Peter Kaaden

Alles Wird Gut

Team

Models · Marlene at Tigers Management, Nathalie at Girls Club and Belle at Modelwerk
Photography · Peter Kaaden and Till Milius
Fashion · Peninah Amanda
Production and Casting · Pina Marlene
Hair · Ruby Howes
Makeup · Maria Ehrlich
Fashion Assistants · Sophia Bogner and Jakob Schaefer

Designers

  1. Dress THE ATTICO
  2. Bra Stylist’s own, skirt VALENTINO and stockings FALKE
  3. Coat VERSACE and jewellery Model’s own
  4. Coat VERSACE
  5. Dress THE ATTICO
  6. Dress BOTTEGA VENETA

Xavier Casanueva

Faces

Team

Models · Erin at Emmi Grundström Casting, Giulia Maria Verikas and Thea at Milk Model Management, Louis and Hamish at Elite Models
Photography · Xavier Casanueva
Fashion · Asier Rodriguez
Casting · Julia Lladó
Hair · Takuya Morimoto
Makeup · Takenaka

Designers

  1. Top MM6 MAISON MARGIELA and shorts MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA
  2. Full look CHLOÉ
  3. Top TALIA BYRE, belt and skirt Model’s own
  4. Full look BOTTEGA VENETA
  5. Full look GIVENCHY
  6. Dress ANN DEMEULEMEESTER
    Hamish · Vest MM6 MAISON MARGIELA
  7. Full look SIMONE ROCHA
  8. Full look ANN DEMEULEMEESTER
  9. Full look BOTTEGA VENETA

Matias Alfonzo

Selfcare

Team

Model · Nicole Atieno at SMC Models
Photography · Matias Alfonzo
Fashion · Camille Franke
Casting · Julie Sinios
Production · Eugenia Vicari
Hair · Tina Pachta
Makeup · Victoria Reuter
Set Design · Nina Oswald
Fashion Assistant · Laura Caufapé
Set Design Assistant · Ruby Oswald

Designers

  1. Dress TOM FORD and shoes GIVENCHY
  2. Full look DU CIEL
  3. Dress LOU DE BETOLY, shoes JIMMY CHOO and bracelet BVLGARI
  4. Dress MARC JACOBS, shoes CHANEL
  5. String DU CIEL, jeans DIESEL BY GLENN MARTENS and pleasers ZANOTTI
  6. Dress DIESEL BY GLENN MARTENS
  7. Dress OTTOLINGER
  8. Full look JIL SANDER
  9. Dress SPORTMAX and shoes WANDLER
  10. Sunglasses BOTTEGA VENETA, jacket and skirt SANKUANZ and necklace RM ATU GELOVANI
  11. Full look GIVENCHY
  12. Dress JEAN-PAUL GAULTIER x LOTTA VOLKOVA

George Rouy

Abstraction and distortion in art come out intuitively to George Rouy along with human emotions and relationships

In his earlier artworks, George Rouy would paint elongated facial features for the wide bodies of his subjects. He would stretch the figures on the canvas through his strokes, and at times, have them sit or stand side-by-side as if conversing.

Then, around 2021, a shift took place.

Gone are the visible features of the face, replaced by intentional marks and lines guided by the haze of the moment, his creative spirit being summoned to life. Smudges of paint brush against a mosaic of splatters. Flecks of color shower dedicated spaces on the canvas. The figures still appear visible, yet invisible at the same time. They might be tall or short. Their genders, androgynous. They are colliding, manipulating the viewers first, then they sync, re-arranging themselves like puzzle pieces and letting their viewers know everything falls into place in the end. Rouy, an aficionado of abstraction, has transitioned, and he is introducing an evolution of his artistic practice.

The bodies in Rouy’s artworks evoke an innate sense of connectivity and transcendence. They trespass the realms of the physical and the beyond, almost anchoring an indescribable reason they visually came into sight in the first place. They might be five different characters Rouy brewed in his mind, but they could also be an individual with five versions of themselves. Deciphering the intention of Rouy’s paintings depends on the viewers, but the artist creates a two-way channel in his works. For every painting the viewers see, Rouy seems to ask them to trust him with their deep-seated thoughts, emotions, and fears and let him paint them through his style. For every painting he creates, Rouy stirs human sensations until he delivers.

NR wants to learn more about the psychedelic nature of Rouy’s works and mind, the desire that powers the artist to pick up his brush and lose himself in the moment of painting. When we caught up with the artist, he was in the middle of finishing some artworks for his next show. He would be flying out of the UK in the next couple of days, leaving the 12 paintings he was working on simultaneously for a while inside his studio in Kent, London. At one point, Rouy tells us he paints intuitively. He scraps off planning and gears toward illustrating what feeds his mind, whether based on his experiences or observations. Somehow, themes of interactive relationships, self-growth, therapy, and psychology bubble up and simmer in his paintings. These nuances might be implied, but one can see how they linger in Rouy’s works, drawing in whoever lays their eyes upon his paintings and locking them in there.

At first, NR wanted to ask Rouy whether he had always wanted to be an artist, then move along wherever the conversation would take us. But even before we asked him the question, Rouy had already let us in on what he would be doing in the next few days. A lot of it involved traveling, ruminating, finding breathing space, and looking at his artworks as he sits or stands before them, idling. The moment he spilled all these thoughts, we shifted our questions, inverted-pyramid style. From the role of energy in his artworks to the culmination of his present style, Rouy talked us through his artistry, influences, and life as an artist, revealing parts of himself that might be under wraps from the public’s eye. 

We started with his travels.

Does consistent traveling affect your creative process? 

I think yes. What I have found over the years of doing this is that I have times of concentration or intense work then a break. I have found that my creative process works a lot better now where I relentlessly paint all the way through before I try to find breathing space. For instance, I have solidly worked for a month now, and I will be taking a few weeks off just to ruminate and process. Then, I will come back and look at my works with fresh eyes. I see what I have done objectively and more since I have taken off some emotions and am now able to see what needs to change or shift. In that respect, traveling works well. 

I also often find myself preparing for a show, so it is good to have the works just sitting in the studio for quite a while, just to live with them. They can breathe and have their own life without me working relentlessly on them all the time.  

What is your breathing space? Do you intentionally create your own breathing space, or do you just do random activities? 

Walking, for instance, on a day-to-day basis is breathing space. Strolling in the countryside is a great way for me to process parts of the day, especially in the summertime. I find it harder to find my breathing space in winter because of the lack of light – it is always dark when I leave the studio – but I love to think of other ways to take some time off. Currently, I am between here (Kent) and Paris.

In Paris, I work more on the computer, study my art, and think about where the series is at. I was there a month ago looking at the paintings I already had in the studio, took photographs of them, then looked at them through Photoshop, just to process everything in a different way. Then, I am just actively looking at my works, and I think it is important. The act of looking also takes up time since my paintings become jigsaw puzzles, and I try to work out the next parts. Sometimes, it just does not quite click at the moment, so I let it simmer for a while before looking at it again. 

I have come to a point where I need to take some time off and come back to the studio once I feel rested because I get so caught up in the energy.

“I think painting is about having and regaining this energy and preserving the excitement, impulse, movement, vibrance, and emotions, especially because the works become a lot more abstract in areas.”

These works also need a sense of clarity, so I am trying to find and maintain that as much as I can. When I have a few to 12 paintings at the same time in my studio, I often jump from one artwork to another, so the energy gets transferred quite easily. I am conscious that when I quickly shift, things stagnate, or when I work on one painting for too long, something sucks the magic out of the artwork. It loses the spell it once had. 

Since you put it in this way, does painting ever get overwhelming for you? 

There is this idea that you have higher expectations of yourself at times, and you are constantly searching for more discoveries, so you never get quite content with the discoveries that you have already found. I think the overwhelming part is to maintain these high standards of and by self. When you reflect or get to a point when you look at some of the works you did that you felt successful, you look back to how you did in the past.

It is not that you are trying to top or match them, but I think this is where it gets overwhelming, when these successes are not happening now. When this happens, you push through it – you work through it until things reveal themselves.  It is like when we plant a seed, it takes time before the plant fully grows. 

I notice that some of the facial features of your subjects are blurred. Is that intentional? 

The faces anchor the work and the composition. They can also be a distraction that ultimately defines the work – it is about having the right amount of purpose to them. I am into abstraction, and the blurred faces break emotions and sensations by delivering physical marks in the painting. When I start to apply them, I begin to see that everything becomes emphasized while they also contradict each other. The face is about having blurred moments of life, and having these pushed out in distorted ways allow the works to have the same breadth. 

Sometimes, it is hard to explain. They just have an energy about them and a certain feel that is not of this earth – it is not from here. It is not even photographic. There is a clear distinction between these faces when they appear right, but when they do not, there is this balance between the ugly and the beautiful – transcendence and out of this world. These days, I am more into computer-generated faces or AI and the historical representation of a figure within a sculpture. Here, I can distort the face, making them heightened versions of humans. I also think about the idea of distortion or blurring as something that is not quick, but a time-based movement that links with the rest of the marks in the painting. They turn out to have the same amount of flow and energy.  

