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Happy Birthday, Sight Unseen

On November 10, 2009, Sight Unseen launched with just twelve stories and two readers (thanks, moms). A year later, we've posted nearly 200 stories, visited studios in more than a dozen cities around the world, and found readers from Argentina to Australia. In our ongoing quest to offer an intimate look at process and the obsessions of creative people, we've come across artists who collect Finnish trolls, designers who mime their objects before making them, and stylists who sculpt realistic-looking hamburgers from slabs of German wood and tree bark. To celebrate Sight Unseen's one-year anniversary, we reached out to some of those inspiringly creative folks — like Mary & Matt, whose animated chocolate-bar gif is above and whose home studio we visited last spring — as well as to readers we've yet to meet, asking them to create a birthday card just for the occasion. We hope that you enjoy the results, and that you continue to make Sight Unseen a destination in the next year and beyond.
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Book Case by Raw-Edges

It’s not very often that a designer’s work is accepted into the permanent collection at MoMA when he's just a year out of design school. But that’s what happened to the Israeli-born, London-based Royal College of Art grad Shay Alkalay, who debuted his Stack chest of drawers with Established & Sons at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2008 and saw it honored by the museum that same year. And no wonder: With Stack, Alkalay — who with his longtime partner Yael Mer forms the London studio Raw-Edges — stumbled upon a brilliant bit of reduction. The unit is made from a series of colored drawers, stacked atop one another, that can be opened from either side. There’s no frame and no back panel; in other words, it completely re-contextualizes what a storage unit can be. That same thinking went into the Book Case the pair constructed for their London flat, which is a bookshelf in the loosest sense of the word, seeing as there aren’t actually any shelves.
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Gin is made all over the world these days, from New Zealand to France. But Hendrick’s, owned by William Grant & Sons, is the only gin distillery in Scotland. Located an hour’s drive outside of Glasgow, the Hendrick’s headquarters stand on 380 acres overlooking Ailsa Bay, the body of water that’s home to Ailsa Craig — the island where blue hone granite is harvested to make curling stones.

Hendrick’s Gin Distillery in Girvan, Scotland

The word most often associated with Hendrick’s gin is “unusual,” and there’s good reason for it. Consider the brand’s peculiar visual identity, created by adman Steven Grasse, which collages together semi-Surrealist, mock-Victorian illustrations of naked women in martini glasses, men in dunce caps, butterflies, knights, monocles, trombones, scales, strange machines, roses, and cucumbers. Or the collaborations, most notably with the London-based gelatin artists Bompas & Parr, who in addition to creating a gin-flavored jelly, recently concocted a chewing gum that tastes just like a G&T. And then there are the events: Hendrick’s doesn’t much do the usual cocktail competitions, choosing instead to host croquet matches in the summer and curling duels in the winter. It would all seem like a gimmick, except that for Hendrick’s, which launched a little more than a decade ago, there’s truth in advertising: The gin really is manufactured differently than any other spirit on the market, as we found out when we were invited to the factory in Girvan, Scotland, earlier this month.
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John D’Agostino’s Empire of Glass

On the photography blog Feature Shoot: An interview with artist John D'Agostino, who uses smashed stained-glass Tiffany windows from the 1930s as photographic negatives. D'Agostino's grandfather rescued the shards from the East River when Tiffany's studio was being torn down; the grime crusted on them from being stored away for 75 years now forms a crucial part of his imagery. "The layers of detritus on the surface of the glass have decomposed into wonderful biomorphic forms [that] combine with the layers of color underneath," he says. "This creates a dialogue between past and present."
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MVM interviews David Shrigley

Sighted on Robot shop's website: Norwegian graphic designer Magnus Voll Mathiassen and Glasgow-based artist David Shrigley have an open-ended discussion about art, illustration, Lou Reed, rulers, and art versus branding. Of the latter, Shrigley says: "I sometimes think of my work as always the same, but then at the same time always different. It's the same aesthetic and maybe the same attitude, but (then) if there wasn't something different in there; if there wasn't some kind of surprise each time, I would probably stop doing it."
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Your Favorite Mid-Century Furniture Designers, At Home

It’s possible you’ve spent hours foraging flea markets, wondering how a Russel Wright pitcher or an Eames shell chair or a Jens Risom credenza might fit into your home décor. But did you ever stop to wonder how those pieces may have figured into the homes of their own makers? Leslie Williamson, a San Francisco–based photographer, did — and the result is Handcrafted Modern, a new book that offers an intimate glimpse inside the houses of 14 of America’s most beloved mid-century designers.
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Once in a while, Uhuru's small custom-designed pieces end up in one of their New York Design Week collection debuts. This ebonized walnut media unit, made from a single slab of wood held together with metal plates, may be a 2011 addition, though the studio is also contemplating a line of outdoor furniture.

