Luam Melake

A biography

Originally trained in architecture, Luam Melake’s (b. 1986 in San Diego, CA) dynamic practice oscillates between material research, exploration of form, and the creation of functional furniture that encourages social and emotional engagement. She refers to the histories and methodologies of art, design, craft, architecture, and industrial manufacturing, often borrowing techniques and materials from each of these fields, to create one-of-a-kind works.

Melake’s process involves shaping upholstery foam into geometric forms that reflect the negative space left by the body in specific positions. Thin layers of an industrial urethane coating are poured onto the foam to create a durable skin-like surface that functions like an exoskeleton, reinforcing the soft structure. Translucent dyes are used to create painterly effects and dimensional color that enhance and relate to the sculptural composition. The resulting works are highly practical furniture objects that also reference painting, sculpture and the structural logic of architecture.

The purpose of Melake’s designs is to encourage users to assume positions of intimacy, pushing them to consider their physical relationships to space and other people. For example, her iconic ‘Listening Chair’ is motivated by a humanistic approach and aims to encourage confessional discussion. The work recalls Italian Radical Design of the 1960s, and other luminary figures of this period such as Vernor Panton and Joe Colombo, who were also designing for new approaches to interaction. Physical positions borrowed from psychoanalysis prompts sitters to interact in ways that make room for direct conversation, while allowing a single sitter to face people in different parts of the space. This exaggeration of the requirements of function and mobility prompts users to think differently about familiar objects in their lived environments.

Based in New York City, Luam Melake received her BA from the University of California, Berkeley in Interdisciplinary Field Studies majoring in Architecture with a minor in Art History. Recent exhibitions include ‘Sensitive Forms’ at Parker Gallery, Los Angeles (2021), ‘Luam Melake’s Curious Hybrids’, Artskop and Versant Sud, France (2020), ‘For the Birds’ at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York (2022) and ‘Objects USA 2020’ at R & Company, New York (2021). She has been Artist-in-Residence at prominent institutions, including Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha (2019), Fondation Blachere in Apt, France (2019) and The Museum of Arts and Design in New York (2017-18, 2022) and was awarded the Female Design Council Grant in 2021. Melake is currently a research fellow at Parsons School of Design and her work lives in the permanent collections of the Fondation Blachere, Apt, France and Palazzo Monti, Brescia, Italy.