Page 1

A L I V E M AG A Z I N E V 18 . 0 3

MI

|

DE SIGNERS

TN

AYA KO A R ATA N I AND E VA N FAY

MIL L INER

A N N A

Z E I T L I N

|

MI

ARTIS T

|

TN MO

CHEF

JO SH H A BIG E R

N EU H A RT H

|

MI

|

MI

ARTIS T

A R T I S T S A N D C R E AT I V E S I N T H E M I D D L E O F A M E R I C A

ARTIS T

T I F F M A S SE Y

OL AYA M I

DA BL S

|


The lives and work of artists, activists, writers, designers and creative entrepreneurs in the middle of America.


L E T T E R F ROM T H E E DI TOR The best-synched traffic lights in the world are in the suburbs surrounding Detroit. The story I’m making up is that this has been a concerted, deeply engaged effort by the home of the auto industry to prove that cars and suburban sprawl are not the problem. The rest of us are just doing it wrong. I am on my way to meet artists Ayako Aratani and Evan Fay at their studio in Pontiac, Michigan, on the third floor of the building that was once home to the first Pontiac factory. I’m not ready for the American story the road reveals. I travel northwest on Woodward Avenue from the Detroit River downtown—where Henry Ford started his automobile business—through gentrifying Midtown, past the grand façade of the Detroit Institute of Arts and Cadillac Place, post-industrial Hamtramck, the systematically disinvested Westside, into the inner-ring suburban enclave of Ferndale, past the sprawling estates of Bloomfield Hills and Ayako and Evan’s storied, internationally influential alma matter, Cranbrook Academy of Art. Following the route, there are endlessly inspiring examples of industrial design, architecture, technological ingenuity, inviting town squares, stately mansions, bucolic farms, yacht-ringed lakes and verdant forests. In the popular imagination, Detroit is a city devastated by the unstoppable forces of history—de-industrialization, globalization, the decline of American manufacturing might. How much do these assumptions whitewash another reality: that prosperity didn’t decline due to unstoppable global forces, but rather it was intentionally shifted and relocated down the road a spell, by design, through racist policies and environmentally unsustainable practices? A quintessentially American blueprint for a phenomenon copied and pasted coast to coast. Tiff Massey speaks truth. Mo Neuharth teaches me a garden. Josh Habiger builds a home—for chefs and guests alike. Anna Zeitlin’s hats make friends. Olayami Dabls is an alchemist. Ayako Ar atani and Evan Fay dismantle the machine.

Attilio D’Agostino EDITOR-IN- CHIEF

@_attilio

[ 2 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


ALIVE Media Group

PUBLISHER

CO P Y E D I T O R

CO N TAC T

Mack Korris IG: @no_good_sharks

Novel LLC, 3015 Locust St., Ste. 203, St. Louis MO 63103

TWTR: @mack423

Tel: 314.446.4059

Elizabeth Tucker

Fax: 314.446.4052

IG: @Eliz_tucker

C R E AT I V E D I R E C T O R

TWTR: @Eliz_tucker

Mark Arnold

EDITOR-IN- CHIEF

CONTR IBUTING AR T DIREC TOR

Attilio D’Agostino

Karina Tiller

IG: @_attilio

IG: @karina.tiller

Sales: 314.446.4056 ALIVEmag.com

info@ALIVEmag.com

TWTR: @_attilio

A DV E R T I S I N G

JUNIOR VISUAL EDITOR A S S O C I AT E P U B L I S H E R

Aida Hasanovic

Molly Fontana

IG: @aida_hasanovic_

Content in ALIVE labeled “partner” denotes paid-for content. Thank you for supporting the businesses that keep ALIVE growing. For advertising rates and information, email advertising@ hownovel.co.

IG: @fontana_molly TWTR: @fontana_mollyr CO N T R I B U T I N G E D I T O R

Rachel Brandt IG: @rachelebrandt TWTR: @rachelebrandt M A N AG I N G E D I T O R

D I G I TA L G R O W T H S T R AT E G I S T

Amy Kuntz IG: @ohheyaim

CO N T R I B U T E

TWTR: @ohheyaim

For more information, please email contribute@ALIVEmag.com.

CO N T R I B U T O R S

Kea Wilson, Eileen G’Sell, Amy De La Hunt, Jacqui Germain

ALIVE, Volume 18, Issue 3 (Periodical #025092) is published by Novel LLC, 3015 Locust St., Ste. 203, St. Louis MO 63103.

A L I V E M AG .CO M

Periodicals Postage paid at St. Louis, MO, and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Novel LLC, 3015 Locust St., Ste. 203, St. Louis MO 63103.

Amy De La Hunt IG: @amy_in_words

GENER AL INQUIRIES

@ALIVEMagazine E D I T O R I A L A DV I S O R

@ALIVE_Mag

Jennifer Dulin Wiley

@ALIVE_Mag

© 2019 ALIVE Media Group, LLC.

ALIVE Magazine is published by Novel Creative. hownovel.co


TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S

MICHIGAN

20 Artist | Tiff Massey MICHIGAN

26 Artist | Mo Neuharth TENNESSEE

30 Chef | Josh Habiger TENNESSEE

36 Milliner | Anna Zeitlin MICHIGAN

48 Artist | Olayami Dabls MICHIGAN

62 Designers | Ayako Aratani and Evan Fay MISSOURI

80 Poem | Eileen G’Sell

COVER PHOTO

Artist Jimmy Abegg in Fanny & June hat, Nashville, Tennessee RIGHT

Bastion Restaurant, Nashville, Tennessee I N S I D E B AC K C O V E R

Mo Neuharth in her garden, Detroit, Michigan B AC K C O V E R

In Evan Fay’s garden, Hamtramck, Michigan P H O T O G R A P H Y:

Attilio D’Agostino


PA RT N E R

Sourcing from the highest-quality manufacturers and most respected designers, CENTRO Modern Furnishings remains St. Louis, Missouri’s go-to retailer for design enthusiasts, business owners and career creatives. The meticulously curated showroom housing high-design furniture, lighting and accessories—including sought-after brands like B&B Italia—is at once accessible and inspiring. Driven by a team boasting more than 60 years combined experience, CENTRO’s co-owners Todd Lannom, Ginny Stewart and manager Steve Schuepfer will help guide you, often sharing personal stories from their close relationships with world-class designers. CENTRO-INC.COM @ CENTROSTL


CONTENT

BRANDING

D I G I TA L

S T R AT E G Y

ALIVE Magazine is produced by Novel. Visit hownovel.co to learn more about how we can help you tell your brand’s story.


