MY STORY Finbar Conran and Oscar Mitchell
Fels is an online gallery and store created by two artists, Finbar Conran (right in our picture, grandson of the late Terence Conran, founder of Habitat and of the Design Museum) and Oscar Mitchell, who met at art school. With Jan Henzel Studio they are presenting an exhibition, Against the Grain, exploring contemporary design. It is at the Copeland Gallery in Peckham from September 22-26 and is part of the London Design Festival
Where does the name Fels come from, how and when did the enterprise come about and what are its aims?
We thought we needed a simple and un-suggestive title as we anticipated working with a large range of designers who come with their own visual packages.
Fels is the German word for rock; we liked its material connotations and how Fels looked as a word. Fels definitely gave us the clean and minimal foundation we wanted to build up from and give identity to.
We started in September 2020 in the midst of pandemic London with the aim of supporting artists and designers we admired, by creating exclusive products and selling them on our website. We released our first three artist collaborations in November 2020 and have been releasing more steadily since then with growing popularity.
Our plan was always to test the waters with a physical exhibition when the world opened up again and we accomplished that with our large East London group show Where Things Land Down in July 2021. We really loved the whole process and being able to engage with the work and the space physically, so since then we’ve been eager to do another one. While we plan to maintain our online shop and collaborations, we want to continue to put on shows and we hope that both can elevate each other.
Describe the exhibition
Against The Grain is a collaborative exhibition between ourselves and design studio, Jan Hendzel, in Peckham’s Copeland Gallery. As part of this year’s London Design Festival it showcases the work of designers and studios creating beautiful objects in unexpected mediums with sustainable principles.
We are exhibiting works from 13 designers and studios who approach sustainability from very different angles, as we show the positive and innovative work being done to recycle, reuse and reinvent materials and processes within the world of design and their beneficial consequences for our planet.
How did the idea occur to you?
Our first exhibition was a representation of widely varying work that we love and a show that introduced our tastes. Whilst that show was a lot of fun and very popular, this time round we wanted to connect the works with a more cohesive link. Sustainability and process is by no means an original concept for an exhibition but it’s more important than ever to drive these principles within design and we were eager to explore the huge variety of approaches to it. Plus, it was Jan who invited us to curate the space alongside the release of his new works. His practice has a wholesome and natural approach to sustainability and we wanted to take his principles and see how others were exploring them.
Why did you choose the Copeland Gallery as the venue?
It’s situated right in the middle of the bustling Copeland Park, known to be a bit of a cultural hub here in Peckham. It’s nice to host an exhibition where we both live and bring some more fine design to the area. It’s also one of the few established spaces that comes with all the finishes you would expect of your classic white cube space: high ceilings and tall white walls. It’s a big venue to fill so we are able to be quite ambitious with what we are showing.
How does Jan Hendzel Studio fit into the project?
Jan organised the Peckham Design Trail as part of London Design Festival 2020, and this year is the district co-ordinator of the new Southwark South Design District as part of this years's festival. He is releasing a new body of work in the Copeland Gallery and invited us to fill the space around it. Against The Grain is a collaborative exhibition between us and his studio.
Innovators are always in demand but often feel they have little support. Is it Fels’ mission to change that?
We’re still very young as a gallery and platform but we want to support whoever we exhibit, or collaborate with, as much as possible and help introduce beautiful and independent work to the world. We’re really grateful to the highly-established artists and designers who allowed us to exhibit their work at Where Things Land Down and now at Against The Grain as they’ve probably done as much for gaining the emerging artists exposure as we have simply by allowing us to show their work.
How did you find the artists/designers, and how many are involved?
We are showing works from 13 designers and studios. We have seen a lot of the designers’ work physically in shows and shops. Research into sustainable design introduced us to a few new designers as well. Books like Radical Matter and Why Materials Matter were useful, and of course social media and Google has played a part in discovering new work and artists we thought might make a good fit.
How will this exhibition help raise their profiles and the overall mission of Fels?
London Design Festival gets an approximate footfall of 900,000 across the city during the nine days it runs for. Not to say that our show alone will get anywhere near that, but it shows how big an event it is and how anticipated it is. There is a buzz about the new Southwark South district and Copeland Gallery is in the cultural centre of it. It’s a buzzing space generally and bringing the London Design Festival to Copeland Park will help introduce our exhibitors' work to so many people and help to make it a really fun event. More importantly, we can use the event to engage people on the subject of sustainability which is important to both us and the designers we work with.
Finbar, your grandfather Terence Conran was fascinated by the ergonomics of design, and became a household name as a result of his contribution to the industry. How much have you taken inspiration from his legacy and how has this been applied to Fels?
Very inspired! We want to show off the very best in design now as he did back in the day and if we make a tenth of the impact he did I would be completely satisfied. He was a hugely encouraging figure both for myself and for many others and I hope Fels is able to support and contribute in a similar vein.
What other projects does Fels have in the works?
We’ll get back to our collaborative online releases as we’ve had a very manic few months organising Where Things Land Down and Against The Grain. We have some exciting products to release and we’ll begin thinking about a smaller exhibition this winter. Watch this space.