A Precarious Instagram Trend You Can’t Unsee

When the ubiquity of maximalist marble began to wane, I wondered what might take its place, and in what form. A few months later, an undeniable pattern began to emerge — the kind of pattern that might make you crane your neck or buy platform shoes. I think it started with Ashley Hicks’ Totem Sculptures, or maybe with Omar Sosa’s still lifes for Apartamento.

Sosa art directs towers and stacks built with one material at a time: once with toilet paper, other times with potatoesporcelainplastic bagsiceslabs of claycandlesbreadbricks, and my personal favorite, tape from industrial designer Jasper Morrison’s personal collection. These desk-sized monuments regularly show up in the pages of indie darling interiors magazine Apartamento as an ongoing series.

Another new high-rise in the world of interiors belongs to esteemed English designer Ashley Hicks, aforementioned, who has been hand-sculpting his gravity-defying towers for a few years now. They look a little like elegant stacks of psychedelic peach pits and knobby bits of coral foraged while beachcombing on the set of the 1996 film Space Jam (in a good way). Popping up on Instagram like punctuation (exclamation marks, to be more specific) when you burrow deep into home decor rabbit holes, Hicks’ “Totem Sculptures” have become fixtures in chic, offbeat New York apartments and London flats. His works are kind of like readymades in this new still life trend that threatens Instagram’s aspect ratio with sheer height.

(Did you really think I wouldn’t find a reason to sneak a Luke Edward Hall photo in here somewhere?)

I’d argue this still-life composition is a kind of vertical elaboration on freakebana, but in this iteration, the only way to go is up. You’ll see it in Architectural Digest, sure, but you’ll also see it in the Nevada Desert and while you’re shopping for a housewarming present (if you’re trying to win Houseguest of the Year by buying Levain cookies, that is).

Through the lens of Instagram, the inclination to stack is also permeating the art world — in measures equal parts cozy and lanky. In the cases of artists Dave Hardy and Marcelo Krasilcic, pillows and mattress pads become fodder for their work…

…whereas Annie Morris plays with the illusion of perfect balance.

As someone who is in the business of shooting a lot of still lifes (though admittedly this is more so in the wheelhouse of my colleagues Emily Zirimis and Louisiana Gelpi — we have a running joke that I am only capable of taking vertical photos, which stems from my penchant for shooting portraits), I take note when other photographers and prop stylists really nail it. Matt Jackson is a bit of a wizard in this department: he can stack a sphinx on a Kurt Cobain book on a crate on a mattress and presto! Stacks on stacks, totemic and oddly satisfying.

Alec Iatan finds opportunity in our everyday stacking habits, like when dishes start to pile up in the sink. Note the grape stem on the left: (potentially) a small, wiry homage to freakebana.

The New York Times Magazine reimagines Thanksgiving dinner, an occasion traditionally laid out horizontally, seen now as something narrow and perpendicular to a tablescape.

Casa Shop builds a small pedestal for the world’s most princely watering can (and reminds me that I need to buy a Danish-looking yoga block for the toll photography takes on my shoulders).

The Line sends an e-commerce e-mail promoting the new book titles in its store without showing any spines, but rather exposing scraggly book pages. This tower feels like a corrective, a muted backlash against Pinterest’s color-coded bookcases.

Michelle Maguire pays tribute to her Italian-American grandfather in Bonfire Mag, who was an after-dinner architect: He had a knack for collecting any remaining items left on the table after a meal to build his version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Of course, the impulse to design and stack vertically didn’t originate with the still-life photograph — structures like cairns and totem poles have preceded and no doubt inspired this particular brand of art direction. And three cheers to that, because it feels like a refreshing turn of events after years of the overplayed bird’s eye view, depicting brooches and breakfasts alike. I’m much more eager to learn the art of stacking stuff.

Feature image by Edith Young. 

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