Art & Design

Studio Visit: Snarkitecture Occupies the Space Between Architecture and Art

Art & Design

Studio Visit: Snarkitecture Occupies the Space Between Architecture and Art

Noah Kalina, Courtesy of Snarkitecture.
A Memorial Bowing.
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New York based design firm Snarkitecture’s new monument to the Miami Orange Bowl stadium, which was demolished back in 2008, looks like the result of a merciful hurricane. The ten-foot high emergency orange block letters of the original stadium sign have been reconstructed in solid reinforced concrete and scattered through the east plaza of what is now the Marlins Ballpark. Fifteen massive letterforms—M-I-A-M-I-O-R-A-N-G-E-B-O-W-L—are scrambled across the plaza. Some are partly submerged as if sinking, while others lay at rest on their side. One M looks like it might be climbing a flight of stairs. The scatter recalls images of disaster and ruin but yet the letters are immaculate. Their arrangement in the park comes to form other words, bringing new meaning to the old icon.

Alex Mustonen and Daniel Arsham, the duo behind Snarkitecture, entitled the piece A Memorial Bowing, an anagram for Miami Orange Bowl. “We always knew we were going to scatter the letters up,” explained Daniel as Alex continued, “As soon as we knew we wanted to work with the sign, there was definitely this idea of word play and engaging that.” Did they use a program to find the anagram? “We did,” confessed Alex, “There’s an amazing website called Internet Anagram Server.” Daniel, mockingly sullen, rejoined, “You reveal our secrets.” Program or no, the anagram is serendipitous and emblematic of the kind of sprezzatura cleverness, the effortless pairing of majestic forms with bright concepts, that defines the Snarkitecture aesthetic.

Snarkitecture is a collaborative practice. Alex is trained as an architect. Daniel went to school for art and continues to produce art independently. Together, they work at a meeting place between art, functional design, and architecture. Whatever the medium or venue—Alex and Daniel employ everything from hand-sculpted marble to EPS architectural foam, and produce furniture and lighting as well as on-site installation and public art—Snarkitecture deliver it with their brand of elegance and wit. Recurring elements of their practice include the deconstruction of standard forms, topographies and the invocation of natural elements, and all shades of white. Much of their work is concept driven: the idea for a form may come before a manufacturing tradition, as in Ghost Chair, a white sheet enveloped dining chair, reminiscent of Christo and Jean Claude’s wrappings, which is still in prototype as they figure out a way to make it. “We’re always trying to do these things that are a little bit outside what would normally be,” explained Alex.

Snarkitecture’s studio is located on one of the early alphabet (Ash-Box-Clay…) industrial streets in the Long Island City adjacent section of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The secluded space, which they’ve occupied since 2008, is great, they say, because it allows them to get a lot done. There are currently six people working in the studio, but that number can climb up to a dozen depending on what projects the company is undertaking. The studio is full of works in progress and finished works. Remnants from last year’s DIG exhibition and performance project at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in Manhattan hang from the lofted ceiling. They continue to dig out of the piece, reusing the architectural foam to make models for new works. Two of their handmade rugged landscape Shelves float above a lineup of Macs. The prototype for Ghost Chair teases me from a corner.

Daniel’s pet bunny Oliver (a she) casually hops around the studio. When I visited, the Talking Heads were playing in the background, interrupted occasionally by the sounds of sawing and drilling from their adjacent workshop. Hip-hop is at the heart of the Snarkitecture soundtrack, though. What’s on heavy rotation in their studio right now? “Lil’ Wayne is an all-time favourite on the high playlist. And The Weeknd had a moment,” Daniel told me. Aesop Rock, Rick Ross, Kanye, the new Grimes album, and CFCF which, Alex said, is “like listening to hip-hop through an underwater filter.” I tell them I’m surprised, that this isn’t music I would necessarily align with their work, which is so pure, almost ethereal. I’m corrected: “Architects love really loud hip-hop.”

April is a big month for Snarkitecture. In addition to the debut of A Memorial Bowing, Alex and Daniel’s first solo gallery exhibition, Furniture, just opened at the Volume Gallery in Chicago. The show features a couple of older pieces alongside new works and site-­specific installations. One such new work is Pour, a remarkable black stained oak table which appears suspended in collapse, its legs spread and top caved in. A piece of solid white marble, hand-sculpted to appear like a liquid, fills in the cave, making for a flat, functional tabletop. Daniel described how the bottom edge of the marble is cut with a meniscus that peeks over the edge of the wood: “It comes beyond the surface of the front, like it’s threatening to pour out.”

Alex and Daniel are also currently working on a temporary installation for the East Village menswear shop Odin. The installation is based around Odin’s fragrance line and consists of 1500 plaster casts of the fragrance bottle, a simple geometry resembling a piece of Lego, which will be hung upside in a white space along with six of the actual, dark glass bottles and four dark Odin brand candles. Between Miami, Chicago, and New York, the Snarkitecture vision is, to our benefit, all over the country right now.

The Odin installation will be opening near the end of the month next door to the East Village Odin storefront in Manhattan, New York, exact date T.B.A.