PA RT N E R

As an urban anchor of the heartland, St. Louis is a sprawling metropolis, balancing a rich and diverse history with technological and artistic innovation. The Gateway City’s diversity— including a vibrant LGBTQ community­—has led to an influx of makers, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, scholars, musicians, visionaries and more. ALIVE is proud to call St. Louis home. EXPLOR ESTLOUIS.COM @ EXPLOR ESTLOUIS

CHERO K EE S TR EE T


“A H o m e B et we e n B o d ie s” M u r al by C ai t li n M et z A c co m p a ny i ng au d io by V ic to r ia Ema nu e la o b i y b s o u n d.co m LO C ATI O N: St . L o ui s re s t au r ate u r J e s s ie Mille r ’s R ISE C of fe e H o u s e i n T h e Grove — a co m m u ni t y hu b t hat p u t s p e o p le at t h e c e nte r of all t hat t h ey d o.


A NN R AY M A SK S, 19 98 A RCHI VA L C - PR INT FRO M O R I GIN A L NEGATI V E S 22 1/8” X 17 1/8” (FR A MED)


PA RT N E R

Barrett Barrera Projects recently created projects+exhibitions—a St. Louis exhibition space to experiment, design and launch shows that will be toured nationally and globally. The opening exhibition, “Ann Ray & Lee McQueen: Rendez-Vous,” explores the friendship and creative collaboration between the late British designer Lee Alexander McQueen and French photographer Ann Ray. The exhibition, on view through Feb. 15, 2020, features Ray’s photographs alongside garments McQueen gifted her. BAR R ETTBAR R ER A.COM @ BAR R ETTBAR R ER A


PA R T N ER

MO

|

BREWER

R EV ER ENCE A ND R EV ER IE

The sustainable urban brewer y suppor ting Gateway City communities. by AMY DE LA HUNT / Photography by ATTILIO D’AGOSTINO

Few people in St. Louis have thought more about beer over the past two decades than Florian Kuplent and David Wolfe. The founders of Urban Chestnut Brewing Company have a combined 50-plus years in the brewing industry. Enough experience to ensure that all the beautiful nuances of a simple beverage that originates with barley malt, hops, yeast and water are practically hardcoded into their DNA. Their careers converged at Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, where each had a unique vantage point: German-born Kuplent on the worldwide yeast supply and the development of new products, and St. Louis-born Wolfe on the sales, marketing, innovation and business side. In 2010, after four years as AB InBev coworkers, they started UCBC. While craft brewers’ roles as agents of urban revitaliza-

tion are now lauded across the U.S., Wolfe and Kuplent had limited models to follow a decade ago. Among regional craft brewers, few had scaled up to even a fraction of what the duo was accustomed to at AB InBev, and microbreweries’ production volume was smaller yet, although it was growing—it increased fivefold between 2010 and 2018, to 5.8 million barrels. But Wolfe and Kuplent had two perspectives that turned out to be their secret weapons. One was history. Germany, of course, is unparalleled for its rich beer traditions. These date back hundreds of years and include the famous Reinheitsgebot that stipulated only barley malt, water and hops could be used in beer production; yeast came along later. In St. Louis, generations of German immigrants had honed their love of beer by innovating with local products and conditions, including limestone lagering caves.

M I S S O U R I

[17]


The other perspective was a vision for the future. Both partners had been innovators at their corporate jobs. They weren’t risk-averse, but neither were they newbies who could be sucked into the latest trend. They valued sustainable brewing practices, from water conservation to recycling and composting to using solar power. And between these two perspectives, they came up with a philosophy they call “Beer Divergency.” It’s represented by two beer series. The first, Reverence, honors Old World beer styles and methods. It’s where the Chestnut in the name comes from, because European beer gardens and cellars were often shaded by chestnut trees. The second, Revolution, is the American side, the Urban in the name, the beer series where brewmasters can go out on a limb and try something new. And it’s where UCBC as a company pushes past the historic idea of a beer producer’s role in building community. Kuplent, who has worked in England and Belgium as well as the U.S. and Germany, started as an apprentice in Brauerei Erharting, a small family-run brewery in eastern Bavaria, not far from Munich. Like American craft brewers, local European beermakers have a deep pride in their history and a strong sense of place. The difference comes in where that place is—during the ascension of craft beers, the “where” was often a city center struggling to overcome economic decline, whether it was located in the Rust Belt or on the West Coast. These locales needed more than beer, and craft brewers delivered. In St. Louis, UCBC’s first location in 2011 was a 1920s-era garage in Midtown, just east of the arts and theater district of Grand Center. Its second in 2014 was in a former paper company of the same era in The Grove. Today, both neighborhoods are walkable, surrounded by small homes and apartments plus independent businesses—but when UCBC located there, both had seen better days. Some of the company’s earliest initiatives—which the website labels Urban Efforts—were intentionally designed to make the tasting rooms accommodating to neighbors and community partners. For example, every Tuesday the Midtown location hosts Steins for Support, where a percentage of sales is donated

[18 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E

toward a designated 501c3 nonprofit. Earlier this year, UCBC partnered with its Grand Center neighbor, Circus Flora, on a seasonal Big Top Bavarian beer, and this fall it extended its Oktoberfest street party up to the circus tent. Nonprofits can reserve UCBC’s meeting rooms and event spaces at no cost, and social groups often host everything from coloring nights to trivia games. Many of UCBC’s charitable partnerships have held fast for years. Perhaps the best known is Dog Day Fridays in The Grove, where UCBC and Purina host pooch-friendly events on the bierhall’s east lawn twice a month over the summer. They’re free, family-oriented opportunities to hang out with adoptable dogs, play games, eat and drink. A portion of proceeds benefits a local pet shelter or rescue. Another facet of the Purina partnership promoted pet adoptions through sales of Urban Underdog American Lager. For every specially marked eight-pack of Urban Underdog sold, Purina donated $5 toward offsetting pet adoption fees at participating shelters and rescues. Would-be pet owners could receive a $25 adoption subsidy plus UCBC swag. Some collaborations are all about the beer. The Big Shark Radler—a mix of lager beer and carbonated lemon soda in 2018, grapefruit soda in 2019—has become a solid hit with St. Louisans in just two summer biking seasons. And then there’s the Grizzly Ridge Kölsch, the first official beer of the Saint Louis Zoo. For every case sold, UCBC donated $3 to the zoo to support its animal care and conservation work. Future plans include the release of a new style of beer highlighting different areas of the zoo into 2020. “One of the main goals David and Florian had for UCBC was urban development,” says Ashley Troutman, business and marketing operations manager. “Their hope to contribute to the revitalization of St. Louis is one of the reasons they started the brewery in the first place.” In the decades to come, Urban Chestnut will continue to work with community partners in the hopes of making St. Louis even more fascinating—and, of course, they’ll keep making great beer.


