Ad Unit could not be displayed

Father Magnus Wenninger, Mathematician

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.
Lee describes the piece at the top as “a ghost and he has a friend that goes with him but he’s not pictured here. I titled it after the coffee place I go to down the street: He looks like how I feel when I’ve had too much and there’s no going back.” To the right is a Christmas tree ornament Lee made for her sister, Lila, who lives in Sweden. The other pieces are early mugs along with Lee’s “Crater” creamer and “Suzanne” vase.

Jennie Jieun Lee, Ceramic Artist

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.”
Pouches from Collection One by Otaat/Myers Collective, which will soon expand into larger accessories and housewares. For Chu, the classic example of a subtle intervention is “the box with a twist, where maybe creating one parametric surface may be all you need to generate a series of inventive solutions across the design. This practice is how we both approach our individual projects as well as our collaboration.”

Otaat / Myers Collective

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.”
Miss in her former studio, which was located in Koreatown. "Before we moved to Koreatown, everyone warned us not to. But we had lived in New York; we knew about grimy areas. But we didn’t have a parking spot and it became a nightmare. We’d circle for hours. The studio was so cheap and gigantic, but then we moved to a place with another bedroom and My husband Will has a degree in sculpture, but now he works for an art-handling company and he didn’t want to be making large-scale sculpture anymore so we didn’t need all that space."

Kate Miss

The fact that Los Angeles designer Kate Miss has, since we shot her Koreatown workspace last fall, chopped off her hair, adopted a dog, and moved studios not once but twice — the second time abandoning her freelance graphic design life altogether for a full-time position at Karen Kimmel — may tell you just how busy we’ve been around these parts. But it could just as easily be a reflection of how much Miss craves change. She’s the only person we’ve ever heard utter the words: “I love moving.” And yet that peculiarly peripatetic quality is what defines Miss — it’s what brought her from Seattle to New York and finally to LA, and why she’s equal parts known as a blogger, a photographer, a jewelry maker, and a graphic designer.
Kohn’s swatches are scattered around the studio. “If you know any quilters, I’ve got scraps up the wazoo. I’ve been donating them to the Textile Arts Center, and I sent a huge box to a quilter in LA.”

Ilana Kohn, Fashion Designer

“It was running joke as a kid, that all I wanted to wear were cut-offs and T-shirts,” says Ilana Kohn. “My mom would buy them by the pack, and I would cut the sleeves and the neck.” Of course, Kohn is now known as the creator of a rabidly collected, Brooklyn-based, cult-favorite clothing line, so was fashion always the master plan? Sure, she was interested in clothes, she says, but her teenage self would be more than a little surprised at this turn. At 18, she says, she did not want to be a “fashion person,” intending rather to study fine art and spend her life of painting. But after high school — in a move that would appease parents who worried about her making a living — Kohn left her native Virginia for New York City to study illustration at Pratt.
Chiao and Frezza — both longtime houseplant junkies — especially love how the act of making the faux plants is a kind of metaphor for growing real ones. “You start with the base, a root system for it to stand,” says Chiao. “Then you have to build a skeleton or armature for things to go on. You have meat that fills it in. You have a surface coat.” Adds Frezza: “You start to feel like a gardener. So sculpture as gardener I guess is one of the big attractions to continuing that process.”

Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza, Art and Design Duo

Partners in both life and work, Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza share a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where they run an art practice together as well as a design company called Chiaozza. Yet the first two things they ever collaborated on belonged to neither of those disciplines: One was a stew they made for dinner soon after they began dating — which took so long to cook that joking about it inspired their eventual website name, — and the other was the pancakes they made the next morning. “We were fascinated by their topography, so we took some printmaking ink, inked up a pancake, and started making monoprints with them,” Frezza recalls. “That was when it began, this idea of turning our everyday life and domestic play into some kind of product or work.” Two and a half years later, it’s still the motivation underlying many of their colorful projects, which they characterize as existing at the "intersection of imagination and the natural world."

Upstate, Fashion Designers

If there’s one thing we’ve learned here at Sight Unseen, it’s that a lack of training can sometimes go an awfully long way. Such was the case with Kalen Kaminski and Astrid Chastka of Upstate, who started their popular Brooklyn-based, shibori-inspired womenswear and accessories label back in 2010 with nary a day of fashion training between them. When they first met a few years earlier, Kaminski was an anthropology major turned prop stylist and Chastka was an architecture grad turned unhappy architect. Soon after bonding over an appreciation of handcrafted items, they found themselves trawling New York fabric stores, trying to replicate one of Kaminski’s vintage scarves. “We couldn’t find anything we liked, and we probably had no idea where to go,” Chastka told me when we visited the pair’s Greenpoint studio a few months back. “At the time, Kalen was living with an artist, and he had a shibori tapestry on his wall. We saw that, and we were like, ‘That’s perfect.’”
There are hundreds of macramé looping techniques, and England employs several of these. Her favorites included the square knot, half knot, horizontal and vertical clove hitch, lark's head, overhand knot, diagonal clove hitch, buttonhole knot, and Chinese crown knot.

