“We don’t embroider cushions here,” was Le Corbusier’s response to a young Charlotte Perriand after she showed him her portfolio in October 1927. A few weeks after shooing her away from his office, he had a change of heart and employed her at his atelier in Paris and she rose through the ranks to become responsible for the furniture and interior design. Together, they designed the LC4 – the iconic recliner in tubular metal and leather. Le Corbusier once stated that furniture should be “extensions of our limbs and adapted to human functions,” and in a new book Augustine and Josephine Rockebrune have catalogued instances where, to adopt Louis Sullivan’s modernist mantra, form definitely follows function.
We Don’t Embroider Cushions Here, published by Éditions Monumental, is a 212-page book that catalogues the appearance of the recliner in pornographic movies. The LC4 is a common appearance in adult films, either at the centre of the action or as a mute bystander – adding a touch of modernist class to the energetic proceedings. Augustine and Josephine have created an alternative history of the recliner, we caught up with them to find out how and why.
Who are Augustine and Josephine Rockebrune? (Your surname, presumably, is a pseudonym.)
We’re twins, we’re artists. We were born on January 25th 1995, the day Eric Cantona kung fu-kicked a Crystal Palace fan. Inspired by Hans-Georg Kern, better known as the German artist Georg Baselitz, we adopted Rockebrune as our surname, taken from the many vacations we spent as kids at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin at the French Riviera. Stage names are an asset, even Le Corbusier would agree to that.
Where did the idea for the book come from? What did you aim to achieve with it?
The idea came to us by accident; we stumbled upon a picture on the internet of two gay men having raunchy sex on Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand’s LC4 – or likely a knock-off. We were looking for pictures of the American author Tom Wolfe, but what we found was his namesake: a gay porn star, doing his thing on a LC4.
This discovery captivated us so much that we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do further research in this expanded field of design. It was very intriguing, especially when you think about the fact that his quintessential pieces of furniture came about with the help of Charlotte Perriand.
Modernist design has a legacy in pornography that remains wilfully ignored – made century design regularly appeared in Playboy, and case study houses and desert modernism regularly provides the setting for films. Why do you think the style lends itself to the genre?
Maybe the types of design you mention and porn are just instinctively drawn to each other. And maybe our book is the beginning to the end of this being wilfully ignored. The mix of these types of design and porn just works well. Which is probably the same reason the Coen Brothers made their character, the pornographer Jackie Treehorn live in John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein residence in The Big Lebowski and eventually immortalised the house.
How did you research the book? What were the challenges?
In some ways it was bizarre – plowing through endless porn movies, ending up with a subject matter of 800. In other ways it was research like any other scientific research of a theme or subject, except this had its core based in porn sites like PornHub.com and alike. After we’d found the first 100 films, we were able to discern different locations in the houses, which enabled us to make draft plans of the houses, and create scale models of them, which proved to be pivotal in recognising the clips on the various porn sites even faster.
Later on, we hired an internet workforce of people based in Chandigarh, India, to locate the rest of our collection of our films. Watching porn in such immense quantities corrupts the mind a bit. But it had to be documented, as the discovery was just too intriguing to let go. It was the only natural thing to do, thinking of Beatriz Colomina’s fantastic description in Privacy and Publicity of Le Corbusier’s obsessive collecting and archiving of his own stuff. He never threw anything away at all, and was a highly obsessive collector. So he would have wanted this book in his collection. There is no doubt that he would have done the same thing we have done, if he was still alive.
What has the response been?
The responses have been amazing, orders are coming in from all over Europe, Asia, the US, and Australia. We’re very happy to have made a significant contribution and supplement to Le Corbusier’s oeuvre complète. To have dislodged and challenged the conventional notions of Corbs work, to have shaken the foundation of the plan libre. People, or at least the ones interested in the arts, seem to love it.
A long parade of scholars within the field of design, art and architecture have given us a lot of great comments, even making analogies to Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations for it’s repetitious sequences and seriality, which couldn’t be a better comparison, as it was the very book that made us want to make art. We Don’t Embroider Cushions Here is inspired by Twentysix Gasoline Stations in concept and content.
What role do you think the LC4 plays in each of the stills that you have gathered?
Put bluntly, in the industry it seems to be basically just a fuck prop. It plays the exact some role as a giant rubber butt plug, a sexy maid outfit, or anything else that can be used as a sex tool. We found no proof that the chaise longue has any cultural connotations at all, to either the producers or porn stars, it doesn’t seem to be thought of as anything but (to them) a practical piece of equipment. There is a certain beauty to that, in the fact that it’s not a iconoclast modern centrepiece to them.
For example, in one of the scenes we collected, six naked guys are carrying a naked woman from an upstairs bedroom to the kitchen downstairs. When they enter the kitchen and she sees the chair she exclaims in excitement: ”Oh, the fucking-chair!” Other than that, the chaise longue is not verbalised in any other film in our collection.
How do you feel about the LC4 now the book is out in the world?
It’s a bit like the American graphic designer Lindon Leader’s legendary subliminal arrow in the FedEx logo from 1994, once you see you can’t un-see it and make it disappear. For us, it’s impossible to sit in it, but we love to see how others non-enlightened interact with the chair. As one commented on Facebook, after reading an article about it: “My eyes are burning, my grandmother had one too!” It would be interesting to hear if the sales are up for the manufacturer, Cassina.
How did you come to work with Édition Monumental?
We met the two founders of Édition Monumental, who were dressed up as Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta, by chance at Rudy’s Bar & Grill in New York City at a Halloween party. Impressed by their costumes, we ended up in a long conversation about our mutual interest in art books. At the time we had just been turned down by a bunch of other publishers, so when we told them about the project they immediately said yes to doing it. Though they’d never published a book before.
What are you working on next?
We have multiple projects in the pipeline at the moment. The first one to come out will also be published in collaboration with Édition Monumental, and is titled Henry Fonda’s Workout.
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