M I S S O U R I

[19 ]


MI

|

ARTIST

DETROIT’S BEEN COOL

THE TRANSFORMATIVE ART OF TIFF MASSEY. by KEA WILSON / Photography by ATTILIO D’AGOSTINO

Detroit’s most celebrated young artist is Tiff Massey, and she cannot find a studio. If that surprises you, you probably haven’t lived in the Motor City. Yes, there are acres of vacant industrial buildings just begging to be activated by an installation artist with a metalsmithing torch and a dream. But for every think piece about how the Michigan metropolis is the hottest new arts destination, there are a dozen landlords who can’t—or won’t—install a ventilation system in a room where they’d house the next generation of art luminaries mixing oil paints. The night before her interview with ALIVE, Tiff Massey wasn’t making art at all. She was dealing with a landlord who refused to fix a sewage backup. Tomorrow, she might start on a mural she’s been commissioned to paint in Eastern Market, or put some time into prepping her installation for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (for which she won a $200,000 grant to produce), or any number of the other projects the art world is clamoring for her to create.

But first, she has to call the building inspector. “Right now I’m just trying to process and figure out the best way to maneuver, because it’s not like there are art spaces in abundance,” Massey says. “I just can’t act like someone’s doing me a favor by renting me a space where the toilet’s flooded.” Massey grew up in Detroit. She knows all too well how to navigate life as a working creative in a city that hasn’t fully escaped centuries of destructive policy and development practices. In fact, she’s made an art of it. And she’s been doing it since long before the national magazines started telling coastal artists that Detroit was a vast, vacant space just waiting for outside forces to fill it. “I really don’t understand the narrative surrounding a lot of it, because Detroit’s been cool,” Massey says emphasizing “been.” “Before people start putting a development context to it, a gentrification context to it, whatever you want to call it, there was always stuff happening here. We just didn’t have a lot of resources,

M I C H I G A N

[ 21]


and that’s institutional and by design.” Massey had to go outside of the city to gain access to the tools she needed to become an artist. She took her first metalsmithing classes at an all-girls school in the suburb of Farmington Hills. Her parents encouraged her passion—and her father’s penchant for custom jewelry introduced her to the world of ‘80s hip-hop bling—but they also made it clear she “wasn’t supposed to choose it as a career.” Massey listened long enough to get most of the way through an undergraduate degree in biology with designs on being a veterinarian, before metalsmithing electives reignited her love of fire and metal and she decided to pursue a studio art career. “And then I encountered an obstructionist,” she says. A teaching assistant in one of Massey’s classes helped the young artist with a technical issue on an end-of-semester project and, Massey alleges, he then became jealous of the professor’s attentions to her final piece. He claimed that he had created her work himself; outrageously, the professor believed him. Rather than entertain the controversy, Massey transferred to another college.

Soon, Massey found herself scaling the forms she’d discovered in her jewelry practice into larger spaces: steel facet-cut diamonds laying in fields like they’d dropped from the mouth of an alien ship, the sinuous shape of a pendant transposed into a wall-length wood carving encoded alongside symbols from the Black Power movement. “Oftentimes, I’m not satisfied with things being on the body,” Massey says. “I want more.”

“I guess he was kind of in his feelings,” she laughs about it now.

It’s hard to think about the motive power of dissatisfaction when you talk to Tiff Massey. She is rightly dissatisfied with the conditions in which she often finds herself making her work— sewage backups, indifferent landlords, obstructionist colleagues and all—even though it’s evident that she loves Detroit fiercely. “Growing up here, there’s nothing like it,” Massey says. “It’s the blackest city in the nation. You’re surrounded by people who look like you who are doing amazing things at every level.”

The role that institutions play in stifling the Black American thriving is a major theme in Massey’s work today. She’s covered gallery walls in artistic reimaginings of the kind of wallpaper that covered Detroit homes in black neighborhoods before urban renewal erased them wholesale. She’s blown bracelets up to the scale of the human body, locating the exact moment when a delicate chain morphs into a shackle. And then she made it bigger, and then bigger, and then had performers carry her creation through the streets.

But art can remake broken cities and institutions—at least if artists like Tiff Massey have anything to do with it. She’s acquired two buildings in the past few years, and while it’ll take her time to summit the mountain of red tape to open them, she has a clear vision. One will serve as her personal studio, and the other will serve as a community art center where local makers provide the kind of instruction to area kids that Massey had to go outside the city to find. It is a project inspired in part by watching the way children reacted to her work.

It was years before Massey’s work engaged the political so explicitly. When she enrolled at the Cranbrook Academy of Art for her masters, she was still drawing inspiration from her biology degree. “I was doing projects about lichen,” Massey laughs. “But then one day I was like, ‘This shit is so fake.’ I realized that I don’t have the luxury of making pretty shit. Jewelry has to be about something more than the viewer just being seduced.”

“There was a group of high school kids that visited my show ‘Proud Lady,’” Massey says, speaking of a recent resident artist exhibition at the Red Bull House of Art. It’s a stunning show that centers images of black hair: walls adorned with intricate braids and twists and locks, pink plastic barrettes blown up to enormous size and hung boldly on the wall. “And all the kids of color, who had the biggest hair and all the curls you could probably never count, they all sat up under there. And you could tell that for them, it was like, ‘Yes, somebody gets it. Yes, this is a portrait of me; this is an experience that I have. Somebody is talking to me, finally.’”

