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Objects of Common Interest

From Athens to New York, via Brussels, Milan and Copenhagen, the design duo are gently storming the world. Anna Sansom catches up with them on the eve of their latest show.

By Anna Sansom / 19th October 2021
Installation view, 'Volax', at Carwan Gallery COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

Installation view, ‘Volax’, at Carwan Gallery
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

WHEN ELENI PETALOTI and Leonidas Trampoukis visited the Cycladic island of Tinos a few years ago, they were mesmerised by how the sun’s rays would bounce off the enormous granite rocks. “We spent a lot of time wandering round the island, which is like a natural sculpture park because of its magnificent, huge rocks,” Petaloti recalls. “You could see the sun’s rays coming onto their surfaces. And the relationship between these shapes and volumes linked to the light is always in our memory.”

Installation view, 'Volax', at Carwan Gallery COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

Installation view, ‘Volax’, at Carwan Gallery
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

That feeling of entrancement is conveyed in the Greek design duo’s exhibition, ‘Volax’ (named after a village on Tinos), at Carwan Gallery in Athens. Curved acrylic tubes of light jut out from smooth, rounded forms in carved wood while seating arrangements are evocative of large slabs of stone. Overall, the spatial environment translates the couple’s experience of walking round the island, which is famous for its Orthodox church of Panagia Evangelistria, marble quarries  and as the birthplace of Modern sculptor Yannoulis Halepas.

Installation view, 'Volax', at Carwan Gallery COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

Installation view, ‘Volax’, at Carwan Gallery
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

Extrapolating ideas from nature and developing situational concepts is characteristic of the design studio, Objects of Common Interest, founded by Petaloti and Trampoukis in New York. Yet ‘Volax’ marks their first foray into working with wood. After conceiving the models and 3D drawings in their studio, the duo hired a specialist fabricator near Thessaloniki, northern Greece, to produce the pieces. A multi-axis robot was used to sculpt the locally sourced wood and some of the forms were subsequently combined with the tubes of lighting. Petaloti and Trampoukis spent the entire summer in Greece working on the project, after relocating part of their studio to the port of Piraeus in Athens.

Installation view, 'Volax', at Carwan Gallery COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

Installation view, ‘Volax’, at Carwan Gallery
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Carwan Gallery

‘Volax’ is one of several shows that Objects of Common Interest have this autumn. In September, they participated in Alcova during Milan design week, then flew straight to New York to install their exhibition at Noguchi Museum. Later this month, an iteration of their Milan presentation opens at Etage Projects in Copenhagen. And their year-long exhibition at Brussels Design Museum is extended until January 2022. It’s a prolific period after a hiatus when they were unable to present their work during the pandemic.

Leonidas Trampoukis and Eleni Petaloti of Objects of Common Interest COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Leonidas Trampoukis and Eleni Petaloti of Objects of Common Interest
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Petaloti, 39, and Trampoukis, 40, hail from Thessaloniki. After studying at the city’s Aristotle University and Ecole Supérieure d’Architecture de La Villette in Paris, they obtained a MA in architecture from Columbia University in New York. Trampoukis worked as an architect and Petaloti in the art world before setting up Objects of Common Interest and their sister studio, LOT Office for Architecture, a few years ago. They have been a couple since 2006. “I have crazy ideas and am more into the big picture, and he’s more into details,” Petaloti remarks about their different qualities.

Objects of Common Interest, 'Tube Light I' and 'Tube Light II', 2019 COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Objects of Common Interest, ‘Tube Light I’ and ‘Tube Light II’, 2019
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Each project grows out of an in-depth discussion. Petaloti and Trampoukis talk until they can both mentally visualise the abstract shapes of what they would like to create. When one of them sits down to sketch the piece, it barely deviates from what each of them imagined. “We began explaining shapes to each other when we were travelling for work and now we discuss everything from concept to execution,” Petaloti explains.

Objects of Common Interest, ‘Tube Light I’, 2019
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

“The unifying thread between the works is about evoking a feeling within the beholder …”

Objects of Common Interest, ‘Tube Light II’, 2019
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

“… and a quest for endlessly experimenting – the duo are driven by curiosity”

Numerous projects from the last few years are brought together in their exhibition at Noguchi Museum. Titled ‘Hard, Soft and All Lit Up with Nowhere to Go’, it creates a conversation between their work and that of Isamu Noguchi. Having first become interested in Noguchi as students, they spent time researching his archives to learn more about how he was affected by Greece whilst visiting Delphi in the 1950s. “In his writings, he expressed how the Greek light, sun and landscape really affected his way of seeing,” says Petaloti. “The show is beyond an honour because we have admired his work for a long time.”

