Kim Morgan and Robin Muller, Fat Chairs, 2014. 2 chairs (1930s) upholstered in jacquard-woven cotton, 97 x 97 x 86 cm and 89 x 97 x 86 cm.
Kim Morgan, Corpulence, 2009. Test tubes, glass slides, E. colli and HEK total lipid bilayer scans using atomic force microscope imaging, mounted with lightbulbs in chandelier, 127 x 66 x 66 cm. Purchase and partial gift of artist 2010, Mount Saint Vincent University Collection.
Furniture makes the room! In the Living Room, there are two plush Fat Chairs that people can sit in created by sculptor Kim Morgan and textile artist Robin Muller – both based out of the K’jipuktuk/Halifax. The Fat Chairs are refurbished 1930s antique armchairs that are upholstered with fabric created at the Orople Mill in North Carolina. The fabric, created on a Jacquard loom, bears a pattern based on images of E-coli and Human Embryo Kidney (HEC) lipid bilayer scans. The lipids imaged here might be more commonly known as ‘fat.’ The Fat Chairs are part of a larger collaborative research and creation project called Mutable Fat(e) by Kim Morgan, Robin Muller, and Dr. Tanya Dahms (a biochemist at the University of Regina). With the assistance of her graduate students, Dr. Dahms produced surface scans of lipids that Kim Morgan turned into patterns to be printed onto different materials including glass, textiles, vinyl, and paper. The chandelier artwork Corpulence, hanging above the cluster of furniture in the centre of the Living Room, is one of the objects that came from this initial phase of the project.
The Fat Chairs are a fascinating reflection on the history of furniture design and construction, on the relationship between interior domestic spaces and the body, and overarching social shifts that structure domestic spaces and the bodies that move through them. In the nineteenth century, the design of furniture adapted to changes in ladies’ fashion as well as the demands of the proto-living room (the parlour). As skirts became fuller, chairs for women lost their arm supports, and the innovation of springs and deep padding accommodated longer hours of sitting. Feminist historian Charlotte Perkin Gilman writes about women’s bodies as being socially and physically constructed through their habitation of the home’s comfortable spaces. She suggests that certain actions and positions – such as sitting, walking, and lying down – impact the shape and design of furniture, which influence the body’s capacity and habits as a result. As she explains, “The chairs become soft to provide seating for the body that sits. In turn, the body becomes soft as it occupies the soft seat, taking up the space made available by the seat. Such positions become habitual: they are repeated, and in being repeated they shape the body and what it can do. The more the body sits, the more it tends to be seated.” In the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution transformed the public and private realms; the public world belonging to the masculine pursuits of labour and commerce, while the private domestic sphere was the dedicated site for middle-class feminine leisure. The appearance of the heavily stuffed, pleated, and buttoned upholstery mirrored women’s bodies as they became softer from a life spent inside the house. Furniture also became more delicate and rigid thanks to corsets and elaborate, restrictive clothing. The Fat Chairs, through their materiality and pattern, directly reference the body. In this work, furniture acts as a tool that simultaneously accommodates the reach and function of the body, while also acting as a metaphor for corporeality. The artists note, “The images of fat become the surface or skins of our bodies and our everyday life, turning the literal and metaphorical body inside out.”