Would you say then that your paintings are energy-based? 

Not entirely energy-based, but they have an awareness of the physical in terms of their anatomy, time, and movement. So, the act of distortion can be hidden – you cannot quite tell how long strokes took or where the moment began. Other things can be visible such as the dancing figures in some paintings. 

I notice that you often use lush or dark colors for your paintings. Do you resonate well with the dark palette or do you have any intentions in the near future to shift to bright tones? 

Some of them have become brighter, but gray still is important in my work in terms of it sitting between the realms of dark and light and how it can emphasize contrast and complement well with the shades I use. I also like how gray can have different hues like pink gray or greenish gray.

I also notice that you have a lot of bodies on your canvas. How did you arrive at this point that you wanted to turn bodies into the subjects of your art?

It is an uplifting movement for me to have these bodies in my work a sense of connectivity and purpose – of flow, movement, and rhythm. I would say I am someone who has been into exploring figurative painting and how to achieve a painting that has multiple figures in it without giving a headache. I think about the figures as organisms who could be versions of themselves. There could be two people but split up into five figures. It is less about a collective, but a depiction of those you know in a space or non-space.

On the other hand, their meaning depends on how the viewers perceive them. Sometimes, the viewers place themselves in the realm that I created. Other times, they deem my paintings as romantic and soft. There is always an underlying intention to these figures and how they interact. Then, there is also this feeling of morphing, a shaping of an internal representation, of one’s psyche or being, and I think these are massively involved in my works. We are living in this life full of intricacies as an individual and as a collective, and I am thinking about these internal pressures, whether that is beauty, ego, or something else. Similar to how we show other people love or compassion, we have these intricacies that form part of who we are.

I did a painting last year called Shit Mirror (2021), and it was on how you can perceive yourself one day and have a good feeling about yourself then the next day, you have a completely different representation or idea of yourself. It is erratic when it comes to the human mind, and I try to represent it with marks, movement, and contradictions because ultimately, nothing is static. I think we live in a world where maybe we have the ideas of what and who we are, those that we think are set in stone or in one journey, then we realize they are endlessly moving.

In this matter, do you think psychology and the study of self are two of the many factors that have helped you develop or pursue your style today?

I have gone through a large amount of therapy and have to dig deep into parts of my own self-growth that there have been a lot of things I have had to tap into with myself that naturally comes out in the work I do today. I have always had this keen interest in these features of my experiences, and being able to express some of them, even hint at or allow them to just be present there, feels resonating.

I think you sometimes get forced into doing a lot of self-growth. In my case, there has been a lot of digging into internal beliefs, both rational and irrational, and they appear over time or I generate them. Then, they distort the sense of self and what is my reality in relation to other things. I have dug deep into layers of my deep-seated fears too, and I think when we start to embrace and understand these, we allow ourselves to push deeper into those areas of our mind and sensation.

Do you have any other sources of influences? 

My work is so intuitive. I can go away and experience experiences, but the ideas that I have just sit in the periphery and do not fully sit in. It is not like I am going to do a painting about this or that, no. It all just comes out in an intuitive way. Also, being around other people and having interactive relationships are important too. I often spend time on my own, painting figures. From there, I have these two extremes where I spend so much time on my own – I also live on my own – and doing these paintings about figures of human interactions and about human sensations. All of them are intense experiences to live through which then can be parts of my influences.

Have you always wanted to be an artist, then?

Absolutely. Being an artist and painting have always been my natural ways to communicate. They have never felt like a struggle. School was hard for me since it was difficult express myself through drawing and art even though they felt natural to me.

“I have always wanted to be an artist, but it was challenging to tell that to my teachers because one needs to understand how to be and what it is to be an artist to fully understand the life of it.”

It has been a huge process, overall, and I am very lucky to be doing this.

Do you have any artistic rituals before you paint?

Yes, I have got rituals. I do some exercise in the morning and in the evening. Then, I go for a walk after painting in the studio (if there is light outside). I make sure I do not work overtime. Then, I have a bath every night because I am normally covered in paint, so having a bath every night is a moment – my moment. So, not many rituals, I think.

How do your immediate surroundings influence your artistic practice today?

Living on my own, going at my own pace with everything, and not being in London were massive shifts in how I operate. There is a lot more consideration and pace that is not rushed anymore unlike in London where I had always felt urgency. Now, it is more just about looking, taking everything in from my surroundings. The thing is that in London, I would commute to the studio, step inside, and tell myself “I have to paint now.” It was a lot frantic. Whereas here in Kent, I could just come here, do a little bit of painting, and sit and look at them. Sometimes, maybe even not paint and just look at them. This is where the surrounding influences come in.

Team

Talent · George Rouy
Photography · Markn and Brigita Žižytė
Fashion · Emma Simmonds
Creative Direction · Jade Removille
Special thanks to Rosie Fitter and Thibault Geffrin at Almine Rech

Designers

  1. T shirt Vintage LAURA ASHLEY at LONDON.VINTAGE, paint splattered jeans and shoes George’s own, boxer shorts SUNSPEL and all jewellery George’s own
  2. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit at GASOLINE RAINBOWS, shoes CHURCH’S and jewellery George’s own
  3. Dress, archive GHARANI STROK at THE ARC
  4. Jewellery George’s own
  5. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit trousers at GASOLINE RAINBOWS and belt, shoes and jewellery George’s own
  6. T-shirt in red ribbed jersey, archive HELMUT LANG AW1997 at ENDYMA and classic tailored trousers in polished calfskin, archive HELMUT LANG AW2000 at ENDYMA, crystal drop earrings Stylist’s own, shoes CHURCH’S and all jewellery George’s own
  7. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit trousers at GASOLINE RAINBOWS and belt, shoes and jewellery George’s own
  8. Leather shirt and trousers BOTTEGA VENETA and all jewellery George’s own
  9. T-shirt in red ribbed jersey, archive HELMUT LANG AW1997 at ENDYMA and crystal drop earrings Stylist’s own
  10. Archive HELMUT LANG SS 2004 cut out Nipple tank at ENDYMA, Archive HELMUT LANG 1998 Painter Jeans at NDWC0 Archive, Paint splattered shoes and jewellery George’s own
  11. Black wool suit BOTTEGA VENETA
  12. Archive JUNYA WATANABE, SS 2002, Poem shirt at NDWC0 Archive. Black jersey strappy top, archive ALEXANDER MCQUEEN SS2002 ‘Dance of the Twisted Bull’ at THE ARC, classic tailored trousers in polished calfskin, archive HELMUT LANG AW2000 at ENDYMA, shoes CHURCH’S and all jewellery George’s own.
  13. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit trousers at GASOLINE RAINBOWS and belt, shoes and jewellery George’s own

Overmono

The In-Between: Overmono create a layered and boundary pushing sound that exists between emotional states. 

Overmono are a UK electronic music duo made up of brothers Ed and Tom Russell. Raised in Wales, the siblings had individual success as producers before joining forces as Overmono. Wanting to reduce the influence of their individual pasts from the mix, they isolated themselves in a cottage and started to develop the foundation behind their music. Now, through a standing relationship with pioneering British label XL Recordings, they have released a series of layered and boundary-pushing work that define their distinctive sound today.

For this issue, NR had the opportunity to catch up with Ed and Tom to discuss their memories of growing up together, their experience of shaping Overmono to this point and their ambitions for the future.

Tom and Ed, thanks for joining us for this issue. I’ve been looking forward to having this conversation with you. I want to start by asking you about your memories growing up together, and what your individual influences and gravitations were because you’ve both done so much individually before Overmono.

T: I’m the elder of the two. Growing up in a house together, I was getting into rave music and Ed could hear the music through my bedroom door. I had turntables and some records and Ed got a pair of turntables when he was ridiculously young, like when he was around 10 years old. Then he was stealing records from my room, so there was some cross-pollination going on. As we got older, Ed developed his own taste and went on his own journey, and I developed mine and went on my own one, but it was all generally electronic music.

E: It feels like over the years our influences or what we were into individually were sometimes miles apart from each other, but then 6 months later we would come back and we’d be listening to the same thing.

“As we got older the distance between us got narrower and narrower, and nowadays it’s really rare that Tom plays me a record and I turn around and say “that’s shit, I don’t like it”..”

T: Haha when that does happens, I get really annoyed and I’m like you’re just not getting it!

E:Yeah haha, and these days we’re so similar in the sense of what we’re into, which from a writing point of view, makes everything pretty effortless because we both know what we like and what we want to try to achieve.

That connection is definitely felt in Overmono, but as a listener I can also hear and distinguish your individual influences feed into this project as well. Listening to your individual projects, it feels as Overmono is a cumulation of all those individual journeys. I’d love to hear more about you experience during those earlier projects – Tessela (Ed), and Truss, MPIA3 and Blacknecks (Tom). 