She thought back to the custom jewelry she’d watched her father buy as a kid: “I was just thinking about bling, the characteristics of the scale, the weight.” She made huge, exaggerated necklaces

[ 2 2 ]

out of wool and powder-coated steel warped into the shape of enormous diamonds, in colors that evoked traditional African handcrafts and titles that provoked a deeper dialogue (“They Wanna Sing My Song But They Don’t Wanna Live It”). She made a series dedicated to Detroit itself, out of the materials of the streets themselves: copper wiring, broom bristles, caution tape, rope.

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 2 3 ]


[ 2 4 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 25 ]


MI

|

ARTIST

ART PROBLEMS Inside the inspirations of Detroit-based designer and photographer Mo Neuhar th. by KEA WILSON / Photography by ATTILIO D’AGOSTINO

Mo Neuharth has a problem. Or is it that she enjoys a good problem? It may even be easier to say that she’s made a career out of solving problems. The Detroit-based artist and designer projects an effortless blend of kindness and cool that makes her clients feel comfortable leaving a developing brand in her hands, or letting her turn their most important body of artistic work into the perfect handmade book. Maybe it’s her backstory: an Arizonian photographer-slashdrummer in an all-woman indie band who toured the country and decided that Detroit was the greatest city in America and wanted to help bring great, accessible design to the people who live and make extraordinary things there. Or maybe it’s her work itself: color-obsessed, flash-bright 35 mm photographs that feel like you’re being beckoned into a fascinating stranger’s very best memories, logos and menus that can make the newest business on the block feel like it’s been a beloved neighborhood institution for generations.

[ 2 6 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


[ 2 8 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


Whatever the reason is, you’re going to want to get to know Mo Neuharth, her design studio Art Problems and the world she creates inside the frame of her camera.

right now?

I had been running Art Problems as a press for a few years before I moved to Detroit, and I really wanted to go full force with it when I got here. But what ended up happening was … well, I had no money. [Laughs.] It didn’t quite work out as I planned. I was like, “Man, who knew publishing handmade art books isn’t that lucrative?”

The boundary that exists between art and design. It’s something I constantly struggle with. I have a background in fine arts, and where I went to school, the college of art was separate from the college of design. We didn’t interact. We didn’t have any of the same classes; we were considered totally different career paths. Ever since I left school, I’ve been trying to erase that notion, to show through my work how design and art can be the same. That’s the goal with Art Problems.

Then a friend of mine was opening a restaurant and asked me to design a logo. I’d only done a little bit of design work, but this was a huge thing for me—and I didn’t really know how to do it. I mean, I told her I did, but I didn’t. [Laughs.] Sometimes that’s really what you have to do. But I learned. I learned, and I did it, and that really opened a whole new world to me, and I’ve just kind of been self-teaching ever since.

What’s your single biggest problem with the art world

There’s a theme of collections in your work: neat rows of vintage matchbooks, or Jell-O molds, or Technicolor donuts in a perfect grid. What inspirations are you collecting these days?

I have an ongoing collection of old garden books, which was definitely an inspiration for my ongoing photo series “New Plants Coming Soon.” I started finding all of these copies of a particular magazine from the ‘50s and ‘60s in thrift stores. It’s called the The Home Garden, and it’s all in black and white. It has beautiful graphic design, beautiful photography. I just love them. Your love for vintage, and especially the midcentury modern period of design, is so present in your work, whether you’re collaging with antique family photographs or developing a logo for a brand. But at the same time, everything you make feels contemporary and fresh. How do you marry vintage and modern sensibilities?

I love the idea of timelessness. I think it started with photography, with my 35 mm camera; I love how you can use the frame of the image to edit the world into the way you want to see it. By removing any context of time—any contemporary cars or building materials or signage, or anything you might recognize as modern—you can use the camera to create this sort of timelessness. I like to do that with design, too. Art Problems started as an art press, but it’s grown into a full-fledged design and fine art publication studio that does everything from handmade books to branding, all with a very personal, often-handmade touch. Tell me about that transition.

I decided to rebrand Art Problems as a studio, because I didn’t want to limit it. I don’t want to just be a design firm, or just a logo factory. I wanted to be able to do design, but I’m still superfocused on printed matter. Every time I design something, it usually comes with some sort of printed collateral. The printed part is the end product. I love to still be able to do the tactile jobs. Tell me about a typical workday.

I wake up and make coffee, and then I go in my garden and make sure that nothing is going incredibly wrong. Sometimes I get carried away out there; I’m pulling weeds, watering, seeing if anything has eaten anything, and how to amend that … you get the idea. I could spend so long out there and just get distracted by every little thing. I actually had to start setting a timer. [Laughs.] Like, 30 minutes of garden time! No more! Growing plants wasn’t something I was able to do in Arizona, so I’m a little obsessed. But yeah, after that, I get to work. Right now I’m managing 10 to 12 different projects with different clients. Some of them are businesses, and some of them are artists who I’m helping them to design posters or books or something like that. And all your clients are in Detroit?

Right now, mostly, yeah. I’d love to be able to travel someday, but right now, I’m focused on the city. Detroit has so many people opening businesses and making art, and it’s important for them to have accessible design. I’m committed to being a part of that. I’m really dedicated to this place.

M I C H I G A N

[ 2 9 ]


TN

|

CHEF

CHEF JOSH H ABIGER THE L AST BASTION OF COOKING AS CARE. by KEA WILSON / Photography by ATTILIO D’AGOSTINO

There are few things more intimate than making someone a perfect plate of food and serving it to them personally. In an age of fast-food automation and hyper-processed ingredients, the inverse to that scene can be a little disappointing sometimes. But if you’re willing to drive out past the train tracks to a tucked-away restaurant in a warehouse-flanked corner of Nashville, you can find that feeling again—at the hands of chef Josh Habiger. Habiger’s innovative 24-seat restaurant, Bastion, is quite literally a bastion of the ancient tradition of cooking as care. You don’t exactly order a meal there: Instead, you select a personalized range of flavors from a mysterious bingo card of a menu and watch as the chefs craft five courses specifically for you. You aren’t served by a server; the chef themself delivers your feast. And if that chef is someone with as fascinating and unconventional a culinary education as Habiger, shortening the distance between the kitchen and the plate can transform a simple act of

[ 3 0 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E

table service into a once-in-a-lifetime meal. We spoke with Habiger about his intimate approach to cuisine and how a job in a small-town diner launched him on the path to becoming one of Nashville’s most beloved chefs. Tell us how you fell in love with cooking.

