Natural Resources Communicated Through Objects

in conversation with Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler (mischer‘traxler Studio)

Mischer‘traxler Studio, based in Vienna, develop and design objects, furniture, processes, installations and more, thereby focusing on experiments and conceptual thinking within a given context. Their designs are often playing with uniqueness and some of their projects are poetic records that interact with the viewer and evoke unexpected reactions. By using their outcomes as well as a mean of communication, the studio tries to show that design can be functional, good and beautiful not just in objects, but as well in the ideas they represent.
Katharina Mischer (1982) and Thomas Traxler (1981) completed their BA-degrees in product and furniture Design at the NDC St. Pölten and at Kingston University London and continued with MA for conceptual design in context at the Design Academy Eindhoven. After graduating in June 2008 and several years of collaborating on various projects, Katharina and Thomas founded mischer‘traxler studio in 2009.
Projects by mischer’traxler are displayed in exhibitions on contemporary Design and Art in museums such as the Boijmans van Boiningen, the Design Museum London, the Triennale Milano, Cafa Art Museum Bejing, Mudac Lausanne and more, as well as on International festivals and fairs and can be found in the permanent collections of the Art institute Chicago, the Vitra Design Museum and the MAK Vienna, among others.

Generally speaking, people are drawn to protect endangered crafts, and most of the projects related to craft are simply recycling the past, technically and formally. Your way of working is more conceptual. You treat the design process as a means of research and intellectual enquiry. How did you relate to this within MADE IN project?

The great thing about craft is that it is directly related to a material. The masters know their material — the sources and its value. Thus, craft opens a path to an appreciation of material and production and what it actually takes to turn that material into an object. For us, this is an aspect of transparency and re-valuating things. We have the feeling that people are becoming increasingly disconnected from the facts — about how many resources, production steps and transportation arrangements an object requires before it reaches the end-user. Consequently, we tend to buy objects we don’t need, or things that just satisfy certain temporary trends — and then everyone ends up emotionally unengaged. Linking an object to someone who made it, like a craftsperson, and connecting it to the material’s origin might help develop a proper appreciation for objects in our consumer culture.

Where do you see the potential of craft processes today? Is there a space for invention?

There is definitely space for further development. On the one hand, there are surely interesting aspects to linking analogue and digital possibilities. Next to that there is a lot of potential in custom made projects — if paired with good design. Nevertheless, it requires a lot of freedom, space, time and budget for experimentation to push craft processes further, and in order to experiment freely one does need, unfortunately, an economic buffer.

In the MADE IN project you cast critical light on some striking facts related to raw materials, to metal and stone in particular. How is this focus related to nature — which seems one of the key sources of your inspiration, and in some projects like The Idea of a Tree even an explicit element in your work?

When looking at nature, one has to realize that everything is connected and has an effect on something else. In ecosystems, no matter how big or small, everything balances out. It’s truly inspiring to see that every detail in nature is well designed, fulfils functions and purposes while also being beautiful at the same time. In nature, everything reacts to its immediate surroundings — records, adapts and changes. Obviously we often try to bring these views on nature into our work. We as humans have to understand our huge impact on our natural surroundings in terms of the way we live and consume. Every piece we make, use and own comes from some natural resource, which is further processed and transported, and therefore the world and nature is continuously transformed by us.

It seems that experimentation, tests and dry runs determine your way of working. How did you organize the process that led you to the definition of the MADE IN project? Do you have a standard methodology?

For the MADE IN Project we actually made far fewer experiments and trials with the material itself than we did with some of our other projects. Maybe because we trust in the dialogue with Beno (our stonemason), and the flexibility we have in being able to visit him and knowing we still can change things.
We think we somehow have a methodology. Usually we first make a conceptual/theoretical framework for the project. This includes what we would like to communicate and achieve with the project. These guidelines make it easier for us to come up with the design, since we can always re-check whether it fulfils our framework. This helps prevent us from getting lost during the process, and to judge the design objectively.

Linking an object to someone who made it, like a craftsperson, and connecting it to the material’s origin might help develop a proper appreciation for objects in our consumer culture.

The translation of data into products is also a recurring topic in your work. Are objects tools for communication?

Yes, definitely. Sometimes we even call ourselves 3-dimensional communication designers. We extended our understanding of the functionality of objects and also believe that the layers of communication are an important aspect of a project. We also think that when data become tangible, it is much easier understood. Then one can grasp the scale of the facts or circumstances, or what effect a number really has in reality and thus start relating to it.

Sometimes we even call ourselves 3-dimensional communication designers. We extended our understanding of the functionality of objects and also believe that the layers of communication are an important aspect of a project.

The input of knowledge and data from the experts at the Geological Institute was crucial for the development of the project. It seems the convergence of disciplinary fields has become a necessity in design projects that address social, political and environmental issues. How do you see your practice in relation to multidisciplinary collaborations?

We are very open to collaboration, but to be honest we just start to look for collaborators once we need them or when we are approached directly. We never start a project with the goal of explicitly collaborating. We think that design as a discipline has always been based on collaborations — in the beginning more between craftspeople and industry; now, luckily the field of design has opened up to different types of collaborators, such as scientists and other experts from all kinds of fields.

Could you outline your collaboration with the stonemason Beno Ogrin? Was there something specific in your collaboration or in the local context?

It’s really nice, and interesting to see that Beno is not just doing his job. He is very passionate about it and also very curious and open to trying out new things. Because of this approach of his we could also propose working with ores and stones that have certain limitations.
He also joined us on the visits to the mines, and we were searching together with him for some stones in the forests. These experiences and the time he dedicated to the project before he actually got working on the stones itself already made it a special collaboration.
From a design and production point of view we tried to bring his skills and potentials into the project, and hope he’s not depending a lot on other companies or big external machinery, and that he can make as much as possible in his workshop.

What have you found most intriguing in the project so far?

That so many different institutions and people are working together to make this project happen. It shows that everyone thinks that it is an important topic to tackle. And that geology can be seen as very philosophical and poetic when described in the right way.

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