The New York Times
Q&A Pull Up a Broken Chair: Putting the 'Fun' in Functional Furniture, April 2012
By Tim McKeough
The objects and installations created by Alex Mustonen and Daniel Arsham of Snarkitecture, a Brooklyn art and design studio, are almost always perplexing, purposely challenging people’s expectations. Their Cast Light, for instance, is a light bulb encased in a solid block of gypsum concrete that allows illumination to escape only through rough cuts in the material. And for “Dig,” an installation in New York last year at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, they conceived a cavelike interior, which Mr. Arsham chiseled out of solid blocks of expanded polystyrene in a series of performances.
The furniture they have designed for their latest exhibition, “Funiture,” running at Volume Gallery in Chicago through June 13, is no exception: all of the pieces look to be broken, or in the process of falling apart. But things are not quite as they appear. Despite the imperfections, the pieces are structurally sound and functional.
Mr. Mustonen, 30, and Mr. Arsham, 31, recently answered questions about their creations.
How would you describe Snarkitecture?
Mr. Arsham: We don’t really know quite what to call it. It’s definitely not a firm. It’s an open-ended question, revolving around collaboration. This is evident in the types of projects we engage in, everything from these more functional objects to installations to stage design.
Mr. Mustonen: Our practice is naturally positioned between art and architecture, because of our respective backgrounds. In the end, we look at it as neither. We’re not making art, and we’re not making architecture. But we’re moving in the territory between those.
What are your backgrounds?
Mr. Arsham: We both studied at Cooper Union. I studied in the art school, Alex in the architecture school. There’s a lot of crossover in terms of the use of the wood shop at Cooper. I ended up being friends with more of the architecture students. We collaborated on a few different projects post-school. They were within my own art practice, but required more of an architectural hand and a different knowledge set than what I had acquired. I didn’t have any skill at drafting, and Alex helped me.
But why “Funiture”?
Mr. Mustonen: We didn’t set out to design furniture. They’re not really intended to furnish anyone’s home. They’re more design objects. It’s funny, in some of the advance coverage we’ve already seen people self-correct the title, to avoid making the typo. In some ways, it was conceived as a kind of mistake in the same way that a lot of the work in the show sets up a condition of a confusion of function or stability.
Mr. Arsham: This is something we employ a lot, this questioning of things, and setting up these parameters where you’re not quite sure what’s what.
On the subject of names, what about Snarkitecture?
Mr. Mustonen: The name comes from a Lewis Carroll poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.” It tells the story of these misfits who are on a misguided search for this mythical creature, the Snark. They set out into the ocean with a blank map, and they’re searching for this ineffable, unknown thing.
Is there a common thread running through the pieces in the exhibition?
Mr. Arsham: All these works started from different places, but you can recognize patterns, the question of erosion and the idea of something breaking and then being corrected. A lot of the works imply a functionless object. But it’s an illusion. These works are completely functional and stable. The materiality is resolved in a way that they’re in a frozen state of erosion.
Mr. Mustonen: Float is an interesting example. It’s a low coffee table or benchlike form, that’s kind of excavated on one side. From one angle, it appears to be a solid rectilinear volume, a block that’s boring and static. On the other side, it appears to be cantilevering beyond where it should be. It looks like it should fall over, but you can actually sit on that cantilever, and it’s completely stable.
But why make things that look as if they’re falling apart?
Mr. Arsham: There’s this notion that objects are performing in a way they shouldn’t. We’re able to, in many cases, correct that sensation through the addition of other materials or balance. We’re breaking objects and then giving them their function back.