Objects of Common Interest for Kvadrat, 'Doric Columns', 2020 COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Objects of Common Interest for Kvadrat, ‘Doric Columns’, 2020
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Works by Objects of Common Interest are dotted throughout the museum, revealing shared affinities with Noguchi. “What has gradually drawn me in is the relaxed and meticulous way that Eleni and Leonidas develop things that serve no specific, real or marketable purpose,” says the curator Dakin Hart. “That’s a rare quality which is close to Noguchi.”

Objects of Common Interest, 'Formations', 2018 COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Objects of Common Interest, ‘Formations’, 2018
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

The duo’s tube lighting illuminates Noguchi’s sculptures inspired by Greek columns, while their deep blue rounded furniture appears in the temporary exhibition, ‘Noguchi: Useless Architecture’.

Installation view, Objects of Common Interest at The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Installation view, Objects of Common Interest at The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

The exhibition continues in the garden: transparent plastic ‘Standing Stones’ (2019) loom above Noguchi’s elegant work and an opal resin rock glows next to a scattering of Noguchi’s organic forms. Several new pieces are also on display: ‘Doric Columns’ in colourful Kvadrat fabric, iridescent ‘Rock Side Tables’ and ‘Inflatable Lights’ – amorphous plastic lights embedded with a cable and lightbulb.

Objects of Common Interest, 'Standing Stone', 2019 COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Objects of Common Interest, ‘Standing Stone’, 2019
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

The unifying thread between the works, Petaloti explains, is about evoking a feeling within the beholder and a quest for endlessly experimenting. “I get bored if I only work with one subject,” Petaloti says. “We hate repetition because we like to discover new things. So when we are invited to do something, we start from zero.”

Installation view, Objects of Common Interest at The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

Installation view, Objects of Common Interest at The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum
COURTESY: © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS / PHOTOGRAPH: Brian W. Ferry

This starting from zero is true for the use of holographic paint on powder-coated steel in the ‘Future Archeology’ exhibition at Etage Projects. Curvaceous shapes of domestic objects, including a stool with a purple seat in between bent metal forms, glimmer prismatically. The collection, in the words of Petaloti, embodies a “crazy conversation with light that brings out different aspects of the rainbow spectrum”.

Installation view, Etage Projects x Objects of Common Interest, 'Future Archeology', Copenhagen, 2021 COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Etage Projects / PHOTOGRAPH: Stefanos Tsakiris

Installation view, Etage Projects x Objects of Common Interest, ‘Future Archeology’, Copenhagen, 2021
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Etage Projects / PHOTOGRAPH: Stefanos Tsakiris

Made in Greece during lockdowns, it is intended to show how perception can alter depending on the mood and refraction of light. Some shapes of these futuristic pieces seem familiar as they revisit a former series. “We were interested to see how these shapes would translate when you added these holographic elements and were very intrigued by how they’re completely different,” Petaloti says.

Installation view, Etage Projects x Objects of Common Interest, 'Future Archeology', at Alcova, Milan, 2021 COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Etage Projects / PHOTOGRAPH: DSL

Installation view, Etage Projects x Objects of Common Interest, ‘Future Archeology’, at Alcova, Milan, 2021
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and Etage Projects / PHOTOGRAPH: DSL

Significantly, the duo are driven not by commissions but by curiosity to explore things. The in situ installation, ‘Standing Stones’, at Brussels Design Museum further attests to how they draw inspiration from Cycladic culture as a starting point. The solidity of rock sculptures is reinterpreted into the airy lightness of inflatables, reimagining scales and materials.

Installation view, Objects of Common Interest, 'Standing Stones' exhibition at ADAM, Brussels Design Museum, 2020 COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and ADAM, Brussels Design Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: © Christophe Licoppe

Installation view, Objects of Common Interest, ‘Standing Stones’ exhibition at ADAM, Brussels Design Museum, 2020
COURTESY: Objects of Common Interest and ADAM, Brussels Design Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: © Christophe Licoppe

“After meeting Objects of Common Interest during Collectible Fair in Brussels, we decided to work together,” Arnaud Bozzini, director of Design Museum Brussels, says. “The Agora, the public area of the museum, felt like the perfect place to give them carte blanche. They set out to showcase their research about inflatables based on forms and shapes inspired by Ancient Greek culture.” This articulation of ideas once again shows a capacity to move back and forth between the formal and poetic, permanent and ephemeral, cerebral and playful.

‘Volax’ at Carwan Gallery, Athens, runs until 23rd October, 2021.

‘Hard, Soft and All Lit Up with Nowhere to Go’ is at Noguchi Museum, New York, until 13th February, 2022. 

‘Future Archeology’ at Etage Projects, Copenhagen, opens on 22nd October, 2021.

‘Standing Stones’ is at Brussels Design Museum until 2nd January, 2022.

 

Article By

Anna Sansom
Anna Sansom is a British journalist, based in Paris, who writes about contemporary art, design and architecture.