T: I’ve always been really into Techno. Various styles of it. It has been a constant for me since my teens. I remember hearing Tanith on Tresor, it completely blew my mind and sent me down this rabbit hole. So, I just carried on doing that, and through the 2000’s I was getting more and more heavily into production, which led me into the projects you mentioned. I think for me, and I guess Ed can come back to this too because I’m speaking a bit for him as well, I felt really pinned in at the end. Because I’d done so much producing into a similar lane, I felt like that was what was expected of me. As much as I loved listening to that stuff, I felt like there were broader horizons I wanted to explore, and that inevitably led us down this path to start this project together.

E: I feel like we both started feeling that similar feeling around the same time. I remember releasing this one record and someone said to me “I’m all for artistic development, but where are the break beats?”.  It got to a point that I felt like I had to put a break in every single tune otherwise people would be like this doesn’t sound right. Tom you were probably at a similar point with more distorted stuff..

T: Yeah, if I didn’t do something that was really tough and distorted it would just get no attention or traction. I could make something in 5 minutes that was distorted, and don’t get me wrong I love that sort of stuff, and people would go mad for it. But I could spend a couple of months crafting something and think it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and nobody would care.

E: And That was a big thing both of us were going through around the same time. When you’re making music and figuring out your sound, cultivating it and honing it, it might feel really nice; to know exactly what you need to do to make something good because it becomes effortless. But after a while, when the expectation becomes “this is what you do” then, you start to think there’s so many other influences I have that I want to start to broaden what I do here. You end up feeling blocked from doing that. 

“We got to a point that we were like “let’s just start making music together and see what that’s like. No one needs to know we’re doing it together, or that this project even exists. Let’s just write some music and see what that sounds like”.”

The series of first ten tracks we wrote, in a really short period of time – like 3 or 4 days – sounded quite different from our previous work but we were surprised by how cohesive it all sounded. There was no plan for it, we just said let’s take this equipment, go to this place, lock ourselves away, write some music and see what it sounds like.

T: It was so nice to be in this headspace where we had no expectations at all, and no personal expectations either. We just said “let’s go to this place, make some music and whatever happens, happens.” We had no intention to start the project at that point, we just wanted to write some new music together. The whole idea for Overmono came quite a bit afterwards. It was really amazing to have that freedom and it’s something we still try to maintain because it was so liberating.

E: It gets harder and harder the further down the road you get because the expectations start growing again, and once you put out a few records that have done well, it’s harder to come out with something that is really weird or super headsy. But that being said, we still have that same mentality that we try to go somewhere that isn’t our own studio, somewhere that is a different environment, somewhere that we can’t be contacted and we can’t contact other people. We just go there to sit and try to make some music.

“It’s that thing of disconnecting completely and forgetting about all the noise and any expectations. Then you end up writing some of the best stuff because we’re just having fun.”

Yeah, the Arla I-III series! It’s interesting to hear the process you went through to write this collection of tracks. I realise that you did projects together before this too, projects like TR//ER. To me, the Arla series definitely sounds like a more cohesive beginning or foundation to Overmono. I’d love to hear more about your process of forming your sound as Overmono at this earlier stage.

T: There was a lot of sampling in the Arla I-III EP series, and it was nice because I didn’t do a huge amount of sampling before so it was a fresh perspective in production for me, and – I learned a lot from watching Ed because he’s great at it, and for me this was cool because it was an area of production that I wasn’t familiar with and got to explore. 

I was given, as a long term loan, a large record collection from my brother in law, which was a DJ in Leeds in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He had loads of old House and Techno records, and it was just in his basement collecting dust and getting a bit of mould on it,. So, I was like I can take care of it for you. But it turned out there were only a few good records in there, and most of it was utter crap – white labels that probably never made it to an official release, but it was still a pretty good archive of early British House and Techno. We decided to make something out of it, so we went through it all and started to make this huge sample bank. That was kind of the foundation of a lot of the Arla tracks. This is also maybe why they have a cohesiveness because they were recorded through the same turntable and through the same process. 

E: They were so dusty weren’t they…

T: So dusty! So much crackle and noise, and it’s also why those tracks don’t translate to sound systems very well haha. A lot of it again, was me watching Ed using the sampler and also Ableton, because to that point I was mostly a Cubase user for all my life. Ed kept asking me to switch over to Ableton and I was like “Nah, I’m used to Cubase, that’s what I know – blah…-blah blah…” After a few days in the cottage writing the Area stuff, and watching Ed use Ableton, I was like holy fuck I gotta start using this! It made other stuff look so archaic. The amount of times I would try to set up a side-chain in Cubase and I couldn’t be arsed because it was so long-winded, and then watching Ed do it in seconds. Also, seeing how you could manipulate samples with warps and time stretches was really inspiring. 

E: I think during this session we had a few synth lines that have been just sitting around, so we started to process them through the same process that we were using for the record collection, so that added a different dimension to them. If you listen to original Arla samples a lot of them have a late 80’s sound to them but we just mangled them over and over till it didn’t sound like that. 

Because we weren’t in our studio, we just rented a cottage in south wales, we had a limited amount of equipment with us. We had a small mixing desk, two speakers…

T: Didn’t we borrow an Allen & Heath?

E: Yeah! We borrowed an Allen & Heath mixer from David.

T: Shout out to him for lending that to us. Everything went through that and we also had a Lexicon PCM 80. I don’t know if we had any other effects?

E: We just had that one Reverb, and we took a Virus C synth, and probably a compressor. Think there was another synth as well…

T: We took the JD 800, didn’t we?

E: Yeah it was the JD 800! Haha.

T: Haha it’s pretty much the heaviest synth we could fit in the car.

E: It was this beast of a synth that we only ended up using for one day. The rest of the days we were super productive and for one day we just dicked around for 6 hours on the JD 800, and we thought the stuff we wrote was super deep. The next morning we listened to the track and we were like “Jesus christ that one’s getting axed” haha!. I think it made it to some of the tracks at the end though. It was a bit fucked up and it sometime would go weird and out of tune. You would be recording a synth line and move a fader or open up a filter a tiny bit, and it would go mad! So we chopped some of those bits up and put them into the tracks too.

You could feel that, considering the amount of tracks in the series, there were different approaches between them. Going from a track like O-Coast to Phase Magenta to something like Harp Open, although there was definitely a cohesiveness, you could tell that there were different influences and gravitations behind each of them as well. I want to ask you about your first studio in Bromley, and your experience of setting up that studio together shortly after the Arla series.

E: After that time writing in the cottage, we both had separate studios for a bit. Tom had a studio in Soho and I would go there quite a lot. The studio was right across from Black Market Records, and we would end up writing a lot of the stuff at his studio. I had a studio in my flat too, and we split our time between there and Tom’s studio. 

That was really good for a while, but after a bit we thought let’s combine all our gear to one big studio because we were writing so much together. It just so happened that this really big studio was becoming available in Bromley, which is a half an hour south of Peckham. It hadn’t been touched since the mid 90’s. It had this swirly paint job that was pealing off, and old school carpets with fag burns all over it. That said, it had a good feeling to it. It had this massive control room, a live room and a kitchen. It was big enough to play a five-a- side football game. So we decided to take it. 

We set it up into two rooms. All the stuff that we used less often or used for our live shows one live room. There would be a bunch of synths set up with loads of effect pedals – and some random kit that we collected over the years. You could spend a day in there and have the freedom to start recording loads of stuff with all the gear, which was really fun. Then you had the control room that was properly a sound-proofed studio, which had all our gear set up in it and sounded amazing. That’s where we’d work on the tracks together. We were in that studio for three and a half years, and we spent quite a lot freshening it up. We took all the carpets off and sanding the floors back, but unfortunately the whole building got sold to developers. It was such a unique place. It was in the middle of nowhere.

T: It was the most unassuming place for a studio, just in the ass-end of absolutely nowhere –

E: There were no other studios there. It was opposite a chip shop, above a church, beneath a magazine printer, so it was so random. I remember every now and then we had someone come over to produce something with us. We had VK, a drill producer, come over and when I went down to get him, he  was like “nah, don’t know about this”. You had to go through this bin store and get to these industrial stairs and I remember looking at him and he was like “this isn’t right”.

T: The previous occupant put up these weird hospital signs, like “blood unit this way” or “radio therapy that way”…- obviously trying to put people off it.

E: It looked like a really weird NHS unit and was sort of an outlier. But yeah we were there for three and a half years and it was amazing. We wrote a lot of the Overmono stuff there. Still, when we had that studio we would book times to go away. We went to a remote hut in the Isle of Sky in the Highlands of Scotland. We would get as much gear as we could and fit it into a few peli cases to fly with. We would always keep that mentality of taking some gear and go write for however many days; where all routine could go out the window, to see what we come up with. Sometimes in five days we’d end up doing what we did in three months in the studio. But yeah R.I.P Bromley studios, we really loved our time there and it was an amazing place.

