Monday, March 26, 2012

Bodies of Art

In my search for interesting bits of art and design, I stumbled upon Kendall College of Art and Design's fashion show; Bodies of Art.  I'm not much of a fashion person, so I didn't know what to expect.  Before the show started, I had a chance to look at some drawings by designers, explaining what they were aiming for with their works.
I always like hearing from artists about how they make their art.  Because of that, I decided that I would try to interview designers who had pieces in the show.

 The theme was "Forest Floor", and the designers interpreted it in a variety of ways.  I liked that the clothes ranged from things that I could imagine people wearing in normal situations to things that were a little more "out there", like you might expect in a fashion show.

 I noticed a number of pieces that involved other repurposed clothes, like these two, with hacked sweaters and skirts.
 These three pieces were by two designers from Grand Valley State University, Megan and Sam.  I had a chance to interview them as well.

How would you describe your work?We just decided to focus on dark processes of nature, that was kind of the gist of things. There was the tar pit, shedding, and then a wounded animal.
How did you become interested fashion as a whole?I've been sewing since I was fourteen and I just follow a lot of fashion, watch a lot of runway shows, stuff online.
My thing was jewelry, I design a lot of jewelry, and fashion in general, I'm just very interested in. We're both from Grand Valley, and we're members of Grand Valley's fashion club.
How do you go about starting a project like this?We just kinda threw out ideas, I guess, and just kinda started. We had a bunch of random supplies and said “Let's just dig in and see what turns up from it”.
Is this the most challenging project that you've done? This was more fun because it could be more conceptual, not like everyday wear type of thing, so I guess in that respect it was challenging 'cause we had to narrow down what we wanted to do for a concept. Yeah, think a little more outside the box.
What's the biggest influence on your work? For me, personally, these outfits is the movie “Antichrist” by Lars van Trier. It came out in 2009 I think. But it's about how the devil is nature, and how nature is the devil. Other than that, I mean, just what I see. I go to thrift stores all the time, so crazy stuff there. In general for me, in jewelry and stuff that I make a lot, I do use a lot of natural elements, and so I guess this is just kind of an extension of what I normally do, and that's kind of how I am, I use a lot of stones and things like that in my jewelry.

This piece stood out with the Native American theme.  I got to interview the designer, Alexandra Johnson, as well.

How would you describe your work? It was really Native American inspired, I've been doing a lot of pieces of my own work, I do paintings, I'm an illustration major and I've been doing a lot of Native American stuff, so that was a huge inspiration for me.
How did you become interested in fashion as a whole? I started crocheting actually, when I was a little girl, my grandma taught me, so I guess learning how to sew and crochet, that really kinda got me interested in it.
How do you go about starting a project? It's usually just an idea, like a concept, you know I like a pattern or a color, really evokes something, and that's usually how I go about it first.
What's the most challenging project that you've done? Well I guess it was quite challenging doing this outfit that I did because it was my first major sewing project, like I had to come up with my own pattern for bloomers and you wouldn't think they would be complicated, but they were. It was cool though, at the end to have it turn out.
What's the biggest influence on your work as a whole? The Native American theme? No, basically the things and the people around me that really make a difference in my life

There was one more designer who I had a chance to interview, although I didn't get a picture of her work.   One of the things I noticed about her work was the skirt, with different strips of fabric, looking very pretty.  Here's my interview with Danielle Hoag.

How would you describe your work? My work is very flowery. It's very fairylike and delicate. I like colors and floral prints as well.
How did you become interested in fashion as a whole? I took a fashion illustration class… I was interested in fashion in movies, I took notes and sketched. I was really glad that Kendall offered a fashion program that I could, you know, get involved with.
How do you go about starting a project like this? I usually sketch it out first, and then I usually draft a pattern and then I choose my fabrics and then I get to sewing, really just putting it together.
What's the most challenging project that you've done? Probably more like headpieces. It's hard to balance them and fit them on the body, and I want my model to feel comfortable at the same time, so that right balance, and if you want things to come to the side or structure, that's challenging.
What's the biggest influence on your work? The biggest influence is definitely nature. I get a lot of inspiration from nature and the world around me, the forest.

