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Orta
Miklos

Interview by
Jay Ezra Nayssan
08.01.2019

Making use of performance and scultpure as tools to activate objects, French/Danish duo OrtaMiklos discuss the notion of “work in progress,” and how their multilayered practice challenges to step out of the comfort zone.

JAY EZRA NAYSSAN  You met a few years ago in Eindhoven during your Bachelor’s degree at the Design Academy. How did your relationship develop into a shared practice?

ORTAMIKLOS  We met in 2014 during our first year at the Design Academy. Usually, students get a chance to show their final project at the graduation show, benefiting of the large public venue at the Dutch Design Week… But we both didn’t want to wait until graduation year, and our very first idea as a duo was: Let’s do some “guerrilla” design.
Initially we thought we’d secretly place objects around the fair, as if they were part of it, chain them up so that the organizers wouldn’t be able to remove them within the week. Of course, none of it happened as planned. But this is still how some ideas come to the table today—very intuitively. Eventually, we ended up creating a performance piece commenting on the complications of our consumer society. We created a character enacting these “guerrilla” actions: a person removed from any identity, covered from head to toe with an overall suit to avoid any judgment on personality, gender, taste, age or race. OrtaMiklos was born in a “uniform.”

JEN  How did your performance practice inform your design practice, and vice versa?

OM  Our approach to performance and the sculpting process of our design practice, share many similarities. They are both controlled by an overall vision and contained within a conceptual perimeter; tools, materials and physical techniques are defined in advance to ensure coherence. When these presets are chosen, we roam freely between acting with the material, reflecting and reacting. The performance helps “activate” the object through its function, its purpose. By entering this play, this scenario, either improvised or scripted, the object prompts the storytelling inherent to the project.
Looking at the installation created in collaboration with Carhartt WIP for Museo Marino Marini in Florence, the performers operate within an environment of sculptures from the “Iceberg” series. They play the role of a craftsman at work, re-enacting the production of the work through several stations of the process, such as sketching, cutting, shaping and coating. Since the museum reopens to the public on this occasion after a year of renovation, we decided to establish a dialogue with Marini’s bronze sculptures by enacting the “work in progress” of the bronze before being casted or sent to lost-wax techniques. The design pieces serve as a functional scenography for the performers to interact with.

JEN  In 1974, Italian artist/designer/architect Alessandro Mendini doused one of his Lassù chairs with gasoline and set it on fire. Mendini considered his Lassù as a mini-monument—an “object for spiritual use”—and the burning of the chair, which could be read as a performance, was heavy with ritual symbolism. Do your design objects ever play a role in your performances?

OM  When the performance is the dominant aspect of a project, the object becomes a prop or a tool, which adds an extra layer of meaning to the performer’s actions or movements. But sometimes, the idea can switch to investing the object with sacred significance through the performance, in a slightly surrealist way. In the “Dress the Chair” series, for example, where daily chairs are covered with second hand clothes, the performance is there to activate the personality of the character present in the chair. The conversation between the performer and the chair creates a new layer of complexity.

JEN  Merce Cunningham believed that every aspect of a performance—set design, choreography, costumes and music compositions—could be created independently from one another. On the other hand, when Marc Chagall was commissioned to design sets and costumes for ballet and opera, his conceptualization encompassed all the various elements of the play; he even painted directly on the dancers’ costumes during rehearsal, in direct response to the choreography. In your work, to which extent do the various elements interplay?

OM  We never see an object as something static, because that object has not been imagined merely in its use or functionality, but instead as the element of a story; the embodiment of an experimentation, looking for new narratives in material, texture, color and shape. In this situation the role of the performance is to explore extra layers, trigger the mechanics of the static piece. Together they become alive. For example, in many of our performances, we’ve decided to conceal the identity of the performer, mask and all, so you can almost see the character merging with the decor.

“We see our practice as an ongoing process, where we learn by doing and by challenging ourselves to step out of our comfort zone."

