Clemence Seilles was only four months into a job at Jerszy Seymour’s Berlin studio when she started to feel it: that restlessness creatives invariably get when they’re unable to fully express themselves. It’s not that the job wasn’t fulfilling — it was, and more — but working fulltime meant Seilles hadn’t yet found a way to devote attention to her own projects. “I had this idea to make a piece that would do the work for me, something that would happen when I wasn’t there,” she recalls. One morning she hung a few felt-tip pens from the ceiling of her apartment, their tips pressed down against a sheet of Chinese rice paper, and left for Seymour’s studio. “When I came back that evening, the work was made.” The pens had bled out in colorful blobs, absorbing into the paper fiber and creating beautiful overlaps.
When we visited her new studio in Berlin two weeks ago, the French designer jokingly referred to the series — which she later titled “Marks on support,” expanding it to encompass the lamps featured in this story — as “a lazy project.” But in fact, it fits perfectly into her fledgling oeuvre. Most of the work she did during her studies at London’s RCA school, and some of what she’s made since graduating last year, puts the passage of time in a starring role. Her thesis, for example, explored the shift in architecture during the last century towards nomadism and impermanence, culminating in her building a temporary dwelling pod in a vacant office building in which she lived and worked for two weeks. “Made In Time” turned the construction of a banal stool into a performance piece, demonstrating the value of craftsmanship by shortening and lengthening the time she devoted to making each one. And for the Osmose lamp, it’s all about spontaneity. “The less preparation you have the better,” Seilles says. “It’s not a decision of the mind making a line or a curve, it’s more like making a stage for a drawing.” You control some of the variables, but gravity and osmosis do the rest. All you can do is know when to stop the process.
Seilles, who also worked for the Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout in between her studies, has lately been focusing on combining off-the-shelf industrial elements with primitive techniques to create new works — like her Matter Lamp, whose rustic wooden tripod supports she hacks out of 2x2s with an axe. And since our visit, she’s begun preparing to turn her studio into a conceptual forest, fashioning the sylvan scene out of everyday office supplies and equipment. Considering Seilles’s talent for putting on a good show, we asked her to demonstrate for Sight Unseen readers how to make one of her Osmose lampshades, from start to finish. The process is documented here.
Imagine you’d never driven a car before. A bike, sure, but never an automated vehicle — until one day the head of the Indianapolis 500 called you up out of the blue, inviting you down to the track to do unlimited test laps under the guidance of his star drivers. That’s pretty much what happened to Belgian designer Sylvain Willenz in 2008, except that instead of cars it was glass, a material with which he was wholly unfamiliar before arriving at the famed European glassmaking research center CIRVA, where he'd been hand-picked for a residency. Slightly less sexy than a Maserati, but a dream for a young talent like Willenz. “A lot of amazing artists have come through here: Richard Deacon, Gaetano Pesce, Sottsass, the Bouroullecs, Pierre Charpin,” he says, speaking from his room at the 27-year-old Marseilles facility, which is funded by the French government. “The idea is not to end up with something, but to try something. They’re very open to people coming here who don’t know anything about glass, like me — and that that’s what’s going to produce something interesting.”
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.
Lists are one of the strange byproducts of daily life. You hardly ever think about them — until, of course, one of them becomes obsessive enough to turn into a book. But even for the rest of us, a list can reveal much about the habits of its maker — the multitaskers and the romantics, the punctilious and the impulsive among us. In the hands of artists, a list can become a document of the art-making process or even a work of art unto itself. That’s the idea behind this new book by Liza Kirwin, curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, which counts hundreds of thousands of lists in its collection.