T: Yeah it really was!

One of the things that really stuck out to me reading about you in the past was you saying that you always felt like “you were always looking in from the outside”, even from early on in your careers. That you grew up outside of a big city and it never concerned you what the trend was at that time. I feel that these moments where you disconnect yourselves have been so potent because it’s so close to what’s been true to you from the beginning.

A track that I listened to a lot early on when I was getting into your music was actually called Bromley, which you did together with Joy Orbison. Before we move on from your time at Bromley, I want to ask you about your experience of working with Joy O, and also discuss the tracks you mentioned you made towards the end of this period because they’re some of my favourite work you’ve produced together.

E: The stuff with Joy Orbison started when he came to the studio a couple of times. We started to hang out and record a few things, so we decided to work on something official together. I remember I sent him a rough idea before and he was into releasing it on his label Hinge Finger, but I never ended up finishing it. So we thought “why don’t the three of us try to work on this track together and maybe we can get it to something that’s more finished”. We started pulling some of the stems from the original idea and started working on it together at the studio in Bromley.

“Us and Pete (Joy Orbison) have totally different working methods. For us, we’re really instinctual and we don’t really think of rules and structures.”

T: I think we’re just too disorganised for that kind of stuff. Personally I just don’t have the patience to stick with something for too long if I’m struggling with an idea. Ed usually perseveres longer than me, and often there are times it’s the right thing to do because the track gets cracking on.

E: Pete can persevere the longest, I’d say.

T: He has an unbelievable ability to stay laser focused on something. He can make these decisions hours and hours after being at the studio, where I’m just like I don’t know what’s going on anymore. He has an amazing ability to do that.

Really interesting to hear the story of how that all came together. I want to talk to you about your more recent releases on XL Recordings like Cash Romantic. I’m interested to hear about your process of shaping the sound behind these more recent releases.

T: By the time we moved away from the Arla series, we started using samples less and less, and we actually started making our own sample bank. We spent some time making up loops, synth lines and chord progressions that make a large sample bank that we now share. So a lot of these more recent tracks, their start points are from these samples we made. Gunk, for instance, is from a synth line that we originally came up with for our I Have A Love Remix, which is actually the last ever track we made at Bromley studios. So it was a really nice way for us to start Gunk off like that because that track – I Have A Love (Overmono Remix) – was a really special track for us. I think over the years, developing this sample bank that’s made of all our own samples, is a big part of our sound and serves as an important jumping off point for us. We started programming our own drums and aren’t doing much break-beat’s anymore. For example, the drums for Cash Romantic, the title track, is made from all programmed drums from a contact multi-sample drum pack. There’s no actual old sample break-beat, but instead everything’s much more processed.

“We always want to bring out the most grit and character we can out of things. Most of the time we have to use stuff in a way that they’re not designed to be used.”

That might be, for example, using an EQ to boost stuff so harshly that it starts distorting, but once you take that in the computer you can bring it back a little bit and take away some of the harshness.

“It’s about building layers of character and a sense of physical space. I struggle sometimes when listening to music that is too clinical or clean because there is this lack of physical space. That’s something we think about a lot; how the music itself sounds in relation to its space. Even if you’re listening with headphones with no interaction with the space around you, does it feel like it’s in its own space? And I think a lot of that comes from getting it out and running it through the different cables.”

It sounds like you’ve simplified or programmed your set up so that it’s more responsive to your making process, and that creates space for you to be more instinctive and expressive when shaping your sound. 

I’m curious to hear more about the story behind the imagery and visual content of your recent releases as well, and about your partnership with Rollo Jackson in creating that content.

E: There’s a few things that came together with the imagery. Mean dogs have traditionally been used in UK rave music like in old Drum & Bass records, and there was always this thing of dogs on chains snarling at the camera. It was something that became quite pastiche and didn’t age that well. Dobermans are perceived as these” vicious dogs”, but they’re not at all. That’s just how they’re trained and how people portray them to be. They’re actually really lovely and friendly dogs. So we thought “why don’t we do these sleeves with Dobermans on them?”. As soon as you tell someone “I have two Dobermans sat in a BMW on the cover of my album” they’re like “oh, that’s a bit cliché.”

T: And part gangster..

E: Yeah, haha! But they actually look quite playful and dopey, and in reality they are actually really playful.

“From a musical point of view that ambiguity of emotion is something we always gravitate towards. Something that feels like it’s between a few different emotional states. I think that’s what those dogs represent. Because of how we’re brought up to view Dobermans, when you portray them in a different way, you instantly feel like your are conflicted between different emotional states.”

You ask yourself “is this supposed to look aggressive and mean, or is it just lovely dogs being playful?”

Rollo (Jackson) has such an incredible eye and is able to see things in such a unique way. So many of the shoots we’ve done have been serendipitous. When we were shooting the cover for Everything You Need, it was in the carpark of the Bromley Football Club because we got kicked out of the other location. We showed up in a van with a couple Dobermans and a Boxer and they were like “what the fuck you guys doing?” haha

T: Haha, they were like, “get off our property!”

E: So we went to the football club and they were more accommodating. I just remember the sun coming out from behind the clouds and bouncing off the leather seats of the BMW, and we all looked at each other and were like that is it, that’s got to be the shot. And there’s still so much more to explore with that.

T: Also with Rollo, he’s so deeply involved in UK music culture. He has such a knowledge of UK dance music, specially London-centric forms of music, so he really gets where we’re coming from. Because of that we really feel like there’s a kinship there between us and we can really trust in his judgment of what we’re trying to achieve. Also, his judgment of what to avoid specially, like things that might be a bit pastiche, brings a fresh angle too while we explore things that we’re collectively into. 

I think this is a good point to ask you about your live shows and how this imagery ties into it. I’m curious to hear about how your live set up has evolved over the years and where you hope to take it next, as you are now embarking on on your UK, European and US headline tour. 

T: It’s a bit more professional these days that’s for sure, haha, It was a fucking mess back in day! We started with a booking request from Ireland in Limerick, and this was before Overmono even existed and before we did anything together. They were like “Would Ed and Tom like to play together?” and we were like “we’ve never done that or hinted that we wanted to do that together haha, but sure yeah why not!” So, suddenly we needed to figure out a techno live set-up. We had only released one track and suddenly we started getting a few gigs together. We were travelling around with the most insane amount of kit. We had this colour-coded pillow case system with different leads and cables in them. We had a blue pillow for our midi leads, a red one for our power cables, and a black one for our audio cables. They were all crammed into these giant peli cases with the rest of our gear. They would take two hours to set up and two hours to take down. We’d take some gear like a big drum machine and we’d only use it for 5 minutes.

E: I remember you used this synth that didn’t have any controls on it..

T: The EX, the Korg EX-800 desktop version!

E: Yeah haha, you’d be playing a pad off it and you’d want to open up the filter and you had to press this button to find the filter and keep pressing it to turn it up… it was a mess and quite lawless. We would just have to improvise and some of the shows were alright and some of them were terrible.. So by the time we started doing stuff together as Overmono we already had learned a lot. When you’re playing electronic music live, there are these pit-falls that are waiting for you to fall into and you have to spend some time navigating those from a technical point of view.

“Performing electronic music live is a big technical process that needs to be continuously worked on and refined.”

For the first few years after every Overmono live show, we would almost redo the entire live show after every gig. We would sit down in our hotel room after every show with a notepad and write down all the things we wanted to change or improve. We would write down what worked and what didn’t work, and record all the technical problems we had in the show. We would keep repeating this and over the years we started honing in on what it worked for us from a performance and technical point of view. 

Now we’re in such a different spot, the set up hasn’t changed for six months, which is a new personal record for us. We feel more confident and comfortable than ever because we spent a long time developing a set up that is all properly functioning and cabled so it feels more professional. That means we can focus and have fun with the performance side of it, instead of worrying about why that drum machine went out of time again. But now our headspace can be filled with the more exciting stuff like wondering what I can make with these drums do for the next five minutes, and do something interesting and weird.

The next logical step was figuring out the visual side of things, and for a long time we were figuring that out ourselves. But generally we had no idea what we were doing, so we just borrowed a bunch of modular video gear and recorded a lot of things out of it.

T: It looked good on a tiny screen and we were like that’s killer, but then got to a festival with a giant LED screen and it looked so bad and so pixelated.

E: Now, we thankfully got more people on board to do that with us. We’re still pretty heavily involved because we have a clear idea of what it should be. So we’re more directly involved in the creative direction of the visual content, but now we have people that actually know how to use that gear. The visuals are generally split between footage that Rollo captured, like thermal images of the Dobermans running through a field, and then a lot of processed content we created with a visualiser called Innerstrings, who uses a lot of the same gear we were using but knows how to use it and he’s great with it. That’s enabled us to grow the show to what it is now, and we have ambitions to take it even further.