I grew up in an incredibly small town called St. Joseph, Minnesota, which is directly in the middle of the state. I worked at a diner called Kay’s Kitchen when I was a kid, and it was one of the only real restaurants in town. When I was born, my mom worked at the same little diner. Fifteen years later, I was doing dishes there, interacting with a ragtag bunch of regulars and a few truckers that stopped through town. That early experience informed a lot of what we ultimately did with Bastion. I grew up a quiet, shy kid, but there was something I liked about making a plate of food and


T E N N E S S E E

[ 31]


[ 32 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


then walking it to the counter and seeing how people reacted to what they ate. That was just the start of an unconventional gastronomic education for you. You spent time in your

nothing more. So people call up and say, “I have an eight-top, and I want to come in.” And we have to say, well, we can’t, because we’re different. We want to do a few things up front that encourage people to let us take control.

early 20s working for free at a three-starred Michelin restaurant outside London, and a few seasons working on a fishing boat in Alaska. You even gave up cooking for a while to be a bartender, right?

That’s actually what brought me to Nashville. I was about 29 by that point, and I’d met some guys who had been consulting on a bar called the Violet Hour in Chicago. I had developed this interest in cocktails, even though I didn’t really, uh, know how to make cocktails. [Laughs]. But I thought, ‘Hey, I’m a chef. I can make things. I can follow recipes.’ I saw these people using alcohol in the same way that a chef uses food—caring about how long it’s been since they juiced the juice, how fresh are the fruits they use to make their syrups, just using care and finesse to make something tasty. I figured, ‘Man, that sounds like being a chef, but more fun.’ That’s what brought me to Nashville; those guys helped bring me onto the team that opened the Patterson House. I loved it. As a bartender, you really care about all the details. You care about the ice that goes into the glass. You care about the water that made the ice. I think when you hand somebody something that you’re excited about, you transfer that bit of excitement before they even taste the drink. Then you watch them taste it, and they may be blown away by it. Tell me about how you recreate that interaction in your work at Bastion.

Everything at Bastion is a little different than what people expect, really from the moment you first make your reservation. It’s a 24-seat restaurant, and we’ll seat anything from a single diner to a six top, but

So once you’re in, we give you a menu, and we tell you to build your own five-course meal by choosing one from each row on the card. Each menu item is just two ingredients with a plus sign between them; we might not tell you if those ingredients are part of a soup, or a salad, or something else completely. That’s intentional. We want you to think about whether these flavors jump out at you. Does the idea of these two things together compel you? If not, skip it. If so, make it a part of your meal. The style of service is also unusual. Bastion doesn’t have a traditional front-of-house staff; the chefs actually handle their own food-running. What’s the advantage of that approach?

I think having all the cooks in the kitchen be the front-facing personalities of the restaurant helps us in a lot of ways. You notice things more closely. Like, maybe this garnish isn’t the right thing for that dish; people seem to be pushing that to the side. Or maybe people are leaving one bite of this; maybe I need to brighten it up a little bit with some acid, or maybe I need to trim the beef a little more. It gives us a chance to fully refine the food along the way, by seeing how people react. On a more fundamental level, this style of service changes your goals as a chef. Instead of your job being just to make pretty food and put it on the plate, your ultimate goal is to actually hand people a plate of food that you made. You’re not going to serve somebody something that’s not right if you’re the one who has to look them in the eye.

T E N N E S S E E

[ 33 ]


Lightly Cured Hamachi W ITH

Hibiscus Aguachile

Ingredients

1 whole yellowtail/hamachi zest of 3 or anges 2 cups dried hibiscus tea 4 dried aji amarillo chiles ½ cup sugar kosher salt 1 head of fennel 1 lemon, juiced nice finishing olive oil 1 asian pear fresh hibiscus roselle fennel fronds for garnishing

[ 3 4 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E

For the fish: Break down the fish into four separate loins. Place the loins onto a large tray and cover them in orange zest and salt. Allow the loins to cure for 30 minutes and then rinse the seasoning off. Slice into thin, sashimi-like pieces. For the aguachile: Mix together four cups water, four whole aji amarillo chiles, two cups of dry hibiscus tea, one half cup of sugar and one teaspoon of kosher salt. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator overnight. Strain the next day before serving. Adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary. To finish: Slice the fennel thinly with a mandolin and dress it to taste with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Cut the Asian pear into small pieces. Place fish slices into a bowl. Pour a tablespoon or two of the hibiscus concoction into the bowl over the fish and drizzle with a bit of the olive oil. Garnish with slices of the Asian pear, the fennel, slices of the hibiscus roselle and fennel fronds. Serve very cold.


TN

|

MILLINER

HER E’S YOUR H AT, W H AT’S YOUR HUR RY?

A conscious creator’s journey from filmmaking to family heirlooms. by JACQUI GER MAIN / Photography by ATTILIO D’AGOSTINO

“So my favorite hat when I was a kid was this—and this is so ‘90s, but—it was this denim bucket hat with this denim rose right front and center,” recalls Anna Zeitlin, artisan hatmaker and founder of Fanny & June, chuckling at the memory. “I wore that hat every single day.” Her laughter is a familiar mix of nostalgia and lighthearted embarrassment—the kind that comes with remembering childhood fashion fixtures of old. Fanny & June, Zeitlin’s Nashville-based line of handmade hats, is in part an ode to a similar idea. Her belief in the timelessness of meaningful personal accessories has always been a foundational part of her vision for Fanny & June, and for Zeitlin, hats are the key. Still, the idea of actually making hats didn’t enter her mind until she visited “the most beautiful hat shop” in Charleston, South Carolina, while on vacation with her family. There, she says, she fell in love with the

[ 3 6 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E

artistry and craftsmanship behind the array of hat designs she’d been wearing her entire life. After college, Zeitlin moved to Los Angeles and put her film degree to use working for a production company—a role that often allowed her time to work on sewing while waiting for files to upload. On a whim, she walked into the renowned Louise Green Millinery & Hats studio and asked if they were hiring. And to her surprise, they were. Zeitlin says she gained indispensable knowledge about the business side of being a professional hatmaker and how to handle the logistics of making and selling artisanal products. And as an added bonus, while working at Louise Green’s iconic brand, Zeitlin had the chance to do everything from creating hats for movie stars to measuring the head of a princess. In 2011, Zeitlin moved back to Nashville to be closer to family and decided to formally launch Fanny &