JEN  Earlier this year, you created a series of “Electric Cable Reading Chairs,” in which the electric cable used to power the reading light was also weaved into the seat of the chair, creating a literal feedback loop between material and function. Instead in the “Iceberg” series you are presenting at Museo Marino Marini, the objects are made of EPS foam treated with epoxy resin. Can you tell us more about the materiality of these works?

OM  This series started out very spontaneously, while making the foam upholstery for a chair that would then be covered with another material. When we started shaping the chair from the raw material, we realized we had arrived to something special. EPS is often employed in construction—as an insulation for housing, for lightening concrete pieces or building on top of soft ground. So our principle was the same as using the electric cable: to reveal uncommon materials, usually hidden to us by walls and structures. Then we decided to finish the work with epoxy to freeze it in time, as if it were iced, and to make it solid for its function. That’s how the first Iceberg piece was created.
The series presented at the Museo Marino Marini is a development of that, further digging into the idea of iceberg. We spent some time researching the landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctic—the shape of ice blocks and stalactites, the colors. We still completed the surface of some pieces with weaved cables, as a signature for OM.

JEN  As you mentioned, this project at Museo Marino Marini translates the production of the Iceberg chair into a multi-station installation and performance, resulting in a whole furniture range. As the exhibition in Florence is meant to reenact the production process from concept to finish, can you explain what this process entails? As I understand, it goes from drawing to finish coating, via sculpting and color.

OM  Yes, drawing is the starting point of the construction process, where we not only sketch the aesthetic concept, but also devise reinforcements or determine steps of fabrication. From there, all the steps derive from the previous one, and sometimes the pieces even go twice through the chain of production, for example going back to sculpting after being coated with epoxy depending on the energy that we perceive with the piece.
Also, the process of making is very important for us to make apparent. The marks that can be found on the raw materials, or the mistakes occurred while sculpting: text and numbers applied from the factory on the EPS, the mistaken cuts of the chain saw, the glue exceeding the joints, is what creates the personality of the piece.

JEN  Costumes seem to be an integral factor not only in your performances, but also in the making of your work. You are often photographed in workwear that reflects the aesthetics of the furniture series you are working on. Can you tell us about the unique garments you are creating for this specific project with Carhartt WIP?

OM  We are focusing on the double identity of a maker. Usually, you will dress up to go to work; then if you have to produce something, you will put on a suit according to the task, so that the workwear gets dirty and not the casual clothes. But in our way of making, there is always that one thing that needs to be done on a day and you forget to put on your suit on that simple task… No matter what, you will stain your casual jacket. So we decided to make a reversible jacket to switch from one “identity” to another. This way you ensure that your clothes stay clean on one side, and you allow the other to be dirty workwear. Outside are the classic, urban Carhartt WIP garments, but inside you can find the OM touch: pieces of textured garments, painted and stained during the production process of our installation “Iceberg in Progress” for the Museo Marino Marini, are stitched to customise the items while also creating functional pockets.

JEN  How has your performance practice evolved over the last few years, and how does this performance differ than those you’ve done in the past?

OM  We see it as an ongoing process, where we learn by doing and we challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zone. Neither of us ever took acting classes, and actually we were both quite afraid of performing in front of a crowd. But then the adrenaline rush kicks in, and the joy of expressing yourself, catching the immediate reactions of the audience, is totally worth it. However, it’s hard to say how the practice has evolved from a stage to another, because every time the stage itself changes, the settings of the performance for a project will be different, the location, the viewer. In this case, the museum setting and the time frame automatically imposed certain constraints, and that’s what made the challenge interesting.

OrtaMiklos is a French/Danish duo formed in 2016 by Leo Orta and Victor Miklos Andersen. They currently live and work in Paris and Les Moulins.
Jay Ezra Nayssan is the Co-Founder and Curator of ANNEX Gallery in Los Angeles.
Photography by Leonard Mechineau.
All images courtesy of the artists, and Functional Art Gallery, Berlin.

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