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Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design

There are several somewhat shocking things about Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design, the first book out from a new eponymous imprint by ex-Taschen impresarios Charlotte & Peter Fiell. First and most arresting is its bright orange, webbed half-slipcover, designed by the Brazilian shoe company Melissa and infused with that company’s signature scent: It’s somewhere between a piece of tutti-frutti chewing gum and a bottle of Designer Imposters fragrance. Second is the reminder that some plastics aren't wholly synthetic — a fact that’s easily forgotten — but rather the descendants of various amazingly named rubber plants, like Gamboge, Gutta Percha, and Caoutchouc. And third is the realization of just how many products would never have been possible, or would at least have been dramatically altered, without the material’s development: dental plates, curling irons, vinyl LPs, and more.
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Box divided into twenty compartments: “I think this came from some kind of dentist — there was stuff in each compartment at some point, little remnants of fillings and other things. That’s what I love about objects that have been removed from their original context: There’s a reason why they were made a certain way, but when you take that reason away they’re just decoratively beautiful and unknowable objects.”

A to B at Toronto’s MKG127

There’s no object too mundane to catch Micah Lexier’s eye. He collects scraps torn off cardboard boxes, envelopes and papers lying in the street, even bathroom-cleaning checklists at restaurants — anything that deals with the passage of time or with systems, the driving forces behind his own work as an artist. “I love garbage day,” he says. “It’s hard for me to walk home and not find things. I keep a knife in my pocket just in case.” It’s not that Lexier necessarily uses these found items in his own pieces, like the 1994 series in which he photographed 75 men from age 1 to 75, all of whom were named David. They’re just another part of his lifelong fascination with the aesthetics of order, a way of seeing the world that was mapped out perfectly in the show he recently curated at Toronto’s MKG127 gallery, where curiosities from his collection sat alongside sequentially themed works by other artists.
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Paul Loebach on American Primitives

Two hundred years ago, when American pioneers were streaming across the country making homes for themselves in the uncharted wilderness, anyone who needed a corn grater or a mouse trap had to knuckle down and make one. “Everyone was a designer,” says Paul Loebach, who’s long been fascinated by such primitive, purpose-built objects, typically hand-carved in wood or crudely forged in metal. “Whereas Europe had a network of goods trading, for the settlers it was like, we’re limited to these five square acres. They had to be really clever to make the most out of what they had, and that kind of ingenuity is inspiring to me.” Already knowing this about the Brooklyn designer after interviewing him last November, Sight Unseen invited him to choose his favorite objects from the 1972 book American Primitives, which we found at an Ohio flea market for $2 and which contains several dozen annotated selections from Norris, Tennessee’s Museum of Appalachia.
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Hot rods and motorcycles: “One of the simplest and most-beautiful machines ever made is a 1976 Bultaco Sherpa-T, a Spanish trials bike. It looks even better covered in mud. This one I keep in my studio; I don’t get it out enough but I can’t get rid of it. I’ve had it for 15 years.”

James Victore, Graphic Designer

Not everyone knows this about James Victore, but he actually doesn't use Sharpies anymore, his weapon of choice back when he first started scribbling dirty words and other provocative drawings across plates and hand-made posters. He packed them all up in storage a few years ago, opting instead for paint pens, and more recently, Japanese Sumi-e brushes. "Sharpies are a line I know," the Brooklyn-based designer explains. "I'm doing a job right now for Bobbi Brown cosmetics, and using a Sumi-e brush with India ink precisely because I suck at it. It's so much more interesting than being good at something — I like the idea of chance and mistakes. I can't wait until I’m 80 and have that shaky old-man handwriting."
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Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations

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.
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Originator: D&C Flour Co. Date of origin: Regular, 1918; instant, 1945. Notes: Early cookery grouped dumplings and puddings together, probably because both were cooked by steaming. Very early use of the word referred to sausages, as in black pudding or white pudding. Puddings range from Yorkshire pudding, to Sussex, to sweet, heavy puddings like Christmas plum pudding, to the lighter dessert puddings of milk, eggs, thickeners, and flavorings that Americans think of as puddings.

America’s Favorites

Andy Beach had quite a few strange, obscure books from his personal collection for sale at the Apartamento pop-up store in Milan last April. But America's Favorites kept us captivated for hours: A 1980 anthology of junk food that treated each item like some kind of museum specimen, listing its package dimensions, date of origin, ingredients, and backstory — from macaroni and cheese to Cheez Doodles. The best part was that there seemed to be not a trace of irony behind the presentation, a fact I confirmed by painstakingly tracking down and then interviewing its authors, Kay and Marshall Lee. They simply wanted to present food as art, and the 75 choices in the book happened to be Americans' most beloved.
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Describe your working process: "I have no general recipe, but I know I'm obsessed."

Neuland: The Future of German Graphic Design

The editors of Neuland, a recent compendium of up-and-coming German graphic designers, struggled with all the usual big, philosophical questions while putting their book together: What is German design? What is German? Who cares? If they were Ellen Lupton or Steven Heller, they might have spent pages upon pages ruminating on these issues. Instead, they did what any editors who are actually designers by trade might do — they asked their 51 subjects for the answers.
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Archipelago House by Tham and Videgard Hansson Arkitekter (Husarö, Sweden) "Conceived as a lightweight construction in wood and glass, this summerhouse is built on Stockholm’s outer archipelago. The robust horizontal character of the black stained exterior corresponds to reflections of the Baltic Sea."

Arcadia

When Henry David Thoreau took to the woods in 1845 to begin his Walden experiment, it was more of an exercise in social deprivation than an outright attempt to recharge his creative batteries. But his flight from civilization does prove that he — and all the generations of writers and makers who have flocked to sylvan retreats for productivity’s sake — felt every bit as besieged by the distractions of modern life as we do nearly two centuries later. Paging through Arcadia (Gestalten, 2009), a catalog of contemporary architectural hideaways built among trees and mountains, all I could think about was how powerful a tool nature has always been in creative life: We need to be immersed in culture to inform the things we create, but we also desperately need escape to give our minds the space to process it.
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Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators

Francesca Gavin is a London-based writer, editor, and blogger, and, like you and me, she’s a major voyeur. For her book Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators, she traveled the world, slipping inside the studios, apartments, and houses of designers, artists, photographers, stylists, curators, writers, and filmmakers to document the chaotic interiors she found there.
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