Soviet Design and Cardboard Furniture-Making Workshop with James Ackerley and fine art students from the Manchester School of Art

March 2020

In March 2020 I led a soviet design and cardboard furniture making workshop with James Ackerley at the Manchester School of Art. First year fine art students attended an artist talk delivered by myself and James to introduce our individual practices, followed by the workshop as part of their UNIT X project. We were approached by the university to take part in this programme as we share interests that are manifested in the juncture between art and design. We have previously led workshops together at Paradise Works to promote social engagement within the surrounding community and garden opposite to our building.

After introducing ourselves to the fine art students, we ran through the content and aims of the workshop, describing why we had come to this idea and the theory behind it. By doing so we openly invited ten students to participate, our intentions were to deliver a participatory activity in which we would construct a flatpack cardboard chair to recreate Alekzander Ermolaev’s simple constructivist designs. Introducing one basic model, students could work together to reproduce this object, or use it as a starting point to alter the height, width or angles of Ermolaev’s design. The research and preparation for this workshop was important for us to accomplish a strong motive in relation to the UNIT X programme and its theme of IKEA. Motivated by the ethos of the Swedish furniture company, ‘to create a better life for the many people’, the cardboard chairs were easy to assemble and accessible for students who hadn’t worked in this way before. Cardboard being surprisingly durable whilst also affordable and ecological, we aimed to be resourceful in the way that we consume a raw material, assembling without the need for tools and fixtures.   


Working simultaneously in small groups, the students were able to create rudimentary objects by employing practical thinking to follow basic diagrams and instructions. It was interesting to see teams assign roles and responsibilities depending on their individual skills and abilities to problem solve. Teamwork was key in this activity to achieve a finished product and practice communicative skills between themselves and with us. In this sense, we were able to practice constructivism, a theory and movement that emphasises learning as a collaborative process, in which we construct knowledge based on our personal experiences.

Myself and James worked coherently on every stage of preparation to make the project happen. It was a great opportunity to research our interests in a theory that utilises collaboration as a method to produce socially useful products and objects. Overall, myself and James felt that we had been successful in delivering an engaging workshop that taught the students how learning can be an active, constructive process through experience and social interaction.