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'Expo mark II sound chair' by Grant and Mary Featherston, 1966
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Object statement
Chair, 'Expo Mark II Sound Chair', polystyrene foam / polyurethane foam / Dunlopillo foam rubber / Pirelli webbing / fibreglass / hardwood / wool / sound equipment, designed by Grant and Mary Featherston, Melbourne, 1966, made by Aristoc Industries Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1967-1970
The Expo '67 talking chair was designed for the Australian Pavilion at Expo '67 held in Montreal, Canada. A separate headpiece component attached to the inside of the chair contained earphones through which taped programs on various aspects of Australian life were played. A slightly modified design which integrated the headphones into the head bolster was released onto the Australian market as the Expo mark II sound chair in 1967.

One of the new wave of Australian designers to emerge in the immediate post-war years, Grant Featherston (1922-1995) designed his first chair in 1947. In the early 1950s he developed the now famous 'Contour' range of chairs. First launched in 1951, the 'Contour' was an immediate success, its innovative plywood shell formed using a process that Featherston developed himself in the absence of suitable plywood bending technology locally. In 1957 Featherston was appointed consultant designer to Aristoc Industries, a Melbourne manufacturer of metal furniture. This highly fruitful collaboration resulted in the production of a variety of chairs including the 'Mitzi' (1957), 'Scape' (1960), the 'Expo 67 talking chair' and the 'Stem' chair of 1969.

In 1966 Featherston formed a partnership with his wife Mary Featherston (nee Curry, born England 1943), an interior designer who had studied at RMIT. Their 'Expo 67' chair, with its polystyrene shell, was only the beginning of a run of chairs that, in the spirit of the times, explored the limitless possibilities of plastics in the creation of innovative seating forms:

' ... the integrated one-piece plastic chair [represented] ... the pinnacle of the furniture designer's aspirations. Plastics and moulding technology expresses the synergetic challenge most eloquently. No other material so inherently speaks of body and process, offering a 'negative' of the human body.'
(Grant Featherston, 'Design reflections', In Future, no 4, Feb-March 1987. Quoted in Terence Lane, Featherston Chairs, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1988, p12)

The rotation-moulded, polyethylene 'Stem' chair took 18 months to reach production stage and was one of the most technologically sophisticated chairs ever made in Australia. It, and other innovative designs by the Featherstons helped expand the technological capabilities of local furniture manufacturers at a time when there viability was constantly under threat from foreign imports.

The Featherstons' efforts to keep the local industry competitive while supplying the market with chairs that were technologically and stylistically equal to overseas examples resulted in an important body of work that has significantly enriched Australia's design history.
  • The Australian pavilion at Expo '67 featured 240 Featherston talking chairs. Visitors could sit in comfort and listen to three minute presentations by famous Australians including Rolf Harris and Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.
  • Speakers installed in the headrests were activated by the pressure of a person sitting in the chair.
  • The sound system developed well before digital technology used magnetic tapes. It was designed so that if an occupant of the chair left in the middle of the tape, it would start again from the beginning when a new occupant sat down .
See another object with talking points
Designed by Grant & Mary Featherston, Melbourne, Victoria, 1966 and manufactured by Aristoc Industries Pty Ltd, Victoria, 1967-1970.
Listed in Australian Design Index and received Good Design Label in 1967

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Description
'Expo Sound' chair formed from one piece of moulded polystyrene foam and covered in orange wool fabric. The headrest, back and base constructed in one continuous circular form, the head and back scooped out creating a surrounding effect. The headrest and back feature buttoned upholstery. A circular seat of polyurethane is set into the base of the frame. The underside of the base is fitted with a circular wooden ring. Two speakers are fitted to the internal shell in the head bolster and two circular panels or the speakers are visible on the reverse of the back.

Designed: Featherston, Grant; Melbourne, Victoria; 1966

Designed: Featherston, Grant; Australia; 1966

Made: Aristoc Industries Pty Ltd; Melbourne, Victoria; 1967 - 1970


: Montreal, Canada
Marks
None
86/1308
Production date
1966
Height
1145 mm
Width
735 mm
Depth
820 mm

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Gift of BHP, 1986
Subjects
+ Expo '67 Montreal World's Fair
+ Australian design
+ Interior design
+ Featherston, Grant
+ Featherston, Mary
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{{cite web |url=http://from.ph/55635 |title='Expo mark II sound chair' by Grant and Mary Featherston |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=2 August 2014 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}


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