T: Like Ed said, the live show is something we are so deeply passionate about and something we’re continuously trying to grow. To make it more of an immersive experience in every step and try to think of the evolution of it. So that’s a big priority for us, but the biggest priority is to always keep writing and making music every opportunity we have.

“Our aim is to keep progressing and moving forward in writing music that we think is an evolution from where we were before.”

E: Going back to the live show, thinking about the covers we made with Rollo Jackson and our ambitions for the future, the live show gives us the chance to expand that into something more cinematic and the sleeve images start to feel more real.

“You suddenly feel like that whole world has opened up, so the further along we go the bigger we want that feeling to be. You see a Doberman running through a 50 meter screen, it’s just glorious and there’s nothing better. That’s what we want to keep growing and pushing towards.”

Team

Talents Tom and Ed Russell (Overmono)
Photography · Oli Kearon
Fashion · Kamran Rajput
Grooming· Daniel Dyer
Photography Assistant · Nic Roques
Fashion Assistant · Elza Rauza
Special thanks to Abigail Jessup, William Aspden at XL Recordings and Jon Wilkinson at Technique PR

Designers

  1. Left to right, jacket NORSE PROJECTS and hat Talent’s own; jacket SAUL NASH
  2. Left to right, jacket and trousers ONTSIKA TIGER and boots ARMANI EXCHANGE; jacket CP COMPANY, trousers TEN C, shoes and cap Talent’s own
  3. Left to right, full look ARMANI EXCHANGE; jacket and trousers MONCLER and shoes Talent’s own

Ciro Galluccio

Memento

Team

Model · Tilda Jonnson at Brave Models
Photography · Ciro Galluccio
Fashion · Alessandro Ferrari
Production · Anna Baldocchi at Ro-of
Casting · Isadora Banaudi
Hair · Alessia Bonotto
Makeup · Martina D’andrea
Photography Assistant · Fabio Firenze
Fashion Assistant · Francesco Giuliani

Designers

  1. Poncho MONCLER COLLECTION
  2. Dress GIADA MONTENAPOLEONE
  3. Slippers ALANUI x SUICOKE
  4. Dress KRIZIA
  5. Jumpsuit Vintage
  6. Shirt OUR LEGACY
  7. Tank top SCHIESSER

Sophie Hicks

“Architecture appears to be moving towards helping human beings live, work and experience their lives better. And if that means the building looks like shit, then so be it!”

While still a student at the Architectural Association, Sophie Hicks founded her London-based architecture firm in 1990. The practice started out designing private housing, and by leveraging her insider insight, it is safe to say that Sophie Hicks has become one of fashion’s favourite architects, with her firm designing stores for the likes of Acne Studios, Chloé, Yohji Yamamoto and more.

Hicks became a chartered architect in 1994, prior to which she worked as a fashion editor for Vogue and for the iconic designer, Azzedine Alaïa. Hicks’s relentless efficiency has allowed her to lead her practice with extensive experience in the fashion world. Particularly strong on design, her approach is both conceptual and practical, and is highly attuned to the zeitgeist.

Outside of her fashion clients, Hicks’s residential projects embody the spirit of their surroundings, and champion honesty and boldness of materials. Subtle yet meticulously considered details are typical of Hicks’s architecture, which is best characterised by her discreet, restrained and durable ways of working.

NR Magazine speaks with Hicks about the ins and outs of her career, and to learn more about what distinguishes her identity as an architect.

What inspired you to change career path from fashion to architecture? 

I think it two things, really. I was very excited about being in the fashion world. From the age of about 17, when I entered it, it was very exciting. I enjoyed being a stylist and identifying new trends and fashions, creating pictures, and putting teams together, but I got to a point where I saw the fashion cycle coming full circle with the types of images and models coming out, and I was only about 26. I felt that it was too soon for me to be getting stuck into a cycle. I didn’t want to be part of a world that was going around in circles.

What I really wanted to do was to be creative and to create something myself. With photography and styling photographs, you are in effect, being creative but you’re putting together teams like a director. You’re grabbing clothes, putting together teams of photographers, models, hair, makeup and inventing a story, but you’re not actually taking the photograph or designing the clothes. I’d always been interested in architecture ever since I was a teenager, and I just decided to completely change paths and see if I could be an architect and create things myself that would affect how people experience the world.

Was that scary? The fashion world is such a dynamic and intimidating place to work in. Was it a shock moving into the world of architecture? 

Yes. I quite like having new and different experiences, and I quite like taking risks. Towards the end of my fashion career, I was working for Azzedine Alaïa doing a set of photographs with him of his previous collections from the start until that point in the mid-80s. We were recording all his collections for a book that he eventually bought out. So I was dressed top to toe in Alaïa – the tailored pieces, not the slinky ones, but I was pretty sharply dressed. I’ve never been so smart since.  I swanned up to the Architectural Association for an interview looking like something they’d never really seen before.

They asked to see my portfolio, and I told them I didn’t have one, only my fashion sketches. In those days at fashion shows, you weren’t allowed to photograph the clothes because they were kept embargoed until they actually got into the shops, so if you were an editor, you sat there sketching in your notebooks. You had to sketch extremely quickly because the models would come by quite fast. I showed them these books, and I was sitting there in a black tailored double-breasted suit – I think they just thought I was mad. I heard afterwards that they really didn’t think I would stick it, but they didn’t realise that if I decide to do something, I do it.

But they offered me a place, and on day one, I knew I shouldn’t walk in there all dressed up, so I decided to go completely under the radar and became unnoticeable. You had to absorb yourself and become a chameleon. It was about the second term, when someone turned to me and asked, ‘You’re not that Sophie Hicks who used to be the fashion editor at Vogue, are you?’ and I said, ‘well, yes, I am actually.’ and she said, ‘why do you look like that then?’ it was all quite amusing. I just really enjoyed drawing and making things. We did a lot of work in the workshops – we would weld, cut, saw, and make models. I loved all of that. We did a lot of expressive drawings, which were pre-computer, and I’m not a good drawer by hand, so I’d make a lot with clay, plaster, carving, printing, and etching etc.

We would talk a lot about our ideas. And the Architectural Association is brilliant at teaching design, and brilliant at teaching you how to think. I’m an external examiner there now, which I’ve been doing for the last four years, and it’s amazing how they get their students to think – to a level that I don’t think you get in other schools.

It’s a bit like if you were thinking about conceptual art, I suppose. Thinking about what the concept is, what the meaning behind it is and why you’re doing it. Absolutely everything needs an explanation when you design, and it’s got nothing to do with aesthetics until you know why you’re doing it, then the aesthetics happen naturally. Of course, some people do their aesthetics better than others – some people have an elegance, and some people don’t. But if there isn’t a reason behind why you’re doing something, then I don’t think it’s very meaningful.

I’ve always thought that film directors have a very interesting job, with the way they approach a project and how they set up a team and choosing all the people who are going to gel as unit. It was Grace Coddington who taught me how to set up a team when you’re doing a fashion shoot. The psychology of a group is incredibly important. I took that kind of thinking with me to the world of architecture: thinking broadly, out of the box and about how to set up an architectural project in a way that is more likely to be successful.

What inspiration do you draw from other engineers and architects – particularly with Félix Candela and Paulo Mendes da Rocha? 

They worked brilliantly with concrete. Recently, I’ve used quite a bit of concrete in buildings I’ve made. I think Félix Candela was probably the most brilliant user of concrete who has ever lived. He mathematically worked out how to create very thin, reinforced concrete shells that were very elegant and incredibly clever. And if you can do something very clever, why wouldn’t you? He also did this because he was designing quite simple structures like bus shelters and churches for communities in Mexico. The budgets were very tight, and I believe he even designed some churches without windows. Because of this low budget, he used less concrete, so the building was less expensive. Because of that, he designed these extraordinary floating canopies and canopy rooves, where the geometry is really his invention. His brilliance as an engineer allowed him to do that. There are some wonderful photographs of this, one in particular which has workman standing on top of this mushroom-like roof. It’s about 10 or 15 metres high and incredibly thin. It’s just a brilliant demonstration of history.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s buildings in and around Sao Paolo have an incredible force to them. They’re raw and feel very dynamic, as they have so much embodied energy, in that they are incredibly still. The thing about him which I find very interesting, and which I feel reassured by, is when when I hear about architects of his stature that did what I do, which is having an office of one. An architect of his stature, you would expect to have an office of quite a lot of people, but he maintained a very small office. I’ve never had a big office – I’ve had an office of about 10 people perhaps, and I found that I wasn’t properly designing myself. I was spending too much time looking after other people and checking their work.

Everything froze with the crash in 2008, and I felt like I really needed to get back to basics. What I really wanted to do was design buildings, and what I really wanted to do was actually be the one doing the designing, not passing it down. I’ve got the most brilliant kind of situation now, where I work very closely with my colleague Tom Hopes, and we work very well together. He’s very strong on construction, and I’m very strong on design. He’s teaching me construction and I’m teaching him design – we do both and understand both sides. My aspiration would be to continue to work in this way, and to continue to work in the way that Mendes da Rocha worked. That involved only bringing in other team members for a project when you need to, so you don’t have everyone in the office all the time.