Overall, I liked the show.  There were a few things that could be improved for next time though.  The programs were pretty difficult to read, as they were printed with white text on a light blue-grey background.  The lighting could have been better as well, it would have been helpful to have a spotlight right when models came out onto the runway.
I liked the way they incorporated the theme into the whole show, using branch and leaf motifs to decorate the room. I think Bodies of Art was a great experience, and I'll be sure to come again next year.

I'd like to thank all the designers who let me interview them, Katie, for answering all my questions about the event, and Mr. Stonebender, for taking all the pictures used in this post.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Design 99 and The Power House

Several years ago, in a bout of contemplating my future and where I wanted my future to occur, I stumbled upon a variety of people who were doing really interesting things in Detroit. One such group was Design 99. Seven years ago, Mitch, a painter, and Gina, an architect, moved into a neighborhood in Detroit where there were a large number of unoccupied homes. After living there for a while, they opened a storefront design studio and occasional exhibition space. Playing off their name, they offered $99 house calls to anyone with a design problem. Design is often separate from the people it's trying to affect, so doing house calls was one way to bridge the gap between designer and client.

 In 2008, Design 99 bought a nearby house with the intent of exploring what a house can do in the 21st century. This became their first major project: The Power House.

Houses have looked pretty much the same for the past 150 years (and, depending on the house, longer than that) and have served the same purpose and role in people's lives. In a world where the role of an objects constantly being questioned and re-evaluated, one wonders if the traditional role of a house is still relevant. With the Power House, Design 99 has created a house that produces more electricity than it consumes, making the house an item that is closer to taking care of itself. To make the Power House, they cut a large portion of the roof out and modified it to have windows, with a ventilation system to heat the whole house with passive solar heat. In light of the 2008 mortgage/housing/economic meltdown, there was also an interest in giving a house a value that was irrelevant to the variances of markets, and was worth something on it's own.

The Power House project resulted in a lot of press coverage, and because of that press coverage, Design 99 has expanded their work. In 2009 Juxtapoz magazine held an auction and donated the proceeds to Design 99. With that money, they bought several houses and asked the artists who had donated pieces to the Juxtapoz auction to come to Detroit and make something with the houses. Those houses all turned out very interestingly. One of them, they knew, was beyond saving, and was turned into an installation art piece more than anything functional. Design 99 cut a piece out of the floor and used it in one of their museum works, as a piece of a trailer connected to the neighborhood machine. The others were more inhabitable, and one artist bought the house that she worked on, to use as an occasional residence and to let other artists stay there.

One goal of the Power House Project is neighborhood stabilization, which involves securing abandoned homes. For a while, Mitch and Gina boarded up unoccupied homes, simply to protect them from intruders. However, there's nothing aesthetically appealing about plywood screwed over windows, and it's not very difficult for someone who wants to get into a boarded up house to get in. After a while, instead of boarding up houses, they used a more creative method – protection via confusion. They started to put sculptural plywood creations in windows and doors of empty houses, adding interest and possibly more effective protection to these buildings. It's funny, though, after looking at different pieces of work, I noticed that the creative protection objects function the same way, aesthetically, as the heartland machine. The Heartland Machine started out as a boat, then evolved into an art object showcasing creative people who are in the heartland of America, instead of on the east and west coast. In the dashboard of the boat, they added two screens, one showing a video of artists, and the other showing a video of the landscape in the heartland. These two works have very different purposes and very different contexts, but the similarities between them are pretty interesting.

In their presentation, Design 99 talked about the different ways people are using art to revitalize Detroit. People talk a lot about how art can help a city, I've never heard the different methods articulated. The three main things happening in Detroit are the Heidelberg Project, Design 99, and Corktown. The Heidelberg Project is about filling an area that's mostly empty, with a lot of houses burned down or beyond repair, using art as a means to fill the space. Design 99 is about art in the community, and what's happening in Corktown is more about an interaction between art and business. All of them are operating in the same city at the same time, but with different objectives and very different ways of doing things. While I was talking to Design 99, I asked them where they wanted the whole project to be in ten or fifteen years. I'd imagined that they would want to be expanding their efforts with the Power House, and acquiring more houses in a wider area. However, they said that they didn't plan to buy more houses, and instead wanted to focus more on their work with museums. They still want the Power House to be a part of the community, but they wanted to have someone else operate the community programs that they operate now. Gina said that one of her favorite parts of the Power House project has been playing with architecture on a large scale, which is an opportunity that architects don't often have.  Mitch said that one of his favorite parts of the project has been the immediate conversation and exchange that happens in the neighborhood, and is something that you don't have when you're a fine artist working in a studio all day.

