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The Stranger Within

Design Academy Eindhoven alumni Studio Formafantasma have created a new design installation called The Stranger Within for MAK, Vienna

By Katie Dominy / 12-09-2013 speaks with the Studio Formafantasma duo Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin about their latest work that opens this Saturday September 14 at MAK, the Museum for Applied Art, at its satellite property, the Geymüllerschlössel summer house. A tapestry commission is surrounded by previous work from the designers, such as Botanica from 2011 and Craftica from 2012, both collections redeveloped for this MAK exhibition. 

How did you come to be invited to MAK to create the Stranger Within?

“We were asked by Thomas Geisler, collection curator of the MAK Design Collection in Vienna to make a site specific installation at the Geymüllerschlössel, a summer house built in 1808 for the Viennese merchant and banker Johan Jakob Geymüller. The residence, now the property of MAK, is furnished with authentic furniture in the so-called ‘Biedermeier’ style. Thomas Geisler started a programme last year called Design Salon, where he asks contemporary designers to make a site-specific intervention in the space. The focus is very much on the house and the collection of pieces conserved there.”

The installation at Geymüllerschlössel, sits the studio’s collections such as Botanica and Craftica, developed from animal or plant waste materials, alongside pieces from the house such as a bouquet of artificial flowers made entirely of butterfly wings from the 1840s.

Thomas Geisler explains more: “Just as the Biedermeier era’s exploration of nature was accompanied by the Industrial Revolution, the present era of digital modernity is accompanied by the search for alternative raw materials and production techniques as well as a new sensuousness inherent in the products themselves. Studio Formafantasma views itself as a materials laboratory of a new industrial era.”  

Back to Formafantasma - Why did you decide to create a tapestry and how does the piece relate to the Geymüllerschlössel?

“There are several reasons why we decided to design a rug. This textile work hand-knotted in wool, is a reference to the Jewish family of textile manufacturer Isidor Mautner, who owned the villa from 1888 to 1938 and were then forced to flee the country after the National Socialists took power. Also a key inspiration comes from the wallpaper in the room where the rug is exhibited. It is a fantastic print on paper that depicts an exotic representation of India. From the start, we had the idea that it would be perfect to translate some of the colours and patterns into a textile work. Another reason is that we like to establish long lasting relationship with the people we work with. The rug is in fact produced by Nodus, the Italian rug company we have already worked with for our rug collection 'Migration'. We like to work and create a team of people we admire and trust. This is why we have been really happy to work with Thomas Geisler, Nodus and the crystal company Lobmeyr, for our intervention in the house.”

The Design Salon will also include the showing of the first prototype of the drinking set Alphabet, developed in hand-blown glass for Viennese glassware manufacturer J. &L. Lobmeyr. Alphabet will be produced next year as a special edition to celebrate the MAK’s 150-year jubilee.

Can you tell us about the elements and motifs that can be found within the tapestry?

“The building, typical for the beginning of the 19th century, is a great example of the fascination for the exotic: the architecture is in fact an eclectic blend of Gothic, Indian, and Arabian style. Drawing inspiration from the venue, our intervention is dedicated to the notion of exoticism. ‘The Stranger within’, the title of the exhibition and the rug itself, is both describing the position of our work and us as designers - strangers within the house – and also describing a different approach to the exotic where the diverse and the unknown isn’t a far-off presence but closer than expected. 

“The exotic appearances and references of the objects exhibited are not the expression of other cultures but more the re-thinking of the local, the known and the past. For instance the rug is shaped like a mask, mythical representation of the foreign and the exotic, and is presented alongside ‘Bladder Chandelier’, a light installation that uses inflated or hardened pig’s bladders. Despite looking exotic and almost tribal, the two works are instead referencing a local folk tradition: in some regions of southern Austria, as well as in Germany, Belgium and Catalonia in Spain, it is still common during carnival time to inflate pig’s bladders and use them as part of the festival dress.”

The Stranger Within runs September 14 to December 01 2013 at MAK Branch Geymüllerschlössel, Pötzleinsdorferstraße 102, 1180 Vienna

Main image: Studio Formafantasma, The Stranger Within, 2013
Other images: 1 and 2 - Bladder Chandelier, 2013 3 - Studio Formafantasma, Alphabet, 2013 4 Studio Formafantasma, Craftica, 2012 5-7 – Studio Formafantasma, Botanica (Edition Geymüllerschlössel), 2013
All Images © MAK/Katrin Wißkirchen

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