When most of us get a package in the mail, it’s the book we ordered from Amazon, or a birthday gift from our parents. When Bec Brittain gets a package, it’s usually full of dead bugs. She orders them in bulk off the internet for a dollar a pop, then chops them into pieces and transforms them into hybrid bug-monsters, often splicing on outsized crab claws or little incongruous bone fragments. She does this in her spare time while serving as creative director for New York lighting designer Lindsey Adelman, with whom she crafts chandeliers from metal and mouth-blown glass. Torn between a reverence for fine art and an obsession with materials and processes that keeps leading her back to product design, her creative persona is not unlike a longhorn beetle wearing grasshopper wings.
Brittain spent most of her childhood in the D.C. suburb of Potomac, Maryland, where “I always knew we weren’t normal,” she says. Her mother, an abstract artist, filled the house with cow skulls, taxidermy, and weird plants. Her grandmother was an architect and a sculptor who made papier-mâché bones. After starting a Parsons undergrad design degree in 1999, Brittain abruptly switched to philosophy, feeling “grossed out” by the idea of adding more products to the world. “I would want to make a cup, but felt it was wrong to make a cup, that I should make a sculpture instead,” she says. “I grew up in a family where art was the greatest highest good — there had to be a concept behind everything.” She went on to get an architecture degree at the AA school in London even though she “never cared about buildings,” followed by a yearlong stint at the New York firm WorkAC that should have been a dream job but made her miserable instead.
It was around then that she started making bugs, as a kind of escape. It started with a tiny plastic person from one of her architectural models whose head had snapped off. She replaced it with the head of a dead fly she found on her desk and gave the results to her then-boyfriend. Now she has a show at the Lower East Side gallery Ramiken Crucible featuring her mini-monsters alongside the work of her husband Joe Brittain, an up-and-coming artist who shares a studio in Brooklyn with Bec’s mother. Her own studio is inside the couple’s Bushwick home, where — ever since she began working a year and a half ago for Adelman, her kindrid spirit — whimsical objects coexist happily alongside useful ones, like lamps and cups and jewelry. “It suddenly seems reconcilable that a sculpture could also light up,” she says. “After ten years of meandering, I feel comfortable in design again.”
This story was originally published on November 3, 2009. A year and a half later, Dror Benshetrit unveiled at the New Museum a simple, scalable structural joint system called QuaDror, which just may turn out to be his magnum opus. It takes obvious inspiration from the kinds of toys he shared with Sight Unseen here. // Some furniture expands if you’re having extra dinner guests, or folds if you’re schlepping it to a picnic. But most of it just sits there, content to be rather than do. This drives New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit crazy. “Static freaks me out,” he’s said, and so the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has spent the entirety of his young career making things that either capture a state of transformation (his progressively shattered series of vases for Rosenthal) or actually transform themselves (the Pick Chair and Folding Sofa that flatten using simple mechanics). When I first saw Dror’s latest project, a trivet for Alessi whose concentric metal arcs are magnetized so they can be reconfigured endlessly — and even, the designer enthusiasticaly suggests, worn as a necklace — I thought: If he can’t even let a trivet sit still then his fascination with movement must be more than a design philosophy, it’s probably coded in his DNA. I was right. Dror has been obsessed with kinetic toys since he was a child.
“I grew up going to pow-wows and stuff” isn’t the first thing you expect Annie Lenon to say as she’s puttering around the garden apartment and studio she shares with her boyfriend in a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. But then you recall that the 25-year-old jewelry-maker and Pratt grad hails from Bozeman, a city of 27,000 located in the southwestern corner of Montana — a state that with its prairies and badlands and Indian reservations seems downright exotic to most New Yorkers — and you realize she’s working from an entirely different reference point.
As I walked the Tendence gift fair in Frankfurt this summer, Iris Maschek appeared to me like an oasis of glam in a desert of practicality. There she was, surrounded by clocks and soaps and clever ceramic jugs with customizable chalkboard labels, dressed all in black and perched in a cool mid-century rattan chair against this gorgeously baroque Rorschach-like backdrop: A specimen from her very first wallpaper collection.