The most recent building I did was a house in Northamptonshire, and it was a reasonably big team. We did all the drawings here, with about 10 or so people, but it worked very well because the quality of the design and the detail was that bit higher. We work very closely as a team and get much better results, I feel. But it’s an unusual way to work, so I’m always encouraged when I read that someone like him created really interesting buildings with that same process.

What do you value most about a living space?

That it’s really comfortable, and not just literally. It’s important that you feel relaxed, calm, and able to be yourself in and around it. The word ‘comfortable’ might have the wrong connotations because it makes you think about sitting on squishy chairs, but it’s not that. It’s a kind of feeling – feeling yourself.

When I design for other people, I want to find out what makes them feel right. If I’m designing a house for somebody, I want to know everything about how they live, how they behave, what makes them feel comfortable, and what kind of impression they want that building to embody. With the house that I designed for my daughter recently, which is called House Between Two Lakes, it was really important to her that it wasn’t a show-off-y house. She didn’t want a flashy house. She didn’t want a house that was obtrusive. She wanted something that was the opposite of a designed house, which is why we made something that sat very gently in the landscape, and that is very streamlined.

As the theme of this issue is identity, I thought it would be interesting to know if you’ve ever had kind of ‘identity crisis’ with a project?   

That’s a difficult one, because architectural projects are very long and very complicated, and they involve an awful lot of solving problems. These problems might be thrown up by the environment or by the building problems that crop up during construction. If you’re working on a project where you’re solving problems, an identity crisis is less common.

There’s initial design that you tend not to go forward with until you’ve got the concept sorted out. Projects don’t go ahead if you can’t get that right. It’s a difficult question for me to answer. I know it sounds as if I’m not admitting to self-doubt, but that’s not it. As an architect, you’re a servant of the client, so you need to understand what they’re all about. If you don’t understand what they’re all about, the project tends not to go forward. If you are trying to understand what they’re all about, you carry on until you reach a point of agreement, and during that process, there are often moments where you doubt if you’re ever going to get there. There are multiple points in time where I would be searching for the solution that would embody the character or the ethos of a brand, or the character of the person or thing that they want to embody in the building. It might be some sort of feelings or atmosphere, and I might be struggling to understand what they really mean. And even when I do understand, I have to then find a way of translating that into a built form.

There is a kind of lightbulb moment when you get it right. It happened with the Chloé shop early on for Phoebe Philo. I was struggling with what to do for this luxurious brand, and for its new, young, dynamic designer. She’s got great ideas and a contemporary way of looking at things. At the end of the day, it’s a Paris luxury house, and had stores on fancy shopping streets. I thought about what we could do to bring the spirit of that young designer into the shop environment in a way that would feel how I think she feels about her designs. I really thought we weren’t going to get there. I really didn’t know what I was going to be able to suggest, and then suddenly, we had riots in Bond Street. There were some demonstrations, and the shop fronts were boarded up, and that was my lightbulb moment. We used railing and raw plywood like you would use to protect your front window. We put that inside the shop and used it as the finish for the walls. There’s a real beauty to basic plywood. Not fancy plywood and beautiful veneer, just the bog-standard shuttering with lots of faults in it. I wanted to bring that into this luxury space and offset it with the pink marble and gold-plated metal fittings that Phoebe was working on. We gave it a kind of spin that would tell the kinds of rich women who are going to come into shop, that there’s something else going on here. The spirit of the place is just a bit more rooted in reality.

Your Acne Studios flagship store has a very forceful and distinct presence, reflecting the studio’s designs and aversion to conventional Swedish design. What were the other influences behind this project?

When working with a fashion client or a brand, they have very distinct characteristics and their brand identity is important to them, so it’s about finding an architecture that will embody that character and ethos. When I have a new client, I go and study that person, or that group of designers.

I’d never been to Sweden before Acne Studios contacted me, so I spent a long time shadowing Jonny Johansson during design meetings, hearing how he spoke to other people and absorbing how he works and how he makes his choices. I also spent quite a lot of time travelling around Sweden and going to the islands to gather information in my mind about Swedish light.

One of the most important things for that Seoul flagship store was the kind of light you get in Sweden. In the summer, you get a very strong and completely engulfing flat light. Light is very important in Sweden, because for many months of the year they don’t have a lot of it, and then they have a lot of it all at once in the summer. Something I noticed from studying Jonny and the other Swedes in the office, is that they were very private and keep their cards quite close to their chest. Seoul is a very dynamic, outgoing place in comparison. I thought if I were going to make a building in this very dynamic city for a brand whose culture is much more reticent, then I would like to make the building sit as a quiet, almost brooding monster. Monster isn’t quite the right word, I know, but there’s something very still about the concrete frame within that building. It’s very grounded and permanent, but then it’s held inside this misty white box. With this misty white box, you get no hint of what’s going on inside until you enter. I also had no idea that the light was going to be as good as it was until we built it. I thought it would be nice, but it really is extraordinary. All the daylight comes through this white polycarbonate material, and it makes you feel as if you’re in a white cloud. It’s quite odd and does strange things to your perception. I think that aspect of it is the Swedish part – this sense of unreality and dreaminess that is present in Sweden, particularly in the islands, that are so silent. It embodies that quietness of the Swedish character.

So it’s kind of in opposition to Seoul, but then all the air conditioning and all the services, we had piled up on the roof. All the rooftops in Seoul are a mess of air conditioning units, so we did that as a nod to Korea, but in a very neat and tidy way. This also allowed us to keep the space inside the building free, without any dropped ceilings or internal surfaces hiding anything. I don’t like finishes and I don’t like hiding things, so I don’t like having to build internal walls to hide services. I like the internal finish to express the structure of the building.

How did you go about combining both Japanese and Parisian aesthetics and design principles with your Yohji Yamamoto store?

I knew Yohji anyway, as I’d seen his first shows in Paris when I was working at Vogue, so I knew how he was when he landed in Paris. He landed with this extraordinary new vision that was completely different from anything that had come before. I knew how he’d been incredibly shocking to the Parisians and the world of fashion entirely. I also knew how he’d become comfortable over the years in Paris and opened one of his design studios. He had a big office in Paris and worked quite a few months of the year there, so I knew he’d become much more embedded in Paris than say Rei had – she was much more Japan-based.

When I was working on his project, I basically shadowed him. But with him, he didn’t like anyone close, so I’d be observing and studying from a distance. He’s a very private person, and Japanese shopping culture is very sophisticated. They don’t like to show off. It feels very wrong to put a mannequin in a window for a Japanese client.

I decided to include glimpses, and he was open enough to be able to show glimpses into the store from the windows, so we used a kind of Shoji screen. We played with the idea of things on axes, like in formal French gardens. You get glimpses through the screen, and as you get closer, you can see into the shop. We included without heads, so basically had all the dresses floating in the space. And when you entered, you’d have a series of glimpses that would start from a kind of corridor of wooden folded screens. As you move down this corridor, the view suddenly opens up, and that’s when you can tell a story about menswear and womenswear. It was all to do with opening up really, which I think is a very French thing, and then through showing his clothes in a progression – that’s how I tried to make the link between him and Paris.

What qualities of materials do you think lend the most atmosphere to a space? And what do you enjoy working with the most?

For an interior space, I like the structure of the building to be expressed internally. I want to be able to see what the structure is, and it’s the expression of those structural materials that I think gives character and atmosphere to the space. That’s one reason why I don’t like decoration. With House Between Two Lakes, we had one or two internal walls, as we had to divide the space somewhat, and it needed a surface finish. I hate decoration so I didn’t know what to do.

Because the roof is made from precast concrete planks and the floor is cast in situ concrete, decided to do something related to those two materials. We used render with some pigments to give it a more interesting colour, and it was very important to me that the sand and cement render was done by the plasterer. I would have hated it if someone else came to do a clever finish. We wanted to keep any expressive movements. We chose the colour to relate to the earth. That piece of land was a brick quarry at one point, so we chose this brick red colour. This was the only way I could find to do a finish that would be as far away from decoration as possible.

I’m also slightly allergic to tiling in bathrooms, so we put a waterproofing agent into the mixture, and put it in all the bathrooms. I’ve done tiling in other projects, I’ve done lovely marble bathrooms and stone-clad bathrooms, but for the House Between Two Lakes, it is a house in the mud. It’s unbelievably wet there. The house is supported on pairs of steel piles, that go something like 16 or 18 metres down into the ground to anchor it into the mud. You basically want to smear the mud on the walls. Fancy things wouldn’t make sense – it just doesn’t read visually.

Is there anything you consider to be an architectural faux pas?   

I don’t know about faux pas, but over the past decade I’ve noticed a tendency for architecture to be sculptural, or a tendency for a piece of architecture to be a bold statement about form and glamour. That is something I don’t feel comfortable with, so I’ve been biding my time hoping this moment will pass, and I think it has.

