ROLU, Designers

Before Matt Olson and Mike Brady of the Minneapolis studio ROLU began making boxy plywood furniture in 2010 — earning them serious contemporary design cred and a reputation for channeling Donald Judd — they spent seven years designing landscapes, minimalist geometric compositions in steel, wood, concrete, and grass. It was those projects, says Olson, that have helped define the group’s work since, from their love for earthy materials to their awareness of design’s larger experiential qualities. “A landscape is a dynamic thing,” Olson explains. “It has smells, it grows and dies and changes. That taught me to pay attention to what’s really happening with an object; the chair as a visual and functional thing is only the start.” In ROLU’s case, chairs can also interact with users, reference sculptures and performance art and drawings, or become performances themselves, often by way of little more than a few planes of OSB.

Olson, whose grandfather was a modernist architect and great-grandfather was a Herman Miller dealer, says the designers have a term for their boundary blurring philosophy: Sitting as seeing. “Seeing in art is usually the favored mode of gathering information, but it’s fun to think about other ways of experiencing objects,” he says. When the group introduced their recent Primarily Primary chairs, for example, whose fur-covered seats are delicately suspended from their frames with rope, the hesitation of viewers to sit down became a kind of interactive theater in the designers’ eyes. Their latest project, an interior for the Athens art-book store OMMU, has an equally expansive narrative: They began it by thinking about furniture as a series of visual samples, not unlike a hip-hop track, basing the chairs’ silhouettes on fragments of line drawings by the postmodernist choreographer Tricia Brown, which themselves reference the movements of dance. “It’s that when does something become something else question that we’re really interested in,” says Olson. So much so, in fact, that they named their upcoming summer residency at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center after it.

Meanwhile, ROLU — which these days is a trio that also includes Sammie Warren — is gearing up for a second show at the New York store Mondo Cane, whose owner Patrick Parrish was one of the first to take an interest in their furniture work. In February, London designer Peter Nencini will join them for a kind of open R+D lab at the shop, with the results of the collaboration to be displayed there at a later date. It’s another step in what Olson, who began his career in a rock band, sees as a meandering yet organic creative evolution, one in which disciplines like music, landscape, and furniture are merely different ways of expressing the same ideas. To learn more about those ideas, and to see more of ROLU’s recent work, check out the slideshow at right. Then look out for ROLU’s first-ever jewelry project, which launches for sale on Sight Unseen tomorrow!

What you’d make if you had an unlimited budget: “A huge difference in the lives of those who are suffering.”

What you’d make if you weren’t allowed to use any straight lines: “Music? No, a river… No, food!”

Favorite place to shop for materials or inspiration: “Where the past is becoming the present. And in art. We like to play with art history, to search for and think of connectivity and expansiveness. We love John Cage’s thoughts about randomness and how they affected our ideas about the beauty of ‘field recordings.’ We like to think of our work as ‘visual field recordings.’ We also get a lot of inspiration from internet language translators. We love the clumsy poetic possibility that appears when a chunk of text from the Japanese magazine Waterfall is run through a translator.”