The aesthetic patterns that govern the creative world of American furniture designer Misha Kahn are not of this world. The have more in common with the props that may have appeared in any science fiction film production in the early 70s, with a stylistic trend that is still popular today in the design universe. A naive and dreamlike world, through which colourful pieces journey. Objects and furniture that have bulging eyes and small furry tentacles with which they feed and simultaneously appear to be about to move.
Misha’s unusual design path may have been influenced by his time working for the creative team at Macy’s stores, or his time in various art departments in the world of cinema and theatre. Whatever the case, it is an aesthetic that he has taken to like a duck to water – a duck in uncharted waters. An enfant terrible who conveys to us the power of his universe.
An undisputed fan of waste materials, plastic, cardboard and any other element with potential, Misha works with these kinds of products for fun and his enormous need to provide an outlet for his creativity, though this means delving into a world of striking objects that not everyone understands. Though not for everyone, his work has attracted a large number of followers, particularly young people and those closely linked to the cultural world. his two solo exhibitions held at the Friedman Benda gallery have managed to show the world a new art, and of course, draw the attention of connoisseurs.
This collage world also fits in to his apartment in Brooklyn, a space filled with his creations which he shares with his partner of many years Nick Haramis, editor in chief of Interview magazine, and in which chaos appears to reign throughout. “My home is a collection of things that I like. I want to feel relaxed and comfortable there, and to also be able to know that if we find some magical item on our travels, we’ll be able to incorporate it and it’ll fit in the with rest of our things, because there’s no real rules or decorating scheme,” says the artist.
1. What key points will we discover in your work?
The main philosophy lies in the processes used to create each piece. Many of the techniques used to make 3D objects are not very easy to understand at first. I like to use very straightforward and simple working methods and techniques as much as I can. I feel more corporeal and less constrained when I create my work than classic architects, who had a very set design structure. In my case, objects with curves add a more interesting side. Also, the narrative of surprise is fundamental in my work. A large part of the spirit of design has to do with cohesion. The same is true for humans. If they were totally predictable from beginning to end, they would be very boring. The same goes for objects.
2. How do you approach the creative process for each of your designs?
I usually draw a lot, and almost never in the studio. Later, when I have something I like, I don’t do anything else about that design for a month until I see if my brain has assimilated it. When this happens, I start making a small-scale model, and this model determines whether or not it will really be worth the effort. Later, in the studio, it’s a very collaborative process to create the piece.
3. Is this the case for all your designs?
We don’t always follow the same method for each piece. Sometimes we’re halfway through a design and I don’t like it, for whatever reason, so we set it aside for a while, sometimes months or years. Sometimes these partial works can end up forming part of new things. It’s a very fluid process.
4. Are there areas of design that are of greater interest to you?
There are topics that I return to frequently, but I’ll never work on something that I don’t feel is in some way alive and can have a life of its own.
5. What role does humour play in your designs?
In general, it’s an inherent part of each project, but there’s never anything that could be described as a bad joke. Every design is perfectly worked out, but they also have a certain air of frivolity and light-heartedness. In any case, until I see the finished work, I’m not able to perceive it beforehand.
6. In what ways do the materials you use influence the final outcome of each piece?
My relationship with the materials is a bit like a circus tamer – I’m seeking to find common ground with them to reach a good conclusion.
7. How should we classify your work: sculptor, artist or designer?
I try to call myself a creative. For me, anything that reduces you to a particular category or classification in a specific field means sacrificing part of what I love about the visual world. And I’m not willing to do that.
8. In some of your previous interviews you’ve mentioned that you’ve retrieved a lot of materials from the sea. Is this a way of contributing to recycling and expressing a concrete language?
I said that about a specific job that I did. Of course I like recycling, the message is a good one, but I also like the marks, the history and the texture of the trash. But there has already been a lot of work done in this field before I got here. I also feel that I can change people’s views about trash and position it among society’s new tastes. I find it hugely inspiring to get people to do something for themselves with these kinds of materials instead of opting for bronze pieces, which separates them from the concepts of materials that everyone can use.
9. Do you think that your pieces are more easily understood by young people?
I hope so! Our generation needs to do so many truly radical things to save the planet… We can’t keep on building houses, cars, etc. like our parents did. We have to start thinking about a whole new way to improve the future, and it’s young people who need to do this.
10. Behind your work, there’s a huge artisanal production. What role does quality play in the finish of each piece?
Working with weavers, experts in metallurgy or glass blowers is fundamental to producing each one of my pieces. The feeling you get from manual work is unique.
11. Do you aim to convey a particular message with your work, perhaps to serve as a cultural tool or generate a certain reaction among the public?What I’m interested in, above all, is to create objects with a strong emotional content. I don’t want or seek to rationalise them.
12. Does creating all of your designs by hand add a greater quality to the final product?
Spending time with each design and the creative process is very important to my work. I want to work on each of the creative processes in order to be able to understand every possibility that’s available along the way. Working with qualified craftspeople ensures, in some way, that I’m able to convey the correct language.
13. And what does your partner say about your work? He also belongs to the creative world…
On our first date I warned him that my past relationships hadn’t worked out because they couldn’t live in my world. Sometimes he reminds me of this when we’re incorporating something absurd in our house, or when I try and drag him to the junkyard to find something. But our home is very comfortable and we both love coming home to it at the end of the day.
Photos: Courtesy of Benda and Misha Kahn/James Orlando/BFerry/ Dan Kukla/NomadMonaco
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