For Dee Clements, who makes beautiful hand-woven goods out of her Chicago design studio, Herron, sustainability is key. “I know it’s an overused buzzword, but it’s really important,” she says. Though she’s talking about the environmental impact of large-scale textile production and why she mainly uses small-farm fibers that aren’t chemically or unethically produced, sustainability, in a creative sense, is also on her mind.
It was a couple of years ago that Chicago-based artist Samantha Bittman first captivated us with her intricate, meticulous paintings on woven textiles. We’ve been transfixed by her work ever since, so when we had the chance recently to visit her studio and delve into her process, we jumped. Bittman creates dazzling surfaces of optically challenging patterns that draw you in to reveal greater depths, dimensionality, and unsteadying shifts in perspective. There’s an objective, mathematical precision to her pieces but there’s also a remarkably human warmth — the result, perhaps, of giving in to the parameters created by the loom while also resisting them.
“It’s about making language visual,” respond the three members of Nous Vous when I ask them about their distinctly French name, which translates to We, You. “Well, it rolls off the tongue nicely, too,” laughs Jay Cover, who founded the London-based trio with William Edmonds and Nicolas Burrows back in 2007. “But aside from that, our external influences tend to be design manifestos where the process is conscious of the audience and collaboration.” We, You — there is a certain anonymity to their practice, reflected also in their European website domain (nousvous.eu), placing the group nowhere specific, perhaps in an effort to avoid defining their collective body of work.
Someday, when someone writes the definitive book looking back on how the internet changed life in the 21st century, they'll include stories like Atelier Bingo's: After living in Paris for two years post-graduation, Adéle Favreau and Maxime Prou decided on a whim one day to leave their burgeoning graphic design careers behind for a life in the countryside, and guess what? It didn't make a lick of difference. The pair now run a bustling illustration studio from a converted factory in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre owned by Favreau's uncle, and thanks to the magic of email, it hasn't stopped them from selling prints online and working with clients like Vogue, The Plant, and Wrap Magazine, plus companies they did graphic design for back in Paris, now three hours away.
We discovered Cave Collective by way of their jewelry, which we spotted at the boutique No. 6 in New York, this past October. In late November, we shot founders Cat Lauigan and Alex Wolkowicz in their Greenpoint workspace. Then, by the end of January, we found out that they'd dismantled most of the studio and jewelry line, that Lauigan had relocated to California, and that both artists were focusing on their individual practices until they figured out what to do next. And yet by that point, we knew enough about Cave Collective to take the news in stride — ever since Lauigan and Wolkowicz began their collaboration in 2010, it's been an endlessly shape-shifting and exploratory project, one that's seen them living thousands of miles apart for nearly as long as they've lived in the same city.
There are few people who get the opportunity to uproot, relocate, and be instantaneously welcomed by a community of powerful and creative women. But Maryanne Moodie — the Melbourne, Australia native who settled in Brooklyn last year after her husband got a job a Etsy — did just that. Since arriving, she says, “I’ve been able to meet and forge fast friendships with so many amazing textile ladies — inspirational women who are creative as well as business focused. I’ve had the chance to collaborate professionally with them — as well as down a few glasses of wine over plans for world domination.”
When Egg Collective launched their debut furniture collection at ICFF in 2012 — snagging a Best New Designer award in the process — they seemed to the design world to have come out of nowhere. And in fact, though the three — Stephanie Beamer, Crystal Ellis, and Hillary Petrie — met and began collaborating as 18-year-old freshmen at Washington University's architecture school more than a decade ago, the truth is they had formally joined forces and had begun crafting an ICFF plan only six months earlier. "I remember the three of us sitting outside the Javits Center in our Budget truck, about to move in furniture that we’d been working on with no one having seen for six months," says Beamer. "I was like, you guys, this is it. People could just walk by us the entire fair. But thankfully we seem to have struck a chord and the work resonated."
One look at Ida Ekblad’s studio and you might wonder how the Norwegian artist manages to do any work in this beautiful seaside spot near Oslo. We’d worry about getting distracted, or worse, growing complacent. But it hasn’t taken the edge off of Ekblad’s output. If anything, having such a large, light-filled space has allowed her to “experiment on a huge scale” with her process and materials. It’s only added to the tension in her quasi-abstract paintings, which are both dreamy and dynamic, combining depths of color and fluid shapes with a kind of graphic clarity and confidence.
The folks who rank as internet celebrities in Sight Unseen’s world — usually those with a killer eye and a massive following on Tumblr or Instagram — would no doubt seem obscure to most. But even our regular readers might be surprised by today's unconventional yet equally influential story subject. A few years ago, after stumbling across some articles about mathematician Father Magnus Wenninger on the web, we added him to our “Minnesota” file, whose sole other occupant at the time was RO/LU; earlier this summer, we finally had an occasion to open said file when SU contributor Debbie Carlos asked if she could shoot anything for us there. Carlos was game enough to track down the nonagenarian priest — who became a cult figure in the mathematics world (and later in the online world) for his elaborate paper-polyhedron models — in his home at St. John’s Abbey outside Minneapolis. Not only did she photograph Wenninger and his works, she got him to open up about his history and his methodology as well.
Jennie Jieun Lee makes plenty of glossy, pretty pieces that would look lovely alongside other objects in your home, but there’s a real depth of feeling that distinguishes her work. The large ceramic masks she’s been showing in galleries have a visceral, unsettling quality and a sly humor. But even her more practical goods — plates, bowls, cups, and creamers — convey moodiness and urgency, something you don’t often find yourself saying about tableware. “I think it was because of all those years I was stuck,” she says. “It was dying to come out.”
If the best reason to know the rules is to be smarter about breaking them, then consider the year-old collaboration between designers Albert Chu and Jennifer Myers not so much a violent upheaval but an exercise in playfully tweaking the system. Chu and Myers met while studying at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design — an institution they say reinforced their respect for constraints — and each worked in architecture and launched an accessories line before combining their shared pedagogy into a series of leather and brass pouches. “I think working within, and rebelling against, a set of parameters is actually the ultimate in design fun,” Myers says. Chu agrees: “We love working with fundamentals and trying to introduce a slight deviation,” says the designer of Otaat, which stands for “one thing at a time.” “Harvard was about being restrained in the conceptual and design intervention, that sometimes the most effective and thorough result could arise from a minimal, subtle act.”