Twin Peaks: Jinggoy Buensuceso on His Balance Between Design and Art

The metal-molding Jinggoy Buensuceso realized he would all the more flourish by being both a designer and an artist.

by Jerome Gomez, photo by Geric Cruz
In 2012, a group of young Filipino designers who have lived and worked abroad put together a group that shook up what was then a furniture design industry not exactly in its best form, business-wise. It was the perfect time to dare and experiment, and with the craftsmen and factories provided by a number of manufacturing companies from Cebu, the kids let their imaginations run free. The group was called Epoch Collaboration, which counted Daniel Latorre Cruz, Stanley Ruiz, Wataru Kusama, and Jinggoy Buensuceso among them, today recognizable names individually in the field of design. While Latorre Cruz, Ruiz, and Kusama all possess a Zen-like aesthetic in their pieces, Buensuceso, who had previously worked in New York and Singapore, even then was the rebellious one, choosing to work with metal despite its difficult nature, and never minding the oft-echoed rule that form should always follow function.


One only needs to look at one of his first creations for the Epoch project—the Doodle chair—to see what he means. “I met this child, a savant kid, who kept on drawing on walls and rooms,” Buensuceso tells me in his home in Tagaytay. “At that time I was trying to get inspiration for a chair because we needed to finish one.” Using childlike random strokes and whirls, the designer and artist mocked up a wire that would form a chair, welding it himself, hammering away to see where his wild idea will take him. People were at first skeptical about the result. Is it functional? Can you sit on it? “For me our body adjusts when we sit on something,” he says. “Comfort is not an issue. It only becomes an issue if we scrutinize it, but imagine you’re running in a forest and you get tired. You see a log, you sit on it, and you adjust. Your body needs to adjust to the shape. Its okay to design [an unusual] chair. You will always find someone who will appreciate it.” The Doodle chair looked more like an art piece, akin to Picasso’s air drawings, but, yes, one can comfortably sit on it. What’s more, “You can lift it with one finger,” its maker says confidently, “and it can carry a 300-pound man.”


A detail from a lamp, inspired by Japanese baskets, made of knotted soft wires


The Doodle did find an appreciative audience. Four containers of it were sent out from the factory in Cebu, he recalls, and while the financial reward wasn’t much to crow about, the designer with the strong artistic bent kept following the whims of his imagination over the years. These days, his bold metal sculptures grace commercial establishments abroad and locally, like the gorgeous undulating wooden wall sculpture at the Cucina of the Marco Polo Hotel in Ortigas, the waves of leaf-shaped metal screens that embrace the façade of the Deco Central building in Clark, Pampanga, and the modern dragon sculpture made of electroplated metal that snakes around a tall pillar at the Green Sun Building in Chino Roces. In his beautiful home cum studio complex in Tagaytay, where his tall and lithe Great Danes roam, a sculptural piece from his Topography series takes the place of a wall-bound painting by the dining area. In one corner, a Dau tree buttress of his design takes the place of a sofa (Is it comfortable to sit on? Possibly), under a “hanging lamp” made of knotted thick ropes, a soft sculpture almost. Basket-like in its shape, the suspended fixture doesn’t hold a bulb in its center, and serves more as a device to spread not light but interesting shadows across the room as soon as the light attached to the ceiling is turned on. It is functional art, yes, but the function is not easily spelled out.


What’s more, “You can lift it with one finger,” its maker says confidently, “and it can carry a 300-pound man.”


The artist-designer dichotomy is something Buensuceso struggled with in the beginning. “Now I realize maybe I’m one of the new breed of designers who can do both, blurring the line between art and design.” Perhaps it is this quality of being neither this nor that which continues to distinguish his works (although he recently put up the label Beta Design Co. where he “turns art into functional pieces,” while keeping his brutalist furniture stuff available at New Manila Living). In September last year, Wallpaper Magazine Thailand named him Outstanding Designer of 2016, and this September at the prestigious design exhibition Maison and Objet Paris, he is being recognized as among the Rising Asian Talents—a distinction previously awarded to his Epoch colleague Ruiz and Liliana Manahan. He was nominated for the award the same year as the two but he’s guessing his works didn’t quite meet the jury’s expectations, his pieces leaning more towards art than furniture. But things have shifted, and Buensuceso is showcasing a select few of his new works at a 9sqm space in this month’s Paris fair including his moth chair (named thus because of the shape it has taken) and his molten aluminum clocks inspired by one of Salvador Dali’s most recognizable paintings, “The Persistence of Memory.” “It’s a collaboration with nature,” says the artist-designer, holding the piece in his workshop, explaining how he melts the metal and lets it take shape by itself, letting “gravity and force set the piece.” Is it art or just décor masquerading as timepiece? Is it just another functional object? Clearly, it isn’t all that simple. When it comes to Buensuceso’s works, nothing ever is.

Buensuceso photographed with his molten aluminum pieces that he has also turned into tabletops. “It’s a collaboration with nature,” he says.


This feature was originally published in the August 2017 issue of Rogue.