FREDI FISCHLI & NIELS OLSEN Your work plays a lot with classic modernist references like Noguchi and Breuer. Why are you drawn to the “domestic landscape”?
MELANIE MATRANGA My knowledge of the history of design is relative, so my approach is more instinctive. Marcel Breuer is a major figure: the way he works, the political aspect of his approach (sharing DIY methods for building his furniture designs in a book, for instance) is almost anarchist and ascetic. When I look at the “early design avant-garde,” I immediately think about the Shakers’ furniture, where the body becomes a mental representation of your mind: it’s not really about physical feelings, but more about philosophy, almost mysticism. My brother used to say that modernists were some kind of obscure fascists, denying they owned society, but in an authoritarian way. I totally disagree, but I do think I’m more concerned about our human condition, than a certain societal context. While the modernists created this kind of generic forms, Russian novelists like Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy created generic complex figures full of intensity: “the neurotic teenager,” “the tormented sinner,” “the bored married woman.” Of course it’s really complicated to talk about my work, which is still young and uncompleted, in these terms; but I’say I’m trying to touch this kind of “intense generics” gait.
F&N Speaking of generic—when you incorporate design elements, you don’t select eccentric avant-garde prototypes. More often, your design references are objects—for example, the Noguchi paper lamps distributed as copies by IKEA—that have become normal, generic products inhabiting the entire world. They’ve lost their aura of the radical.
MM I really like the fact that an object, or the feeling of being touched by beauty, becomes normal and common. That’s precisely why I chose to work with the paper lamp or Breuer chair, which was copied by IKEA as well. Even in my own work, I often try to hide myself or a representation of my taste. When I reproduce this “generic” furniture, it is always badly done, dirty and imprecise. It’s not a signature—it’s a way to highlight the fact that we all undergo the same conditions, over and over again: we try to escape or modify them, but even when we feel that we’re singular, in the end, we’re all moving in the same circle. I really think this ambiguity is very beautiful.
F&N The interiors in your works often seem to be social spaces, settings for something else. Very often, your exhibitions function like a stage of a domestic interior.
MM Yes. More and more, I am thinking that the interior is a pretext for talking about ourselves in front of the world. I want it to become more political. When I first started working with interiors, it was a simple way of trying to talk not about myself, but about myself in relation and contrast to others. But now I want it to become more of a set rather than a sculpture.