I think the Power House, along with everything else Design 99 has been doing, are very interesting.  If you'd like to read more about their work, there are a few articles in Juxtapoz (link) (link) and another article in the New York Times that I'd recommend.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Marc Newson

Marc Newson is a pretty big deal.
He's a $1.5 million Lockheed Lounge kind of big deal. I'm amazed by him, not by his designs (although they are amazing) but by the influence he's had over contemporary design and the size of his career, overall. Everything he touches turns futuristic and otherworldly, and that's the same aesthetic that other people imitate. He's designed every manufactured item I can think of, and he's done so with much critical acclaim. However, I can't help but wonder how he feels about his career. After all, the Lockheed Lounge is the work he's best known for, and he created it in 1986. He's created so many other things since then, but that remains the highest-valued and most famed among them.  It's a lovely piece, but I think it's very curious that it remains his best known work.

The Lockheed.

He designed something else though, that I think is more interesting and far more worthy of the fame that the Lockheed has achieved.  Named after his favourite Pantone colour, the Ford 021C is a concept car that Marc designed in 1998-1999.  It was never sold, and widely criticized because it was small and looked like a toy.  I think it's wonderful, and it's a shame that I can't buy one today.  It wasn't what anyone was making thirteen years ago, gas was cheap and SUVs seemed like a good idea.  I'm the target audience for it, under 21 and unlikely to buy a new car, and if I was in a position to do so, I think I would buy one.  

It looks cute and friendly, like something out of a Pixar movie.  It doesn't look like anything else you see on the road today, except maybe a Fiat 500.  Even then, the 500 is pretty uncommon in America and looks like it's trying to be sporty, in it's own way.  There is nothing sporty about the 021C, and that's refreshing.
Several white Fiat 500s near an ancient monument!

I think there is a strange feeling amongst auto designers that cars should look aggressive and mean.  I don't particularly like it.  The best/worst example I can think for this is the Pontiac Aztek, which everyone seems to agree was an awkward, somewhat regrettable car.   It looks like the designers tried to make it look like it was lunging foreward, and it's just not working well.

Pontiac Aztek.  

I'm not saying that the 021C was a perfect design either.  It's a little bit too different to be marketable.  The trunk is a drawer that pulls out from the back of the car.  That feature seems like it could be problematic with heavy objects in the trunk, or with objects that are slightly too tall to slide in the trunk. The doors for the backseat open with the hinges on the rear, which isn't a fundamentally bad feature, but  it's different from the way things are done right now. 

 An open view of the 021C

I rather like the dashboard of the 021C.  It's anthropomorphic and has a very retro feel, both of which aren't the norm in dashboards.  It's one of the details that make the car, showing that Marc designed every little aspect of it.

The dashboard.
Overall, it's a great-looking little car, and it would be nice to see something like this on the road. 
Here's an article from the New York Times, telling a little more about Marc.  It's definitely worth a read.
All the images of the 021C and of the Lockheed Lounge are taken from Marc's official website, linked to at the top of the post.  The Fiat 500 picture is taken from Fiat's website, and the Pontiac Aztek picture is from Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


This is a brand new blog where I talk about design and art.  I'm an art student.  I'm interested mostly in furniture, industrial design, art history, and sometimes interior design.  I'm on a quest to find awesome things and share them with others.
I post on Mondays, because I believe that they are dull and lifeless and deserve more pep.
I have a slight twitter addiction. You can find me here.  My personal blog is here.  If you'd like to suggest that I blog about a particular topic, you can email me here.
I look like this.