Antwerp’s Irene Alvarez was a sculptor and recent Royal Academy art grad when she got the call from the cult concept shop Ra — the city’s version of Opening Ceremony — asking her to design a custom installation. But it was the far less glamorous moment that came next that has since marked a pivotal moment in her nascent career: She discovered the Netherlands' Textile Museum Tilburg, which is not only a museum but also an experimental production lab where creatives can apply for technical assistance on machines capable of knitting, embroidering, lasering, printing, tufting, dyeing, and weaving almost anything the mind can conceive. Despite having no previous experience with textiles, she collaborated with the museum on the half-woven Inti Altar sculpture that’s held court on Ra’s second floor for the last two years, and she’s been addicted to the furry medium ever since. Today marks the opening of her first solo show, at Belgium’s other hallowed retail emporium, Hunting and Collecting, and it demonstrates just how far Alvarez has come in her obsession with knits — it contains no traditional sculpture at all, only a textile teepee (above), a line of t-shirts, and a series of three tapestries woven with a psychedelic clash of pop-culture icons and op-art patterning. Sight Unseen recently spoke with the artist about her work with the museum and the ethnic influences behind her imagery.
To move the studio of Boym Partners from New York City to Doha, Qatar, would seem an act of sacrilege, like relocating Ai Weiwei from China to Portland, Oregon, or Ed Ruscha from Los Angeles to Munich. After all, as co-principals of the New York–based firm since 1995, Constantin and Laurene Leon Boym have made their mark in part by commenting on the cultural iconography of American life. And yet a year ago, the couple quit their DUMBO studio, picked up their 14-year-old son Bobby and their cat Ozzy, and moved everything into a high-rise apartment that sits 17 floors above the Doha Bay. The occasion was Constantin being named director of graduate design studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, but in the year since their arrival, it’s become clear that their work there is not just about getting a fledgling design program off the ground but rather about helping create a whole design culture from scratch. “Design here is still largely considered to be a more decorative, applied discipline,” Constantin told me via Skype from the new studio last week. “You decorate a hotel, a restaurant, or a villa. Design as a critical tool for exploration doesn’t really exist.” Adds Laurene: “You have to remember that people lived in tents in this very spot 20 years ago, and now we have a W Hotel across the street.”
By now we're used to furniture designers making art, artists making furniture, and every possible variation along that spectrum. But in 2009, when three of her friends started the Fashion Clash festival in her hometown of Maastricht, the Netherlands, designer and blogger Matylda Krzykowski was convinced her colleagues outside the fashion industry might have something to contribute. She rounded up 10 furniture, textile, and graphic designers and asked them to modify their work for the catwalk — in most cases having no idea what they would come up with until the final "outfit" was delivered to her door. The first year, artist Tanja Ritterbex donned a glittery pink Barbie dress and asked to be rolled down the catwalk while she waved at the audience like Queen Elizabeth. The second year, a designer-artist couple from London created a massive, wearable Tyvek tote bag and requested it be modeled by an old man. And for the 2011 show, presented last weekend, one of the designers encased her model in a mountainous wooden cake, with only her head poking out at the summit — in other words, nothing you wouldn't expect to see at an actual fashion show. We asked Krzykowski to tell us a little bit more about the project and about five selections from this year's collection which are shown here, alongside the participant's usual work.
Whether they go on to work at Viktor & Rolf and Louis Vuitton or scrape together the crazy amount of money it takes to launch a solo line, nearly all clothing-design talents make their first identifiable mark of genius on the fashion world during end-of-the-year graduation shows. Sure, after a year of monomaniacal focus — at least double what any designer ever gets in the real world — the concepts are usually completely overthunk and overwrought, as student work in every discipline tends to be. But without the constraints of the market or a demanding boss, in some ways there can be no purer expression of creative perspective than when designers send that first exaggeratedly proportioned dress or gender-bending jacket down the runway. With that in mind, Sight Unseen made it a point to be there when Generation 12 of the ArtEZ Fashion Masters program opened the doors to their final presentation last week, during the Arnhem Mode Biennale.
If you travel all the way from New York to Arnhem just to attend the fashion biennial in this relatively obscure Dutch city, half the size of Pittsburgh, you can expect people to notice. Your waiter will witness your accent — and the fact that you’re not drinking a huge glass of milk with lunch like everyone else — and ask if you came just for the show, and well, did you like it? Your jolly white-haired cab driver will crack a few embarrassing jokes about the Big Apple before waxing poetic about how lovely it is when the festival’s on. And despite Vogue calling the $2.5-million production the “Greatest Fashion Event You’ve Never Heard Of,” it will seem, when you’re there, like Arnhem's gravitational pull has shifted in some small but significant way.