Uhuru, Furniture Designers

If you were familiar only with Uhuru’s work, it would be enough to surmise that the Brooklyn-based furniture designers are experts at creating something beautiful from practically nothing. (The formal term for this, we’re told, is up-cycling.) In the half-decade since RISD grads Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf have been designing their own line, they’ve produced chairs from Kentucky bourbon barrels, loungers from the Ipe wood planks of a demolished Coney Island boardwalk, and scrapwood stools so stylish they were recently picked to decorate the café at New York’s SANAA-designed New Museum. But while it's true Uhuru are a resourceful bunch, step into their sprawling Red Hook studio and any assumptions you might have about their bootstraps process all but disappear.
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The finished chairs. “In the original project, the chairs were all beaten up, so it was nice to fancy them up. But Richard needs to have something consistent if people want to buy a whole set, so these chairs are brand new. I still have a back stock of vintage ones, though, and if I see a cool folding chair, I’ll buy it.”

Tanya Aguiñiga, Textile and Furniture Designer

Los Angeles designer Tanya Aguiñiga already had two studios when she took up a third this summer: the first in the backyard of the Atwater Village bungalow she shares with her husband and two sisters, and the second six blocks away, in a converted industrial-park-turned-artists’-community near the train tracks. But in early July, Aguiñiga picked up and moved her shop 2,000 miles south to the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, for a five-week residency — the first in a project she calls Artists Helping Artisans. “I had gone to Oaxaca and Chiapas in 2007, and there was so much amazing stuff being produced by the women there,” she says. “People aren’t aware of it because the skills aren’t being passed down anymore and because people are scared to travel within Mexico. There’s isn’t enough tourism or income to sustain these crafts.”
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Lost & Found Films’s This Must Be the Place

The first film in a new series exploring the idea of home, by New York–based documentary duo Lost & Found Films, takes us inside the Boerum Hill apartment of Korean assemblage artist Chong Gon Byun. Like many object artists, Byun decorates through a process of accumulation, and he seems to regard his home as an extended art piece, fretting over the positioning and juxtaposition of each thing. The series, called This Must Be The Place, is the first self-initiated project by filmmakers Ben Wu and David Usui, who since forming Lost & Found a year ago have produced short docs mostly on commission for the likes of Wallpaper, Good, Wired, and The New York Times. We recently caught up with them to chat about the new project.
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Vintage and hand-crafted jewelry: When I arrived, Lee was wearing an amazing, architectural, mixed-metal cuff, which turned out to be the work of Anndra Neen, the Mexico City–born, New York–based jewelry-making sisters who made their TenOverSix debut last month. (That’s their necklace above as well.) The sisters hand-craft pieces made from copper, brass, and nickel silver at their workshop in Mexico City. “We actually just did shoe collaboration with them, with all of these little metal pieces on the front of the shoe,” Lee says.

Fashion Designer Kristen Lee of TenOverSix

Most people, if given the luxury of a third bedroom in a house they share only with a spouse, might choose to turn it into a guestroom, or a studio, or maybe a study. Kristen Lee, a stylist and co-owner of L.A.’s fashion and design emporium TenOverSix, turned hers into a walk-in closet. Step inside and you’ll discover rolling racks of designer and vintage, scarves tossed carelessly around a dress form, shoes lined up in neat little rows, a steamer in the corner, and accessories spilling out over the dresser. And yet for someone so clearly attuned to and obsessed with fashion, it’s not the clothes you first sense when you enter the Ed Fickett–designed, mid-century, Nichols Canyon home she bought last year with her husband and then “renovated the shit out of,” as she says. It’s the incredible proliferation of art. Stephen Shore, Banksy, Leopold Seyffert, Nan Goldin — and that’s just in the living room.
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Art of McSweeney’s

To an extent, Art of McSweeney’s — an oral history of the San Francisco–based quarterly, from Chronicle Books — is about the quirky illustrations, charts, graphs, and covers that have defined the look of Dave Eggers’s publishing venture for the last twelve years. But even more, it's about the art of book-making, which in this case means reproductions of original sketches; odd detours to visit Arni and Bjössi, the Icelandic printers who produced more than a dozen issues before McSweeney’s moved its printing facilities to Singapore and North America; interviews with authors and artists; charts of printing specs; drawings of pensive clouds; and guides to reviewing unsolicited material.
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Our tour began on the third floor of Lobmeyr’s Kartnerstrasse showroom, which acts as a museum of sorts for the company’s extensive back catalogue. Glass cases filled with tumblers, drinking sets, and dishes line the perimeter of a narrow circular walkway, and in the middle is this copper-wheel engraving lathe — the first to be used by the company in the early 19th century. It’s almost exactly like the one that’s used today. “It hasn’t really changed in the last 300 years,” Rath laughs. Its variously sized spindles and discs are used to create a variety of textures and line effects on the surface of glass.

J. & L. Lobmeyr

Since its founding six generations ago, Lobmeyr has tended to follow its own compass rather than listening to the whims of the market — in other words, it’s never been afraid to be a little bit different. It’s why the company moved from its original role as glass merchants to manufacturers; what inspired a relationship with the radical designers of the Wiener Werkstätte; and why the company today collaborates with designers like Polka, whose 2008 beer glasses boast an engraving based on the goals scored during a 1978 soccer match between Austria and Germany.
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