Francisco Nuk

Upending Utilitarian Uses

Thomas Jukes

“Let's listen to the useless. One day I heard from him: what if the base of the pyramid got tired, for one day, of supporting its weight? What if the rationality of its existence did not imply utility? What if, for just a moment, she was aware of the beauty and complexity of the useless?.”

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Welcome to the wonderful and tilted world of Francisco Nuk, a Brazilian artist working in the Bonfim municipality of Minas Gerais. 

As much a carpenter as he is an artist, Francisco Nuk utilizes furniture to explore his messages of use and usefulness. His office is his workshop, this is where he makes use of his talents with woodwork to produce artworks that are constantly challenging the viewer. Whether this is from his earlier work experimenting with bold, almost constructivist, chairs, furniture, and lighting accessories, to his now far more well-known and recognizable furniture pieces. His recent work amazingly manages to be both more conventional and entirely less conventional all at the same time. The series focuses around draws and cabinets that all share a very traditional hardwood style of cabinet making. You wouldn’t be surprised to see this style of furniture in a stately house but, quite obviously, this furniture has been heavily subverted and manipulated. 

Francisco Nuk gives his furniture a fluid-like state as if seen in some fever dream where the furniture and world around you appear to melt and flow around you. It brings to mind images conjured by Salvador Dalí of surrealist worlds that do not conform to the rational world view. 

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In many ways Francisco Nuk shares some of the values of surrealists of the past, they are both wanting to challenge the viewer with artworks that subvert the normality of life and make you question the very basic elements of our day-to-day lives. The sculpture/furniture of Nuk is a direct challenge to the idea of utilitarian productivity and to the concepts of use in our modern world. The artist believes that such utilitarian productivity is a mere fallacy and totally irrational. 

We surround ourselves in this modern and technological world with ‘useful’ things. Objects and devices whose whole purpose is to simply serve as a use to human beings. The impossible and impractical pieces that Nuk produces are his way of showing us that we need the useless. Undoubtedly this is the first thought that will spring to mind for many viewers of Nuk’s work: that chest of draws is useless! Francisco Nuk believes that uselessness should not be viewed as an antagonistic force that exists to rattle the cage for no other point than an annoyance. 

Uselessness should be seen as the driving will of transformation. An experiment in pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the useful and the useless, where does one become the other? 

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In a way Francisco Nuk uses his wonderful furniture to push this question away from the very basic concept of objects being useful or useless. It is there to make us question why we live by the dictates of what is useful, always surrounding ourselves with useful things and attempting to turn our own existence into the ultimate expression of being useful. The artist worries that in exchanging our lifetimes for our most useful object: paper money, we may, in turn, lose the ability to observe and feel the fullness of art. 

Whether you believe this element of the artist's creations is purely down to individual feelings. What we can agree on at a more basic level is that Francisco Nuk’s artwork does challenge the viewer. Even if this is simply by making you double take what you have just viewed. It takes mundane objects that we would use and take for granted every day and throws a literal curveball into the mix. Chests of drawers reach to the sky or twist and flex like the very elements that make them have been switched. What we would see as strong, sturdy, and reliable pieces of furniture have become liquid and curved. The nature of the furniture pieces has been altered to make them feel like artwork, pieces to be admired for their beautiful shapes. Yet one cannot escape the thought that these objects have lost their use. You look at a wardrobe slumped against the wall like a dejected teenager and you see just that, a human feeling, exhaustion, defeat. Still, your thoughts wander back to the artwork as a useful object. There’s no way you could keep your clothes in that wardrobe anymore, you could even open the doors! 

Perhaps this all leads back, no matter how you approach it, to what Francisco Nuk is trying to communicate with his work. Perhaps we have become too stuck in the mindset of the useful. We judge something on its ability to perform a duty, to fulfill its use. Maybe it is true that we, now more than ever, need a good dose of the useless. 

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Photographize granted permission to feature photos by Francisco Nuk

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