paperweights and tables, all based on the building. I took the approach of looking at the gallery before starting work, because it’s beautiful in itself. It’s nice to have their interest.”
But, what of commercial customers? The studio is ultimately a selling one and finding paying customers for the furniture is a necessary preoccupation. Liam says: “I need to sit down and have a look at where the market is. I’m dealing with quite a few galleries at the moment. There’s loads of little galleries, but they’re looking to take 75%, and it’s not going to work like that.”
It’s not a lack of commercial nous, or an unbending Northern attitude that means finding a market for Lazerian’s work is as challenging as the work itself, it’s about ensuring that buyers get to understand where Liam and Lazerian are coming from and that they’re here to stay. He says: “If people are going to invest in a piece of furniture they want to know you’ll be around for five or ten years. If not, they might as well go and get it from Habitat. There’s four or five of us involved and as they get to know us they’re starting to like what we do even more.”
Off the record, Liam discusses a commission he’s working on for a company that supplies high end retailers in which he’s turning a seemingly simple brief on it’s head. There’s animated talk about getting the artist-led ‘Gerald Exhibition’ moving and some work in the offing which will take Lazerian from paper and wood into ceramics. So, how does he see the future?
“I am cutting a niche now, it’s turning in the right direction. Now we’re working in carbon fibre, we’re working with people that are making Formula One cars. They commissioned one of the chandeliers and there are a few more projects coming up with them now. It’s nice having someone that really believes in you and I really enjoy working with them and hopefully I’ll be doing plenty with them in future.
“I don’t really know what I want this to be. I try to not get too bogged down in the future. I have a few plans for the next year, but not ten or fifteen years down the line.”
Info: Lazerian is a creative practice started in 2006 by Liam Hopkins, a Manchester born designer of contemporary furniture and objects for the home. The core product range includes handmade furniture, lighting and jewellery.
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