This year’s architecture biennale in Venice was very much on a different track. Architecture appears to be moving towards helping human beings live, work and experience their lives better. And if that means the building looks like shit, then so be it! I much prefer that. Of course, they never do, because if you make a building that really functions beautifully for human beings, then by definition, it’s going to work and be a wonderful piece of architecture. I think it’s a great moment for architecture to get re-grounded and not be concerned with making a flash statement.

Some of the South American projects are fantastic. They’re more left wing and democratic. They have a history, that is not so far buried, of making buildings to serve the people. I’ve been sucked into this world of clients who aren’t really serving the people. I know that most of the projects I’ve been commissioned to do are projects that may be wonderful, and I may be pleased with them, but they are projects that aren’t necessarily needed. You don’t need a fancy store. I happen to enjoy designing a store, because there’s an intellectual exercise of trying to identify what the ethos of that brand is.

I think brands are moving more towards the social and cultural changes that we’ve experienced in the last two or three years. They are recognising them, reacting to them, and bringing something of them into their shopping experiences. I watch with interest to see if any of the big luxury brands react to this, but at the moment, I haven’t really seen anything that makes me think that they’re willing to break the mould and allow people to shop in a different way. I have various theories about it, and I’ve had a couple of potential clients in the last year who might have gone for it but didn’t in the end.

How important is sustainability to you? 

It’s very important. I’m very ‘waste not want not’, so it is in my nature not to throw things away – I like to reuse, and I like things that are very durable. What I’ve realised is that I’ve been creating buildings in the last 4,5,6 years, that are going to be incredibly hard to demolish. They have these big concrete frames that express a kind of solidity which I love to use in contrast to a lightness. I like the solidity and I like the delicacy as well.

The Earls Court House that I built for myself, has a basement which must be, by definition, constructed out of concrete. So, I decided to bring the concrete up to grow out of the ground and combine it with the delicacy of the glass. Mass concrete is incredibly comfortable to live in. It very slowly and gently absorbs heat or the cold, which means that you have a very constant temperature, so you can avoid using lots of electricity for heating. It’s very sustainable for electricity usage, because what you don’t do is use a lot of electricity for heating.

When you manufacture concrete, you use a lot of energy and you disturb the land because of the quarrying, so it is disruptive, but if you if you use concrete, and you don’t intend to demolish your building, it quite quickly becomes sustainable. I think there’s a balance. I think until a building has lasted a certain number of years, it’s not sustainable, but once it’s been in for a certain time, and you factor in the reduced energy usage, then I think it’s reasonably sustainable.

With the House Between Two Lakes, I reused joinery and doors from previous buildings that had been demolished and stored. The bronze front door for example – I think it’s quite rare for architects to reuse old parts in new buildings like that.

I think in the future, what I would really like to do is make a building where we use materials that are available very close to the site, whatever that might be.

What do you anticipate for the future of your work? 

I’d love to do housing development, rather than one-off housing. I would love to be approached by a developer who wants to design some sort of group of houses that is particularly suited to life now – perhaps family life.

Discover more here sophiehicks.com

Practice Architecture

“It’s this kind of interdisciplinary weaving together that is going to make change happen”

Founded in 2009, Practice Architecture is a London based firm adept at delivering various acclaimed cultural, community and residential projects. The firm has established itself as one that creates exceptional structures with a strong sense of place, and has a hands-on approach, getting involved from a design’s inception through to a structure’s completion, and help to curate both space and the activity it houses.

For their innovative Flat House project, the firm worked alongside hemp farmers and with sustainable methods of construction to construct a zero-carbon home in Cambridgeshire from prefabricated panels, all in just two days.

Their smaller scale Polyvalent Studio project was created within the parameters of the caravan act, meaning in most contexts it does not require planning permission. It was designed by students from London Metropolitan University and constructed within just 12 days, exemplifying the possibilities of low embodied energy design and the benefits of a collaborative working process in the industry.

Practice Architecture is currently working with food growing workers cooperative OrganicLea in developing a 10-year plan for the expansion of the infrastructure at their main site Hawkwood. The project will deliver substantial new educational buildings and volunteer spaces alongside a large community hall and kitchen, and the project will be built from natural materials as a self-build, working with the volunteers on site.

NR Magazine speaks with Practice Architecture to learn more about these projects, how they incorporate sustainable methods into their practice, and their ethos as a firm.

What inspired you to start working with cultural and community projects?

We started making things in London in a very informal way. We worked a lot with our peers and what we were doing was really part of a broader DIY culture within our community. In the absence of institutions that spoke to us, we made our own spaces in which to explore our own culture. This kind of work was only possible under the provision of it being temporary, but serendipitously, almost all the places we built in this era are still here.

We made our buildings in a very hands-on way, going on site ourselves, with friends and volunteers to build a project and used very basic tools and equipment to do so. This experience continues to feed into the work we do now, our understanding of materials and the way we design with others.

More designers are using hempcrete at the moment, and I’m familiar with artists using it on a small scale with pottery and sculpture, but nothing like on your Flat House project. What was the process like when building with this material on a larger scale?

The process began with the drilling of the seeds in the 30 acres of field that surround the house.  This was overseen by Joe Meghan, a hemp farmer who had supported Steve Baron the client and founder of Margent Farm in getting a licence and specifying the appropriate subspecies of plant.

Hemp is a very resilient crop, with long tap roots that help to rehabilitate and condition soils that have been degraded through industrial farming practices. It has a short growing season of 3-4 months, after which we were able to harvest the seed and stem and process it into usable oil, fibre and shiv (the woody core of the stem).

The project makes use of each element of the plant, with the oil being used by Margent Farm in health and body treatments, the fibre being made into a cladding and the shiv into the hempcrete insulation. Each element of the plant went through a different process, with the fibre being felted and blended with a sugar resin and the shiv being chopped and mixed with a lime binder.

We designed a cassette-based construction system using structural timber with hempcrete to form an insulated panel, refining the construction details with Oscar Cooper from Lignin Builds. The panels were constructed in a factory and dried before being brought to site and lifted into place over two days. The cladding was made a few miles down the road with the impregnated hemp fibre matt pressed to form corrugations. The cladding is very easy to work with as it’s light and can be cut using a simple hand saw. We were lucky that with so many elements of experimentation, everything went very smoothly, and the building came together as anticipated.

Aside from sustainability, what were the other aims and inspirations behind your Flat House project?

We wanted to demonstrate how, what are often thought of as traditional materials, can be applied in a very contemporary way using the latest construction technology. The project celebrates the simplicity of its construction and how few materials went into making it. The key thing with Flat House was not just to develop a building, but to develop a whole system that could be replicated at scale across the country.

The project has led to the establishment of Material Cultures, a research organisation that explores natural materials in the context of offsite construction. Could you talk a bit more about that?

Yes, Material Cultures is now doing the work of scaling up these ideas and applying them to large scale housing and commercial projects. We are working with a variety of clients and housing developers – people who are interested in doing things differently. Alongside this, we carry out research projects with a number of universities, developing full scale mock-ups and looking at the broader cultural context of the work we do.

Material Cultures is exploring how regional specificity and a relationship to regenerative agriculture might shape the evolution of new housing typologies. The low carbon construction industry is still relatively embryonic, which means working across many fields and disciplines simultaneously to make things happen. That’s why we are really excited to be working with Yorkshire and the North East and ARUP to develop a regional strategy for a transition to a bio-based construction economy.

It’s this kind of interdisciplinary weaving together that is going to make change happen.

What does collaboration mean to you as an architecture firm?

For us architecture has always been as much about process as it is about built form. The design is material and construction led, which means really understanding how something is put together. 

“Each project is an opportunity to connect with different disciplines and expertise, to learn and test something.”

We have been really lucky to have amazing long-term collaborators such as Henry Stringer – one of the most inventive makers of things – and Will Stanwix who has over 20 years’ experience of working intuitively with natural materials.

We generally make places directly with the people that use them, whether that be through getting everyone on site during the build or developing genuinely engaged co-design processes.

How do you go about balancing space and intimacy with a project?

We are really interested in spatial qualities and the different ways in which we are acted upon or made to feel by a building. We look to create balance, often pairing close and intimate spaces with more open ones. Material plays a large role in this. Arriving at the Straw Auditorium project in Bold Tendencies you move from the harsh open floor plates of the concrete carpark into an intimate womb like space, enveloped by the tactile warmth and smell of an organic material.

What inspired you to work with cellulose-based materials for the Polyvalent Studio project?

The Polyvalent Studio project was developed with David Grandorge and students at the London Metropolitan School of Architecture. The project was a continuation of Practice Architecture’s work exploring natural construction at Margent Farm and shares a lot of the material technology developed with Flat House.

