A Tea Set For The Internet Age

These surrealist ceramics only look normal when streamed over Skype.

Sit down to a breakfast served with Louisa Zahareas’s Screen Mutation tableware, and you’ll think you’ve landed in a Salvador Dali painting. The tea cup slants diagonally on a 30-degree angle, the cereal bowl melts into a puddle on the table, and the percolator is sliced horizontally down the middle, its two pieces jutting out precariously in opposite directions.


But view the dishes streaming on a computer screen, and suddenly they appear like anything else you’d find in the cupboard. Using a clever trick of forced perspective, Zahareas purposefully designed the pieces so they would look normal when viewed from the angle of her computer’s webcam. This is how you hold a tea party in the Internet age.

Zahareas got the idea for the project from her personal experience communicating to her family members over Skype. “I wanted to reinvent our family rituals for this flat display, and for us the most important ritual is the family meal,” Zahareas says. “I was trying to transform my perspective to fit their reality, what they would see. They became the spectator and the table became a theater where I performed.”

To design the twisted tableware, Zahareas employed the help of Dianne Hansford, an expert in computational geometry, who created a mathematical formula based on anamorphosis, an artistic technique of force perspective that was popularly used in Holbein’s 1533 painting The Ambassadors. After Zahareas sent her 3-D models of dish designs, Hansford ran them through her formula and came up with a near infinite amount of possibilities for how the designs could look in real life to fit the online perception. “It deforms [the design] at different levels based on different fields, so for example one possibility for a teapot could be 2 meters long,” Zahareas says. She would chose a design in a size that was doable and print a prototype on a 3-D printer, using the camera on her phone to cross reference how it looked on the screen.

Photo: Femke Rijerman, © Design Academy Eindhoven

The final porcelain pieces in Zahareas’s Screen Mutations collection are beautiful and absurd–bringing to mind Livia Marin’s melting teacups or Ian Anderson’s deconstructed dishware–but they’re not meant to be functional. Instead, their purpose is to draw attention to the ways we represent ourselves and our lives in a better light online. “For me, it’s satire. I wanted it to be humorous and light, but at the same time point to a real issue,” Zahareas says. “How far are we willing to go to distort physical reality with how we are presenting ourselves on the web?”

Screen Mutations ceramics were shown at the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show during Dutch Design Week 2015 (October 17-25). You can read more about the project on Zahareas’s website.


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.