J I M M Y A B EGG j i m m y a b e g g .c o m Jimmy is an incredibly talented painter, musician and photographer. Macular degeneration has taken away most of his sight over the past few years, but that hasn’t stopped him from painting. His artwork keeps getting more interesting as he experiments more with abstraction. —Anna


June as her own artisanal hat label using traditional millinery techniques to give her handmade hats an extra level of elegance and quality. “Part of my journey making hats has been figuring out how to make things that I want to wear rather than focusing on trying to do what other people expect of me,” she explains. “I’ve been the most successful when I’ve made hats just for me and then other people also connect with them.” Like many crafts and trades that date back centuries, traditional millinery and handmade hat-making processes have become progressively more niche as fast-fashion brands and mass production took over the U.S. fashion market. The difference, Zeitlin says, is in the details. She spends hours hunting for rare fabrics like vintage ribbons or classic veiling made with silk to “incorporate into special, one-of-a-kind pieces.” From hand-stitching her designs where other companies might use glue, to using high-quality vintage materials instead of textiles that mix plastic into the fabric, Zeitlin’s limited-edition hats are made to stand the test of time. “For example, I have these curved irons that are specially made for shaping the silk of the petals for flowers, and you can hand paint each one,” she adds. “The detail and craftsmanship are what makes them unique.” With such a high level of artistry, it’s easy to assume that Zeitlin—like most major artisanal and couture hat brands around the world—would have her eye on the springtime crescendo of headwear and Southern fashion, the world-famous Kentucky Derby. But between the intense manufacturing pressure to meet client needs leading up to the Derby and her own personal disagreements with horse racing, Zeitlin says the Derby doesn’t align with her vision for Fanny & June. The fact that Derby-goers often buy a new hat every year and never wear it again also conflicts with her own mission to promote sustainable fashion and consciously created art. For Zeitlin, this emphasis on sustainability has an emotional and personal aspect as well. “I realized that I really wanted to make hats that people can wear every day—hats that become part of who the customer is and how they express themselves,” Zeitlin explains. “I want to make hats that become part of your wardrobe and that you want to wear over and over again and keep for years. And then

the hats that are for special occasions—for example, I make some bridal pieces—they become heirlooms you can pass down. You can tell there’s something special about them.” The attention to enduring craft and quality imbued into Fanny & June comes from her own experience with family heirlooms and artifacts passed down generations. In fact, many of the hats she wore in high school were hats from the 1950s passed down to her from past family matriarchs. “My great-grandmother had a really beautiful black hat that I wore to my grandfather’s funeral,” Zeitlin recalls. “I remember feeling that connection between the generations, and that was really powerful.” Today, Fanny & June’s silhouettes are fairly minimalist, and there isn’t a lot of added trimming or theatrical decoration—though she does enjoy that process when the opportunity arises. She prefers to keep her designs relatively minimal and very versatile so customers can feel free to find a style that matches their preference while still adding flair to whatever is already in their closet. The majority of her business comes from customers ordering hats from the Fanny & June website, but in keeping with her conscious choices, she also works with clients by appointment in her private studio in Nashville for custom hats and fittings. “I definitely approach hat-making more as an artisan; I never wanted to mass-produce. I’ve always wanted my hats to be special, limited-edition pieces,” she explains, pausing a moment. “And it’s never been my full-time income. It’s always just been a piece of the puzzle, because I don’t want it to be unsustainable. I’ve had really amazing wholesale partnerships, but I do have to put a limit on them. I want to keep loving it. I don’t want it to ever grow to where it feels like a chore.” Zeitlin says it’s important for artists and makers to remember there’s absolutely no shame in having another main source of income outside of their specific craft. For Fanny & June, that peace of mind—knowing her needs will be met no matter how finicky the fashion market might be—allows her to bring her fullest creative self to her hat designs and encourages her to take Fanny & June in whatever creative direction she wants to tackle next.

T E N N E S S E E

[ 3 9 ]


[ 4 0 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


A L E X I A A B EGG a l e x i a m a r c e l l e a b e g g .c o m Alexia is a creative renaissance woman. When she’s not making tie dye, she’s making beautiful pottery and designing fabric for Ruby Star Society. —Anna

T E N N E S S E E

[ 41]


I M G R N T i m g r n t w a v.e s A skilled musician with a unique sense of style that is all him. He’s always wearing a boldly patterned outfit or cheeky piece of jewelry that brings a smile to my face. —Anna

[ 4 2 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


T E N N E S S E E

[ 4 3 ]


[ 4 4 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


I R M A PA Z- B ER N S T EI N l a s p a l e t a s n a s h v i l l e.c o m Irma is a brilliant business woman, a leader in our community and a wonderful mother to her two sons. She and her sister opened Las Paletas almost 20 years ago, sharing a piece of their Mexican heritage with Nashville and creating a frozen pop institution. —Anna

T E N N E S S E E

[ 45 ]


J EM I N A A B EGG q u e e n o f c u p s h a n d m a d e.c o m Jemina is my oldest friend. The way she’s true to herself has always inspired me. Former frontwoman of rock group Be Your Own Pet and currently one half of tie-dye company Queen of Cups Handmade with her sister, Alexia. —Anna

[ 4 6 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


T E N N E S S E E

[ 47]


MI

|

ARTIST

IRON, WOOD, ROCK A ND MIR ROR S The evolution of Olayami Dabls’ MBad African Bead Museum. by JACQUI GER MAIN / Photography by ATTILIO D’AGOSTINO

Detroit’s MBad African Bead Museum is part public art installation and part handmade craft showpiece; part sculpture park and part artifact exhibition. Spread across nearly an entire city block just down the street from the world-famous Motown Museum and a few miles from the city’s riverfront, the museum glistens brightly on its street corner. The institution’s founder and longtime Detroit resident Olayami Dabls—who prefers, simply, Dabls (pronounced dabbles)—has a broad, sparkling smile and a weatherworn, distinctly Detroit demeanor. An energizing and animated speaker, Dabls mixes humor and solemnity with memorable ease, packing an

anecdote with a healthy dose of insight and leaving the listener with the sense that a good story might, in fact, be all in the delivery. And the African Bead Museum is the same—when you set your eyes on the array of buildings and arrangements, you can’t help but feel more alive. The N’kisi House (pronounced en-kiss-ee) is one of the most stunning and imposing structures of the African Bead Museum’s 18 outdoor installations. The rectangular building’s green-shingled, angled roof sits above large walls wholly awash with seemingly every color imaginable. Chunks of turquoise squeeze between pockets of sunflower yellow and

M I C H I G A N

[ 49 ]


[ 5 0 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 51]


marks of lime greens and lavender. But perhaps the house’s most memorable feature is the hundreds of pieces of mirrors arranged like loose tiles atop the build’s colored surface. The effect is mesmerizing.

and creating art for decades, but he found himself ready to dip his hands into a new project—one that would bring all of his passions together and allow him to grow his creative career in a more authentic way.