The building is designed within the caravan act meaning it can be moved in two independent modules and that it could be built without planning permission. It touches very lightly on the ground with timber footings that penetrate the soil line. These are made from Accoya, an acetylated timber product that can far outperform other timbers and represents exciting opportunities for the substitution of traditionally high carbon materials in exposed areas.

The studio was designed and built by students at London Metropolitan School of Architecture. What was it like working with students and completing the project in such a short space of time?

Building the studio together with the students was a really amazing experience. They brought so much energy, passion, and commitment. It is mournfully rare for architecture students to get an opportunity to use their hands and build things at scale.

“Building things is one of the most direct ways to learn how to design things, and the lack of genuine understanding of construction by architects is what leads to many tensions between professions.”

This project was established within the context of your research into natural materials and low carbon construction techniques like with Flat House. What other kinds of innovative solutions to sustainable construction are you hoping to work with?

We are always looking to learn about new materials. Currently this means exploring innovative straw and mycelium construction and looking at the role of chalk within structural and civil engineering projects.

With the theme of this issue being Identity, I’d love to know how you feel the firm incorporates sustainability and education into its identity.

For a long time, sustainability was something we did by default, but we didn’t really talk about it or have a way of articulating what we were doing. We saw our work as predominantly socially driven and about process – and the architecture and materiality as a means to an end.

It’s been interesting over the last few years to begin redressing and articulating an underlying intentionality behind our approach to how things are made. Underlying the design is a deep concern for how the things we make fit within a broader cycle and ecology of things. Where do the components come from and where do they end up? How can we be resourceful and responsible? It’s been great to begin to articulate these things and situate what we have been doing within other conversations around things like regenerative agriculture and the logic of global supply chains.

How important is adaptability to you?

We want to make buildings that can respond to their users. This means they need to be able to adapt and evolve. You can design in a way that either makes this very difficult or enables it. By keeping structure exposed and close to the surface and making the construction legible, it empowers residents and users to add, change and adapt.

Working with a food growing cooperative, your Hawkwood Plant Nursery project also champions natural materials and community collaboration. Could you talk a bit more about the aims for this ten-year plan?

It’s really exciting to be working on a number of large-scale food growing projects in London. These kinds of spaces are so important and so different from other types of green spaces such as parks.  They offer the opportunity for a genuine connection to soil and to land – one that is mutually nourishing and that brings you into contact with most important natural processes that we all depend on like the water cycle, photosynthesis, composting and soil formation.

Hawkwood and the other Market Garden City project Wolves Lane are leading the way in setting a precedent for socially and community focussed food spaces. We are looking to embed genuinely circular principles in the project, working with the resources available on site and integrating locally sourced natural materials wherever possible. The principal being that anything we are bringing onto the site can ultimately return to those natural cycles itself, in the form of mulch and compost.

Credits

Images · PRACTICE ARCHITECTURE
http://www.practicearchitecture.co.uk

Isamu Noguchi

“to be hybrid is to be the future”

The art world, unfortunately, has a certain reputation for snobbery. Everything that is deemed as ‘art’ must, of course, be well thought out, aesthetically intriguing and completely unaffordable for anyone who isn’t part of ‘the rich’. Anything that is actually affordable for people who aren’t part of that income bracket is deemed as ‘low art’. Low art is defined as “for the masses, accessible and easily consumable.”

Over the years this definition has often been criticised alongside the common phrase “art for art’s sake” which was born from definitions like these and “is so culturally pervasive that many people accept it as the “correct” way to classify art.” Thus, it is rather surprising to see such definitions being alluded to in reviews of Noguchi’s exhibition at the Barbican as the artist himself was not a proponent of “art for art’s sake” according to Barbican curator Florence Ostende.

Japanese American designer and sculptor Isamu Noguchi was of “the most experimental and pioneering artists of the 20th century”. His exhibition at the Barbican displays over a hundred and fifty works from his career which spans over six decades and explores his life, work and creative method. The best way to describe him is a ‘creative polymath’ as his work straddled a multitude of disciplines.

The exhibition itself is on two levels and upon entering the space you are directed upstairs. This first section is divided into spacious alcoves and display different periods of the artists work. There is a slight feeling of disconnect here and one finds oneself peering over the railing to the floor below, which appears from above far more engaging. However, this part of the exhibition provides an important overview for those who are not so familiar with Noguchi’s work. It maps the artist’s collaborations with the likes of Brâncuși, Martha Graham and R. Buckminster Fuller, in addition to charting Noguchi’s activist work, protesting racist lynchings, America’s internment of its Japanese American citizens during World War II, and fascism.

However, it is on the first level that the exhibition becomes a real delight, a rambling hodgepodge of stone and metal sculptures and his world-famous Akari lamps that makes one itch to play amongst this minimalist wonderland. Noguchi was committed to creating accessible public art and playgrounds, or playscapes, were a fascination for him. He designed these playgrounds as a way to “encourage creative interaction as a way of learning.” Indeed this interest in play and playfulness is echoed in the exhibition’s main space.

The star of the show is certainly the Akira lamps handing like softly glowing space ships, seemingly emerging from the floor like some strange luminous creature and arranged in clumps like brightly coloured mushrooms. Noguchi designed them after visiting struggling post-war Japan as a way to revitalise the economy. He took the Japanese bamboo and rice paper lanterns and modernised them as a way to bring industry back to the war-torn country.

These lamps became popular in Britain in the sixties and are still available, albeit in a slightly changed form, in IKEA. Because of this they are instantly recognisable and have led to some likening the Barbican exhibition to a ‘high-end lighting showroom.’ However, this brings us back to the discussion of ‘art for art’s sake.’  As I wandered around the exhibition I was drawn back to childhood memories of visiting B&Q with my parents, (they were the only shop in my hometown that had escalators and thus was an infinitely entertaining playground). Playground is the keyword here, I was allowed to roam the aisle alone in delicious freedom and explore this wonderland of light, metal, wood and a multitude of other textures, shapes and materials. To my childlike understanding, all of this was art. Interestingly Noguchi’s philosophy was rather similar. In creating the Akari lamps he aimed to “bring sculpture to everyday households”.

In our current environment of late-stage capitalism, Noguchi’s quiet and thoughtful philosophy’s on purpose, sustainability and environment are perhaps exactly what the art world needs. He saw commercial forms of design “as a way of escaping the art market and working with more freedom and fewer constraints.” While we might criticise the society we live in unfortunately we must still exist within it, however Noguchi “believed in the idea that even in mass-production, individuality is still possible.”  We must adapt and innovate within the framework we have because after all, to quote the artist, “to be hybrid is to be the future.”

Credits

Images · Isamu Noguchi
Noguchi at the Barbican is open from Thu 30 Sep 2021 —Sun 9 Jan 2022. For more information visit https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021/event/noguchi
 

Photos

  1. Portrait of Isamu Noguchi, American sculptor, the latter’s special assistant planner, July 4, 1947 in New York City. (Photo by Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images)
  2. Bronze plate
  3. Noguchi, Isamu (1904-1988): Humpty Dumpty. 1946. Ribbon slate. Overall: 59 ◊ 20 3\4 ◊ 17 1\2in. (149.9 ◊ 52.7 ◊ 44.5 cm). Purchase. Inv. N.: 47.7a-e New York Whitney Museum of American Art *** Permission for usage must be provided in writing from Scala.
  4. Terracotta and plaster

Mohamed Bourouissa

Documenting the experiences of disenfranchised groups and different pockets of inequality in contemporary society

Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art presents Mohamed Bourouissa’s first public UK solo show ‘HARa!!!!!!hAaaRAAAAA!!!!!hHAaA!!!’, comprised of a selection of photography, videos, sounds and installations from 2003 onwards, with a particular focus on the legacy of colonialism.  

Through a combination of mixed media, the Algerian-born artist explores a vast range of complex socioeconomic issues and teases out tensions between different social contexts. In travelling to different places and engaging with groups of locals, Bourouissa’s in-depth locational research addresses notions of collective histories, identity and social space, and allows him to share the stories of marginalised communities from imbedding himself within them. 

Bourouissa documents the experiences of disenfranchised groups and different pockets of inequality in contemporary society, with a particular emphasis on the destructive remains of colonialism and the current realities of racial and socioeconomic inequality – something that is interesting to observe through the lens of a gallery context. 

‘HARa!!!!!!hAaaRAAAAA!!!!!hHAaA!!!’ delves into Bourouissa’s different photographic and filmic techniques. With irreverence and intensity, Bourouissa depicts how the individuals in his work use the tools at their disposal to navigate their situation. From grainy smartphone images and street photography to canonical art historical framings of Parisian street life, the exhibition showcases Bourouissa’s ability to articulate insightful statements on contemporary image culture and circumstantial truths. 

Mohamed Bourouissa currently lives and works in Paris, France and has exhibited at institutions and biennials including the Paris Museum of Modern Art, The Centre Pompidou, the Barnes Foundation, the Stedelijk Museum, Haus der Kunst, the Berlin Biennale, the Milan Triennial and more.

The exhibition runs until 1st August at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. 

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