Before Matt Olson and Mike Brady of the Minneapolis studio ROLU began making boxy plywood furniture in 2010 — earning them serious contemporary design cred and a reputation for channeling Donald Judd — they spent seven years designing landscapes, minimalist geometric compositions in steel, wood, concrete, and grass. It was those projects, says Olson, that have helped define the group’s work since, from their love for earthy materials to their awareness of design’s larger experiential qualities. “A landscape is a dynamic thing,” Olson explains. “It has smells, it grows and dies and changes. That taught me to pay attention to what’s really happening with an object; the chair as a visual and functional thing is only the start.” In ROLU’s case, chairs can also interact with users, reference sculptures and performance art and drawings, or become performances themselves, often by way of little more than a few planes of OSB.
Olson, whose grandfather was a modernist architect and great-grandfather was a Herman Miller dealer, says the designers have a term for their boundary blurring philosophy: Sitting as seeing. “Seeing in art is usually the favored mode of gathering information, but it’s fun to think about other ways of experiencing objects,” he says. When the group introduced their recent Primarily Primary chairs, for example, whose fur-covered seats are delicately suspended from their frames with rope, the hesitation of viewers to sit down became a kind of interactive theater in the designers’ eyes. Their latest project, an interior for the Athens art-book store OMMU, has an equally expansive narrative: They began it by thinking about furniture as a series of visual samples, not unlike a hip-hop track, basing the chairs’ silhouettes on fragments of line drawings by the postmodernist choreographer Tricia Brown, which themselves reference the movements of dance. “It’s that when does something become something else question that we’re really interested in,” says Olson. So much so, in fact, that they named their upcoming summer residency at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center after it.
Meanwhile, ROLU — which these days is a trio that also includes Sammie Warren — is gearing up for a second show at the New York store Mondo Cane, whose owner Patrick Parrish was one of the first to take an interest in their furniture work. In February, London designer Peter Nencini will join them for a kind of open R+D lab at the shop, with the results of the collaboration to be displayed there at a later date. It’s another step in what Olson, who began his career in a rock band, sees as a meandering yet organic creative evolution, one in which disciplines like music, landscape, and furniture are merely different ways of expressing the same ideas. To learn more about those ideas, and to see more of ROLU’s recent work, check out the slideshow at right. Then look out for ROLU’s first-ever jewelry project, which launches for sale on Sight Unseen tomorrow!
What you’d make if you had an unlimited budget: “A huge difference in the lives of those who are suffering.”
What you’d make if you weren’t allowed to use any straight lines: “Music? No, a river… No, food!”
Favorite place to shop for materials or inspiration: “Where the past is becoming the present. And in art. We like to play with art history, to search for and think of connectivity and expansiveness. We love John Cage’s thoughts about randomness and how they affected our ideas about the beauty of ‘field recordings.’ We like to think of our work as ‘visual field recordings.’ We also get a lot of inspiration from internet language translators. We love the clumsy poetic possibility that appears when a chunk of text from the Japanese magazine Waterfall is run through a translator.”
This story was originally published on June 9, 2010. Veuve Clicquot's renovated Hotel du Marc is set to open this fall. // In their most famous works, Fernando and Humberto Campana construct by a process of accumulation, looping yards of sail rope around seat frames or folding velvet tubing in on itself to create amoeba-like sofas. So it's fitting that visitors to the brothers’ São Paulo studio should find behind its unremarkable metal grate rooms and shelves stacked high with stuff — weird material experiments by the studio’s half-dozen in-house artisans, miniature models and prototypes, artifacts the brothers picked up on their travels, miles of scrap, and dozens and dozens of sketches. In some ways, it all seems an extension of São Paulo itself, a city of 20 million that in the last century has sprawled so far and wide it’s annexed, at last count, five different downtown areas.
For Uglycute, it all began with a Bruno Matthson knockoff. It was 1999 and Swedish design was having a moment, but not, it seemed to the group’s four fledgling members, for the kinds of edgy experimental crafts and artistic hybrids being made by the emerging scene at the time — Wallpaper magazine and its ilk were still peering into the long shadows of Sweden’s old modernist icons. And so architecture grad Fredrik Stenberg and artists Jonas Nobel, Andreas Nobel, and Markus Degerman vented their frustration in the only way they knew how: by mounting a show around a sarcastic simulacrum of Matthson’s Eva chair made from a clunky particle-board box and cheap nylon straps. Complemented by a set of primitive clay pinch pots and a crude plywood table, the installation served as a launch pad for the group, and its subject matter — elevating cheap materials in order to question traditional norms of beauty and value — lent their firm its distinctive name. “It was meant as a new take on formalistic values,” says Nobel, who with the other three partners has since built a thriving practice known for its work with museums and clients like Cheap Monday.
To any reader who went to design school and is, years later, still making student loan payments month after month, you might want to close your eyes for this one: Rodrigo Almeida — the 34-year-old Brazilian furniture designer who's pals with the Campana brothers, has been featured in Wallpaper, and has made pieces for top galleries like Contrasts and FAT — didn't go to university, not even as an undergrad. What you're looking at here is raw talent, and a career that began when Almeida simply picked up the Brazilian magazine Arc Design six years ago and thought, "I want to do that."