“The N’kisi is made of iron, rock, wood and mirrors. You place a nail or a piece of iron in the house and you ask it to do certain things for you,” Dabls explains, detailing one of the many allegories he came up with for the museum’s installations. “I asked the N’kisi to do three things for me: to not allow vandals to vandalize it, not to allow graffiti artists to tag it and not to allow the city [officials] to see it.”

“The first thing I was slapped in the face with was, ‘It’s gonna take money, Dabls!’” he exclaims, chuckling heartily at the memory.

So far, all three of Dabls’ wishes have held true, though not without challenges along the way. When Dabls first started the museum nearly 30 years ago, much of the country had seemingly all but written Detroit off as a post-industrial tragedy. From the decline of the auto industry and rising unemployment, to the violent unrest that marked the city in 1967, the Motor City struggled to find a sense of economic or political stability throughout the second half of the 20th century. The Detroit of Dabls’ formative years was a very segregated one. The city’s black and white residents rarely interacted, while some neighborhoods were virtually off-limits. By the time Detroit’s tension turned into turmoil in the summer of 1967, Dabls was nearing his 20s. “That was the most impactful thing to happen to me—to be part of a city at war with itself. You had one group saying, ‘Look at them tearing up their city,’ and then you had those with more information saying, ‘No, this is a rebellion,’” he recalls. “They’re rebelling because of the conditions that they’re in.” Not long after, Dabls attended Highland Park Community College, where he became immersed in the college’s Afrocentric curriculum—a growing academic trend that gained more footing in many universities and majority-African American schools across the country. Highland Park’s academic program provided its African American students with a greater sense of the African continent beyond popular culture’s often-racist or caricatured depictions. The experience was the first of its kind for Dabls and instilled a notably strong and evidently lasting sense of pride. He eventually transferred to Wayne State University to study painting and fine art and later worked at Detroit’s first-ever African American Museum, originally named the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. By the time the idea for the African Bead Museum occurred to Dabls, he was nearing his 50s. He’d been studying, curating

[ 52 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E

Not one to get bogged down in paperwork or formalities, the now-71-year-old painter’s recollection here becomes lighter on the details—and more entertaining still. Back then, he’d had his eye on the property the African Bead Museum now sits on for some time, but it took some skill and charm to get the property without spending a dime. The process of actually being legally allowed to use the land and its buildings is a storied one that, in writing now, can’t do justice to the casual drama and comedy in Dabls’ retelling. It involved a frugal but eventually generous landowner, a handshake deal, multiple signatures on a land deed and a well-connected friend. “It was the wild, wild west in the city at that time,” says Dabls. With the property finally in hand, the next challenge was where to begin. He couldn’t afford any dramatic renovations or multi-year development plans, so he picked a wall of one of the buildings and just started painting. It was a somewhat risky move. Detroit was in the beginning stages of cracking down on graffiti artists in the city. Dabls risked having his work lumped in with theirs and subsequently removed—but ironically enough, those same artists were also his inspiration. “At Wayne State, I studied as a studio artist. But now I had to forget about all of that because I needed a way to create an impactful image in no more than a couple of weeks,” Dabls explains. “Studio artists can spend nine months working on two or three paintings and not finish either one of them. But I needed a new way of making art, so I began to study cave drawings and [graffiti artists] in LA and New York. These guys were painting six-story buildings overnight.” As more time passed and no word came from the city, Dabls’ confidence grew. He started experimenting with different techniques and discovered new things about how weather impacted paint and how various colors interacted with the natural light. People walking by started conversations with him wondering what he could possibly be working on—and why he’d work on it in that particular part of Detroit. “When I first said I was going to open this museum, everyone looked at me and thought I was crazy. This was a high-crime zip code; it was dilapidated—no one in their right mind would


[ 5 4 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 55 ]


[ 5 6 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


risk losing their money by opening up something here,” he says. “I didn’t see it like that.” He was well aware of the possibility of property damage, but it wasn’t the sort of thing he put much weight on in comparison to the potential benefits of bringing his vision for the African Bead Museum to fruition. “The minute I started painting on the building, people in the community began to come by and look and comment. Some of them would say things like, ‘Why are you here? This needs to be out there where the money is.’ And I’d think, ‘Wow, people really think art is only for people with wealth.’ That’s why the people who need art the most can’t get it in their communities.” Early on, people realized Dabls was looking for materials to recycle as decorations for the African Bead Museum, and soon after, donations started coming from all around. At this point, large portions of Detroit were still in disrepair, with many of its buildings and homes vacant and falling apart. Dabls befriended locals who’d go hunting around abandoned properties and bring him trinkets and materials to contribute to the museum’s now growing structures. “If paint is donated to you, then you have the energy of the people in those paints,” Dabls explains. “Anytime you touch an object—especially if you touch it for a long period of time—you leave your energy in it, and others can come along and sense that energy. Everything that I used to build (in the African Bead Museum) was recycled.” The communally donated source materials for the space added to its uniquely homegrown feel. As the museum began to take shape and expand, Dabls stayed connected to the people in the neighborhood. The air of inaccessibility and stuffy, elitist vibes that traditional arts institutions and museums are sometimes known for was nowhere in sight. It’s one of the aspects of the museum that Dabls is the most proud of. “We’re blazing a whole new trail when it comes to communitybased museums.” Now nearly three decades after first opening, the African Bead Museum is on the verge of the second phase of a large multi-phase renovation project after securing considerable funding from donors in recent years. While the property is still gorgeous, some buildings are badly in need of upgrades,

