2 or (3...) Questions for Frederick McSwain on the works of Tobias Wong
by Harry / March 8, 2012


This post is brought to you by iGet.it. Growing up in North Carolina, Frederick McSwain was immersed in an environment of arts and crafts. Through parents who invigorated small town life with ventures ranging from taxidermy to bail bonding, he was taught to explore the colorful possibilities hidden within the mundane.


McSwain went on to study Fine Arts and Design at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. After years of private commissions and collaborations, he launched McSwain in 2010, a multi-disciplinary studio exploring the overlaps between art, design, and popular culture. He currently lives in New York City where he is employed under the umbrella of the Poltrona Frau Group.


How did you discover Tobias Wong's work?

I first came across Tobias Wong's work during ICFF 2002. An On/Off switch had been mounted on the exterior window of Modern Age, Cappellini's NY dealer at the time. Although it's footprint was barely 4″ x 6″, when noticed, it induced an insurmountable curiosity in strolling pedestrians. Disproving my panic button theory, I was delighted to discover that it controlled a giant floor lamp inside the showroom...24 hours a day, 7 days a week...on...off.



Could you please tell us about his work?

In my opinion, Tobias Wong was to design what Alexander McQueen was to fashion. He functioned as a conceptual artist with design as his platform/medium. Many times, he blurred the lines between the two disciplines. He challenged consumer mentality by questioning the idea of luxury, commonly repurposing and transforming existing industrial products in the process. His work is a vehicle for emotion and a catalyst for incorporeal thought, always communicating on multiple levels.


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"Die" - A tribute to Tobias Wong


What defined him among the designers?

For Tobi, his work always came first. When passionate about a project, he would take the necessary steps to execute his ideas, many times funding them directly from his own pocket. Any commercial success garnered during his lifetime was simply a by-product of his inability to compromise. Instead of designing tables and chairs, he enlivened our world with wit and honesty. I feel his collective output conveys a truth and beauty that is rarely encountered in design.


Could you tell us the story behind this unique piece, the On/Off Light Switch?

I don't recall the story behind the On/Off per se. Originally produced by the now defunct Conduit Group, it was deemed as the clapper for the design aficionado. It was a continuation of his Readydesigned series, utilizing off-the-shelf components. Something about the iconic switch plate trapped inside a clear acrylic box just captivated people, it had this Whodini quality to it. When Tobias and I first met, I was working in the buying department of the Terence Conran Shop. We retailed a few of his early products but the On/Off in particular, flew off the shelves. Over the years, I incorporated this piece into numerous environments. It was in constant rotation as a tabletop accessory in Cappellini's Soho showroom. At the time of his passing, we were collaborating on a Disney inspired version of the light switch.


Upon the passing of Wong, was there a piece that was produced in his memory?

For ICFF 2011, nine New York based designers including myself organized Brokenoff Brokenoff, an exhibition based on the life and work of Tobias Wong. One of the pieces I contributed is called "Die". The wall description read as follows;

On a New York City sidewalk, a stranger approached the chain-smoking Tobias Wong and asked if he may bum a cigarette. Wong's sassy reply was, "well I don't know...what do you have for me?" After rejecting a crumbled single and then engaging in a brief barter, Tobi agreed to trade a Marlboro for a cheap six-sided die which emerged from the pedestrian's pocket. This narrative became the catalyst for "Die".

The title, borrowed from Tony Smith's 1962 sculpture, alludes not only to the composition of plastic cubes but also to ideas of uncertainty, risk taking, and ultimately, life and death. The mosaic format references Wong's early installation work, which commonly incorporated a large number of the same industrial product, transforming and questioning the individual element within a larger context.

Through his work and life, Tobias Wong left a lasting impression on everyone and everything in his path. He lived for 13,138 days.

Composition contains 13,138 dice.


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Please share with us the special link between you and Wong's work?

Above all, Tobi and I shared a similar sense of humor that translated into my appreciation for work. Although he is deeply missed, the objects he created always put a smile my face. They will always fill an empty spot in my heart and a special place in my home.


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On/Off switch by Tobias Wong is being presented on iGet.it this week.



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