Nearly a year ago, when we first conceived the notion of arranging interviews between two creatives working with the same material, the idea was to make things interesting by choosing people with very different practices — a designer using resin to make furniture, for example, conversing with an artist using it to make paintings. That’s exactly what we thought we’d done when we invited Meg Callahan, an Oklahoman quilt-maker living in Rhode Island, to talk cotton with Tanya Aguiñiga, a furniture and accessories designer raised in Mexico and based in Los Angeles, and yet it turned out the pair had much more in common than we’d realized: both studied furniture at RISD, both create contemporary work with traditional influences, and — with Callahan about to, it turns out, launch a furniture collection — both have an interest in blurring the boundaries between hard and soft. Which was fitting, in a way, since this story was inspired by a new series of films produced by Cotton that explore the common threads in the daily lives of two seemingly disparate people.
Because they spend their lives under car hoods, or between walls, or tucked inside backpacks, most industrial or utilitarian materials are purpose-built without any consideration for aesthetics. The people who engineer these materials get paid to make them perform well, not look pretty; when one of them gains crossover appeal, it's usually either by happy accident or a general shift in perception — the pendulum of culture swinging back, as it has recently, to a fervor for all things mundane and overlooked. Yet if climbing rope suddenly feels just as relevant in galleries and high-end fashion boutiques as it does strapped to a harness, enforcing the border between life and death, the reasons are obvious: it's cheap, it's durable, it has built-in visual interest, and the same vibrant color combinations that assure its visibility on a mountainside render it irresistible to designers and artists. When we first noticed how many of them were making climbing rope a core part of their practice — from Proenza Schouler to Stephen Burks to the artist Orly Genger, who often use it to play with notions of high art vs. low — we decided to launch a new column called "Material" that quite simply tracks an unconventional material's appearances throughout multiple disciplines in the visual arts.