Sally England, Fiber Artist

Until recently, you couldn’t hear the word “macramé” without it conjuring up visions of thrift-store place mats, summer camp friendship bracelets, and Mama Cass’s bolero vests. But thanks in part to Sally England, the masterful, Michigan-based, macramé artist who has made distinctly modern, large-scale commissions for the likes of Nike and Ace Hotels, the once nostalgic medium is having another day in the sun.
A table in Krantz’s studio laid out with works in progress and remnants of previous work. “I tend to make a lot more than what I’m going to need for a show because I don’t exactly know, in the moment, where things are going to go, so I end up editing out things that don’t really work. But I generally save them and sometimes they’re great in another context.”

Katy Krantz, Ceramicist

Katy Krantz likes to leave things to chance, at least when it comes to making ceramics. She has a method, but it involves working with a “wild and crazy collaborator” — a giant gas kiln that can fire clay at extremely high temperatures. “When you fire that high, the clay and glaze react in ways that are unpredictable. You get a lot of weird, random spotting, things that I would never be able to paint on.” That element of surprise and transformation runs through her colorful, abstract sculptural objects and jewelry, as well as her block prints and recent forays into fabric. Though she’ll establish “loose parameters” at the outset of a project, she says she’s “never been able to work with a real detailed plan in mind. I can work like that, but I tend to make really boring work that way. When I have too much control, it’s less interesting.”
Artist Mel Ngyuen in her current studio: an 8x11-foot room at her school, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, from which she’ll graduate this spring. 
“My first year in school, I realized that I had more fun experimenting between mediums, and trying to subvert each one,” says the 21-year-old. “I already had an interest in graphic design in high school, and then I started making 3-D work with the facilities at MCAD, which combined with photography, has led to my current work.”

Mel Nguyen, Artist

As an artistically inclined teenager feeling bored and marooned in the suburb of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, Mel Nguyen did what any millenial in her situation would do: She turned to the internet for creative stimulation. “Even as a high schooler I was looking at all these graphic design blogs, seeing how the field was changing, and thinking, wow,” she says. As soon as she enrolled as an art student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she started her own tumblr, showing off her experiments sliding from 2-D into to 3-D and back again. She managed to build such a following on the site that her work went viral in certain online art and design circles — so much so that it’s hard to believe she’s only 21, and won’t graduate until this spring.
D’Agostin in his brand new studio in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood, sitting atop his BMW R100. “It’s from 1983 — like me!” he says. Behind him is a photograph of a man riding a bicycle in Shanghai, to which he paid three different 10-day visits last year for a book that's coming out soon. D’Agostin only shoots film and only in black and white, making most of his prints himself in his studio darkroom.

Renato D’Agostin, Photographer

Renato D'Agostin was born and raised in Venice, Italy, "where for most people photography in those days meant weddings and passport pictures," he says. Yet the city did manage to nurture his future career, if only inadvertently so: After falling in love with a photograph of an elephant that his mother won in a town prize drawing, he commandeered his father's Nikon, signed up for a local photography class, and spent his teenage years documenting scenes from everyday Venetian life, a process he's hewed towards ever since. Still, he considers his first foray away from home in 2002, on a road trip through the capitals of Western Europe, to be his most formative experience. "I took that trip to see if interpreting reality was what I really wanted to do," D'Agostin recalls. "From that moment on, I never had any doubt. I felt like traveling was the place where I wanted to live, and the camera was my extension."
A still-life by studiomate Stephanie Gonot and leftover yellow set piece from a job for Apple. Working with clients “is actually really exciting,” Goodrich says. “In a way, there are fewer choices, but more decisions to really be precise about.”

Adi Goodrich, Set Designer

Instead of making things as a way to survive obsolescence, the physical remainders that will outlast us all, Adi Goodrich’s work lives for only a few days before being broken back down into pieces. “I’m not really into all that ego of trying make stuff that stays forever,” the Los Angeles-based designer admits. “I’m much more interested in the cycle of creativity, in making things happen, and surrounding myself with everyone who wants to come with.” Which means that Goodrich, who was just honored with an Art Directors Club “Young Guns” award, might have willed herself into a perfect job: set design.