Meet the Greek designers who breathe new life into Isamu Noguchi’s work

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Eleni Petaloti and Leonidas Trampoukis, the co-founders of the design and architecture studio Objects of Common Interest, have a busy year ahead of them. In the past week and a half alone, Greek artists and collaborators have visited galleries and museums in Greece, Italy and the United States to oversee their own exhibition openings. The third stop on this wild ride is the Noguchi Museum in Queens, where last week the couple unveiled “Hard, Soft and All Illumined with Nowhere to Go,” an immersive architectural experience on museum grounds. Their work, which takes an intimate and intuitive approach to the craftsmanship of object making, draws inspiration from ‘moments of unknown simplicity’ and adds a new dimension to Noguchi’s permanent installations on display in the museum. On a quiet day in Noguchi’s courtyard, Petaloti and Trampoukis sat down to discuss the experience of presenting art to the public during a pandemic, the joys of an empty museum, and their shared obsession with them. rocks.

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INTERVIEW: Did you spend the day setting up the exhibit?

PETALOTI: We’ve been installing it for a week, and we’ve just opened to the public. It’s not an official opening with a lot of people, as the museum is paying attention to COVID. That’s good, because they let in very few people. It is a very closely watched and strict policy.

INTERVIEW: Do you find that by controlling the environment, people are able to interact with work differently than if it was crowded and busy?

PETALOTI: Totally. I think people feel more relaxed. You have more peace of mind and you have a lot more physical space to experience the job. A year ago, when we came back from Greece, we started going to museums like crazy. We went to all the places we don’t usually go because they are usually full of tourists. We were able to rediscover New York in a different way than before.

INTERVIEW: It’s so difficult to interact with spatial sculptural works when you’re in a zoo-style museum. Sometimes in a museum, other visitors get your attention as much as the art.

PETALOTI: One hundred percent. We are not industrial designers. Our goal has never been to create the perfect chair or sofa. It is not about perfection. Rather, it is about evoking a reaction or a feeling. When you come to the museum, the first five seconds that you are in space, you might not even notice our pieces. For example, we decided to make a menhir next to the Noguchi menhir which is made of transparent acrylic, like a balloon. We’re very intrigued by creating things that you might not even notice. If it’s crowded, you definitely won’t see our two little rocks. So for us, it’s an abundance of silence.

INTERVIEW: Absolutely. Is all the work you’ve installed built around Noguchi’s pre-existing work, or is there some sort of separation?

PETALOTI: None of the work is site specific. We met the museum’s senior curator a few years ago when the museum had a bunch of archival material that they couldn’t really put together. They received books from Greek artists. They didn’t know the Greek scene, so they couldn’t put the puzzle together, and on our side we were very intrigued. We have been studying Noguchi since we were students, having studied architecture in Greece, in Paris, and now, here at Columbia in New York. So we spent a few days in the archives trying to put it all together. All of a sudden we were talking about having an exhibit here. We suggested some crazy things and wanted to change the whole museum. It would have required moving all of Noguchi’s work. [Laughs] It was not feasible. In May, when things started to open up, we came up with a brilliant exhibition plan.

LEONIDAS TRAMPOUKIS: The layout, the work, the text, everything was ready. The senior curator came into our studio and organized our items, and then we created a new thing or two, but not specifically for this exhibit.

PETALOTI: Our objects are in conversation with Noguchi.

TRAMPOUKIS: And with the space itself, not just the works. It is still the work of Noguchi, then artists intervene and offer a different interpretation of space.

Eleni Petaloti

INTERVIEW: Does any of your work appear different to you now that you see it interacting with Noguchi?

TRAMPOUKIS: Yes, definitely, especially after having made a lot of visits. We created intuitively, so hearing people talk about our work is always refreshing. It makes us think about the next project in a way.

INTERVIEW: Do you find the relationship between curator and designer a little embarrassing? How strange is it that you hear a curator attribute a narrative to your work that you might never have thought of?

PETALOTI: It has to do with the curator. Dakin [Hart] is very soft and polite.

TRAMPOUKIS: It is not imposing. We had more space to think.

PETALOTI: In this case, it’s not a retrospective, but it’s the first time that our work has been presented in this way.

TRAMPOUKIS: It is not a specific installation that was designed for space. Everything we have done in the past two years is here.

PETALOTI: The works are much more colorful and crazy.

INTERVIEW: In your opinion, what is the central message that emerges from this exhibition?

TRAMPOUKIS: There is a common thread that links all of our work. There are two ways to read this exhibit. It could be an exhibition only of our works, which means that there is a common concept between all the works and our manufacturing process. Or you can look specifically at how they interact with how Noguchi works. Noguchi worked from abstract ideas, without necessarily having a space in mind. It’s the same for us, there is always an element of interpretation. They are sculptures, objects and something in between.

INTERVIEW: Is there a specific room for each of you that you feel new to love now that you see it in space?

PETALOTI: I’m obsessed with the last job we installed. There are two inflatable lights, which is a tribute to the lamp. We have created a single plate which carries the bulb and the cable. The idea is to create unlimited versions of this inflatable light. Also, a new stool. It is an acrylic gel stool. We present it in transparent white. In Copenhagen later this fall, we’ll be showcasing it in brighter colors. It’s like cutting a rock in northern Greece, where we come from. It’s super heavy. It’s my obsession.

TRAMPOUKIS: The things we worked on last year were very nature inspired. Without thinking, we created two or three different projects around the stone. One is this in another dimension, one is these opal and iridescent acrylic inflatables. that were actually called standing stones and what came out of that idea of ​​a logical part and the same. In fact, we were making stones that ended up in the museum garden, which is all about stones. With these materials, we don’t define them as an object. We were doing rock formations. So sitting here next to real Noguchi stone carvings blew me away. It is a very natural thing to be here. Noguchi repeatedly tried working with plastic, and it never matched his tongue. But here it is an immediate contract.

INTERVIEW: What is the most important aspect of this collaboration for both of you?

PETALOTI: It has been a very intense and very rewarding summer. Greek summer is always a wonderful and relaxed time. But it was totally worth it. We wanted to share this work and we are very happy about it.

TRAMPOUKIS: These three shows that we just opened are all presented at the same time. These are different projects that tie all of our work together.

PETALOTI: For a year and a half we weren’t showing anywhere. Now it’s a comeback experience.

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To see until February 13, 2022.


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