Think of Work Place as a sort of hyperlocal version of Sight Unseen that peeks inside the studios of Portland, Oregon’s best and brightest creative talents. The site is the solo effort of talented local photographer Carlie Armstrong, who documents a community of potters, patternmakers, illustrators, print shops, woodworkers, painters, comics, bicycle-builders — and even a floating workshop and gallery built inside a restored naval vessel parked near the city’s Sauvies Island — from behind the viewfinder of her Twin Lens Reflex camera.
Peer through the window of the narrow, unassuming storefront space at 160 Linienstrasse in Berlin this week — which, like Maurizio Cattelan's once perpetually shuttered Wrong Gallery, allows for little more than such a glance — and you may feel perplexed at the seemingly disparate objects scattered about its plinths. Toasters, ash trays, broomsticks, plastic spiders: not your typical fare for a gallery like Berlin-Weekly, which normally invites one artist or designer per week to create an elaborate installation piece behind its locked doors for the enjoyment of passersby. During this year's Berlin Design Week, however, owner and curator Stefanie Seidl decided to shift the proposition a bit, partnering with designer Fabian Baumann to ask 40 creatives for two personal objects exploring the theme of "Substitutes"; say, a rolled-up magazine when no fly-swatter is handy, or a spider in lieu of coffee (read on to figure out what we mean by that one). The results will be visible in the Berlin-Weekly space from June 1 to 28, but you can see a portion of its contents in the excerpt below.
In search of inspiration, the Chicago-born designer Stephen Burks has often traveled to places like Peru, South Africa, Haiti, India, Australia, and Kenya. But the idea for his latest project began a bit closer to home: “Three or four years ago, I met this basket salesman at a street fair in New York,” remembers Burks. “His name was Serigne Diouck, and I told him I was interested in his technique.” The two became friends instantly, and Burks soon learned that the baskets were constructed from spiraled sweet grass, stitched together with colorful strands of recycled plastic and made in Diouck’s birthplace of Thies, a tiny village outside of Dakar. Their collaboration, though, was longer in coming. “Since 2006, I’ve been shooting this documentary of my work in the developing world,” says Burks. “Finally in 2009, the Sundance Channel came forward and wanted to produce a pilot. We did a four-day shoot in Senegal with Serigne where I did a bunch of experiments around these traditional baskets.” One of the products to come out of the shoot was the Starburst lamp, a cluster of Diouck’s baskets turned into readymades and strung together with bulbs until they resembled some sort of third-world Castiglioni lamp. On a studio visit last fall, Thelma Golden and Naomi Beckwith — the curators of New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem — spied the Starburst and commissioned Burks on the spot to create the museum’s first-ever industrial design exhibit around the theme of those hybrid experiments. The resulting show, called Stephen Burks: Man Made, opened this spring at the museum.
To identify yourself as a potter in this day and age sounds strangely old-fashioned. A ceramicist, yes; a ceramic artist, sure. And yet there really is no other way to describe Adam Silverman, the Los Angeles–based studio director for Heath Ceramics, who jokes that he keeps a banker’s hours behind the wheel he runs from the back of Heath's Commune-designed retail facility.
You can learn a lot about Dutch designer Bernadette Deddens by just looking at her. First there are the shoes, which — depending on the day and the whims of London’s weather — she very well may have made herself. One pair of sandals constructed from $25 worth of pale leather and black cording could be mistaken for Margielas, yet are no less awe-inspiring for the fact that Deddens actually nicked the look from Tommy Hilfiger. After all, who makes their own shoes, anyway? Then there’s her jewelry, which is almost always her design, unless it’s a collaboration with her husband Tetsuo Mukai, with whom she formed Study O Portable two years ago. The jewelry is their way of giving people a form of creative expression that can be carried outside the house and into the wider world, as Deddens so poignantly demonstrates — hence their otherwise peculiar studio name.
If you've been paying attention, you know by now that the Sight Unseen team spent nearly all of New York Design Week this year holed up in an abandoned lumber building, manning our very first pop-up shop and attending to all the talents we had on board for the second Noho Design District. Did we experience the rest of the weekend's offerings to their fullest? Not by a longshot. But we couldn't quite move on without offering readers some kind of behind-the-scenes take on the festivities, so we enlisted the help of two friends whose viewpoints we trust entirely and asked them be our eyes and ears: Sam Grawe, the endearingly burly editor-in-chief of Dwell, and Felix Burrichter, founder of Pin-Up magazine and local man-about-town. Grawe offered us a mini-photo album of insider moments he particularly cherished — including the back room at the Javits, pictured above, where "judging the Editors Awards requires collateral and fluids" — while Burrichter made us a list of his top 10 (er, 11) highlights from this year's show, perhaps the next best thing to cloning ourselves. See things their way right here.