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Misha Kahn

As the enfant terrible of American design opens his first solo show in Shanghai, TDE revisits an interview published in our first print edition.

By Adrian Madlener / 4th January 2022
Exhibition view, 'Startling the Echoes', 2022 COURTESY: Objective Gallery, Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn

Exhibition view, ‘Startling the Echoes’, 2022
COURTESY: Objective Gallery, Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn

BROOKLYN-BASED ARTIST Misha Kahn has undoubtedly become the darling of the collectible design world. His particular blend of free experimentation, formal irreverence and the whimsical application of virtual and analogue processes lines up with the current mood – an approach that captivates collectors with its sincerity and open expression of personality.

Misha Kahn, 'Lone Pickle in an Empty Fridge', 2019 COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Daniel Kukla

Misha Kahn, ‘Lone Pickle in an Empty Fridge’, 2019
COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Daniel Kukla

The designer combines disparate found materials and diverse cultural references in surprisingly cohesive assemblages; a controlled chaos of sorts. These amorphous furnishings seem to distil the collective reflections of a society simultaneously in the throes of disillusionment and exuberance.

Misha Kahn, (left) 'It's My Party', 2020; (right) 'Prince of This Random Patch I'm Standing On (Over There)', 2020 COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Dries Van Noten / PHOTOGRAPH: Charles White / JWPictures.com

Misha Kahn, (left) ‘It’s My Party’, 2020; (right) ‘Prince of This Random Patch I’m Standing On (Over There)’, 2020
COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Dries Van Noten / PHOTOGRAPH: Charles White / JWPictures.com

Represented by powerhouse gallery Friedman Benda, the 30-something-year-old maverick has established himself with immersive exhibitions that repeatedly challenge convention. His show, ‘Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces’, in 2020, explored the tensions that exist between the rigidity of our built surroundings and the porosity of the natural environments we yearn to reinhabit. Though the exhibition was cut short due to the pandemic, it offered an early glimpse of Kahn’s career-shifting foray into digital production, something he has since explored in depth.

Installation view 'Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces', 2020 COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Daniel Kukla

Installation view ‘Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces’, 2020
COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Daniel Kukla

During the past year, the rising star also collaborated with Dries Van Noten on limited edition printed silk garments and a special carte blanche showcase in the Belgian fashion designer’s Los Angeles flagship. The Design Edit contributor Adrian Madlener caught up with Kahn to discover how his work and ideas have been evolving.

Misha Kahn at 'Watermelon Party', Dries Van Noten, 2021 COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Dries Van Noten / PHOTOGRAPH: Charles White / JWPictures.com

Misha Kahn at ‘Watermelon Party’, Dries Van Noten, 2021
COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Dries Van Noten / PHOTOGRAPH: Charles White / JWPictures.com

The Design Edit (TDE): What have you been working on?
Misha Kahn (MK): During the first wave of the pandemic, my partner and I ended up driving to my parents’ house in Duluth, Minnesota. We stayed there for over six months. During that time, I began dipping my toes into virtual reality (VR), developing different shapes and designs using that technology. Still, it wasn’t until we returned to New York that I began harvesting the fruits of that weird labour and making new pieces.

Misha Kahn, 'Buy Low, Shell High', 2021 COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Sean Davidson

Misha Kahn, ‘Buy Low, Shell High’, 2021
COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Sean Davidson

TDE: Are you able to apply your usual level of improvisation to this body of work?
MK: What we usually do is low-tech. Working with this medium was completely different. Programming a KUKA Robot to create the work, you end up spending so much of your time planning things out rather than just making and learning as you go. Yet, some aspects of experimentation have been amplified. So much of design is directional, but in my studio, we’re lawless. We might print something from a digital model and add analogue elements by hand. Seeing the quick results is like therapy.

Misha Kahn, 'Time to Wake up Ghislaine', 2021 COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Sean Davidson

Misha Kahn, ‘Time to Wake up Ghislaine’, 2021
COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Sean Davidson

With this latest body of work, I’ve been trying to mine for shapes that resemble bones or organs because figurative art and design tends to be all about the body’s exterior. I like creating forms that are almost lethargic, which brings me back to the inflatables I first worked with. I’m able to translate these qualities in the digital form but ultimately it looks different.

Misha Kahn, 'A Fleeting Thought', 2021 COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Sean Davidson

Misha Kahn, ‘A Fleeting Thought’, 2021
COURTESY: Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn / PHOTOGRAPH: Sean Davidson

TDE: With this new focus, what projects have you developed?
MK: I recently made a series of ten NFT animations for a show at Christie’s, ‘Furniture Unhinged’, and last week, my show ‘Startling the Echoes’ opened in Shanghai – a collaboration with Objective Gallery and Friedman Benda. For my shows in the past, I made chaotic spaces, which felt like seeing the objects in the studio. This time around, I’ve tried to do the opposite and recreate a VR environment where the pieces are digitally inflected.

Exhibition view, 'Startling the Echoes', 2022 COURTESY: Objective Gallery, Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn

Exhibition view, ‘Startling the Echoes’, 2022
COURTESY: Objective Gallery, Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn

The experience of spending so much time in the void of VR is meditative and removed from the present, but totally free. Getting to present this work, I wanted to bring people into this “studio” – an alternate reality version of objects shown on worktables with smudges of paint, or wood shavings lying about. This is the work conjured in the void, which is free to exist outside of a trajectory of history and the magnetism of logic. The objects are lucid and floaty, any moment where they grasp at a reference is a hazy image through the fog.  

Exhibition view, 'Startling the Echoes', 2022 COURTESY: Objective Gallery, Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn

Exhibition view, ‘Startling the Echoes’, 2022
COURTESY: Objective Gallery, Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn

TDE: Where do you see collectible design going in the future?
MK: On the one hand, there’s definitely more enthusiasm for special objects than there was when I started out years ago. The amount of people who work in the field and engage with it has ballooned. But on the other, there isn’t really a vetting process based on what people will consume. There’s a lot of amazing new work out there but also a cacophony of garbage.

I worry about my work getting devalued, and that’s why it’s essential to keep moving forward and trying new things. Part of what has always interested me was a way of getting to new textures and shapes, and this kind of collagey spirit. It’s always been a gateway to new forms, allowing the material to guide the entire process. I want to move on a bit from only doing that and find ways to combine this approach with one that allows me to have more control over the final outcomes. Working with VR has given me this opportunity.

Misha Kahn, ‘Factory001’, 2021
COURTESY: Objective Gallery, Friedman Benda & Misha Kahn

This is an updated interview from The Design Edit Print Issue 1.

Misha Kahn: ‘Startling the Echoes’ at Objective Gallery x Friedman Benda, Shanghai, runs from 31st December 2021 – March 6th 2022.

Misha Kahn

@mishakahn

 

Article by Adrian Madlener
Article By Adrian Madlener
Adrian Madlener is a Brussels-born, New York-based writer covering a wide range of design-related topics. View all articles by Adrian Madlener