New York,
Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao have an eponymous art practice (paper plants, rock sculptures) and a design-studio-within-a-studio called CHIAOZZA (shelves, mirrors).

What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
Adam: I like to think about history and imagine how native Americans might have lived, or what it may have been like for early settlers building new homes. It helps me fantasize about a kind of ‘wild domestic’ and the severity and ingenuity and importance of objects in our living space. We sense a beautifully mysterious line between the idea of decoration and the notion of living with things. For us, the objects we surround ourselves with are opportunities for endless experimentation, from the can of beans we chose, to the chair we are sitting in, to the vessel we use to pot a new houseplant. I like to use the things I live with. I like to live with them and use them until they fall apart or become something else. Every time we consider throwing something away, we first question its potential at becoming something else. Can that old broken chair that has finally bottomed out become a new home for one of our large houseplants? I love to see my environment shift and change, like a living thing, with small shadows of things that existed before.

Design to me is what we make it. It is an endless collaboration with our environment, our needs, our desires, our curious choices in life, and ultimately a collaboration with other designers who have made things that have found their ways into our homes. The same chair will seem different anywhere it’s put, so for me the context and texture of each of our environments is the beauty of design.

Terri: We see our work as part of a continuum that includes the ever-evolving expression of the human spirit. We draw from tradition, craft, and imagination alike to make things that we feel connect to this fundamental spirit — and I think sometimes this makes our work seem primitive, childish, and playful, which of course we welcome. Maybe American design has the feeling of being a wide-open field where we’re free to draw inspiration from many different cultures, histories, traditions, crafts, disciplines, mediums, etc without feeling “pinned down” to a preconceived idea of what design is, or what art is.

What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
Adam: In December we’re scheduled to have an exhibition of large-scale CHIAOZZA sculptures at Vox Populi in Philadelphia. We have had a desire to start taking our geometric wall objects up in scale, shifting our perspective by altering our bodies’ relationships to them. We want to see how these functional, domestic objects change when they’re installed in a gallery on the floor or hanging from the ceiling and are bigger than us. We’re excited to see how that shift guides us into other ways of working with these shapes.

Terri: We’re also embarking on our first public art project this winter, in Florida. It will be a 14-foot-tall painted cairn sculpture. In general, we’re working to take our sculptures up in scale and outdoors — for instance, plant sculptures that you can walk under or climb on. I have a feeling we’ll learn a lot this coming year.

What inspires your work in general?
Terri: I’m inspired by the unusual ways that people and animals inhabit the environment around them. Makeshift furniture, temporary huts, ceremonial spaces, hand-built houses, vernacular and ancient building, quirky landscaping, spaces within trees, weird structures, funny decisions, how architecture collides with nature and how people deal with it.

Adam: I love glue. I love exterior flat house paint. I love colorful plastic-dipped hardware. I go through phases of obsession with certain utilitarian tools and really enjoy questioning the function of these things. For awhile it was traffic cones, or the caps to saline solution bottles, or the pipes and nozzles that come out of buildings at curious angles. I am forever mesmerized by the idea of substance: physically, metaphorically, conceptually. Our endless pursuit of manipulating substance is fascinating for me and gives me constant permission to experiment and play with the substance and tools around me.

Both: Our collaborative practice is rooted in the idea of Play. As a tool for working together, the inherent back-and-forth move-making of a playing a game is often how some of our projects come together. Define a goal, lay the field, set the rules, and go! Along the way, we might make amendments or change the game, who knows, it’s not that defined. We’ve created collages, sculptures, drawings, installations, and photographs in this way. We use Play as way to shift our perceptions and enter into a different kind of territory where fiction can become a reality. Lately we’ve been inspired by toys, games, and puzzles, and some of our work is starting to enter a more interactive place. We want to make things that a viewer or end-user can handle and play themselves. No promises yet on the outcome, but we’re pretty excited about it.