and other portions are near collapse. Part of the roof of one building has already caved in. A second building could use new windows, heating and updated electrical systems. Generally, the property yearns to be designed for 21st-century arts patrons, though construction needs haven’t deterred crowds of visitors. Dabls says the museum’s furthest guests have been from places like Australia, China and Russia—even Guam. “I’m having fun. You know, I never knew that talking with people from all over the world had its own pleasure in it.” Indoors where the African Bead Museum’s gallery of beads is housed, he entertains people with stories and jokes, sharing information about the various traditional uses or ceremonies that specific beads might’ve been featured in. According to Dabls, some of his collection dates back hundreds of years. Rather than installing plaques or captions of information, Dabls prefers to share the history orally, in some ways mimicking the griots and oral storytellers that he learned played pivotal roles in ancient African cultures and societies. That same storytelling tradition has threads all through the African Bead Museum and Dabls’ own personal artistic practice. Similarly, he prefers the title of visual storyteller to artist when asked to label himself. On the museum’s grounds, each of the outdoor installations represent stories that embody pivotal moments or lessons across centuries of human history. Heavily influenced by African folk tales, Dabls uses four main materials—iron, wood, rock and mirrors—as metaphorical tools or memorable characters to create stories about big ideas like assimilation, colonization, the importance of knowing your cultural history, conservationism and more. “This place is so far past my wildest expectations,” he insists. “I just want to maintain what we have going on here—and I know those words go against what they teach you about business, but I don’t accept that. I want to maintain where we are now and for other people to copy what we’re doing now, because the world would be a better place if more people used art to heal the community as opposed to making one or two people extremely rich.” Dabls’ voice brightens at the idea of dozens of African Bead Museums and similar venues popping up around the country, livening up neighborhoods and enthralling visitors. He teases, “I told you I was a brilliant man, didn’t I?”

M I C H I G A N

[ 57]


[ 5 8 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 59 ]


[ 6 0 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 61]


MI

|

DESIGNERS

POW ER S OF T WO Detroit designers Aratani + Fay on furniture, func tion and the ar t of objec ts. by EILEEN G’SELL / Photography by ATTILIO D’AGOSTINO

Imagine the surface of a clock that subtly indents where there should be shameless numerals, the cushion of a chair comprised of foam that twists into plushy shape, a lamp without a lampshade inside a floating cloud of wire—a world where objects become more whimsical, less didactic display. If this all sounds a bit trippy, imagine finding it in suburban Detroit—within a blanched-white warehouse in Pontiac, Michigan. Here, the designs of Ayako Aratani and Evan Fay are born, get fed and, when their behavior calls for it, get put in a calm timeout for

a bit. Here is where a new way of sitting and sleeping are reimagined day after day. “I came to realize that I wanted to explore my own design,” says Aratani, who originally hails from Chiba, a prefecture of Tokyo, “rather than any company’s. I like to make more artful objects, rather than machinemade editions.” After working for an industrial officefurniture firm called Okamura in Japan, Aratani moved to Michigan to study 3D design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. “I changed my path to something more artful, sculptural but still functional, in home

M I C H I G A N

[ 6 3 ]


furniture rather than office furniture.” Aratani met her creative partner, Evan, during the studio-based program whose furniture program had brought them both to Motor City. Raised four hours north of Detroit in Traverse City—“right on the water”—Fay had earlier studied furniture design at Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids. While Fay was on the path to become an architect, a watercolor instructor in his hometown suggested he consider product design. “I had already been tinkering with furniture in my garage—rebuilding pieces, making new pieces,” he recalls. Fay’s watercolors were ultimately included in the portfolio that he assembled years later in applying to Cranbrook. “I wanted to create my own voice, and Cranbrook has a long legacy, especially in furniture design—in creating innovative designs in the industry.” Under the tutelage of Scott Klinker, head of the 3D design department and a furniture designer of some renown, it didn’t take long for Aratani and Fay to find each other. Mutually interested in hands-on craft and conceptual design, the two traveled to Eindhoven, Netherlands, after their first year to intern at Kiki & Joost. “When we came back to Cranbrook, we started soundboarding ideas off each other pretty insistently,” says Fay. “But Eindhoven is when we started to realize that we had some real common ideas about design. Our languages really started to overlap. By the time we graduated, we had decided to show together and share a studio to make things easier.” After graduating in 2016, they premiered as a single studio at the Interior Design Show in Toronto. “We still have projects that we maintain separate authorship

[ 6 4 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E

on, but now we also do full collaborations,” says Fay, citing their mutual inspiration in the figure of Harry Bertoia. “A lot of people know him for his Diamond chair that he did for Knoll, but in actuality, he was a more prolific sculptor. He ended up designing an iconic piece of furniture that is still contemporary.” Aratani counts textile designer Ruth Adler and industrial designer and painter Ray Eames as influences. “Both have great ideas for colors, with hand-drawn qualities. Both also seemed happy their entire lives, and I admire them.” Fusing a sensual, sculptural sensibility with the desire to create fully functional domestic objects, in practice the pair are attracted to what they call “irregularity in design.” “When we design, we don’t jump to the final form,” explains Fay. “Rather, we like to develop the way of making something. We like to pursue intuitive ways of making and construction. Our spontaneous forms come through in the process.” “Irregularity and spontaneous building in expressive art in furniture design are key,” adds Aratani. “This is very healthy to me—to express my voice this way.” For their Roommate lamp, delicate wire is hand-bent into variegated circles, then assembled into a loose sphere around a naked bulb. “There’s no technical drawing or real planning that goes behind it,” says Fay. “It’s just an intuitive decision to put each part where it goes to realize a final form.” The same philosophy informs A + F’s sumptuous Lawless series of beds, benches and chairs. Each piece of steel tube is welded and brass-braised together in a


M I C H I G A N

[ 67]


spontaneous way to complete a metal structure into which upholstery will later be woven. “One reason we choose this design process is to reveal our hands’ process to our clients and viewers,” asserts Aratani. “They know it’s one of a kind. We give our labor, love and time. Our efforts are shown in the result. This is the ideal product versus mass-produced objects.” Indeed, just a single bed takes a whole three months to construct. A king-size polyurethane foam mattress is cut into strips, their edges rounded over—forming between 11 and 18 sections resembling springy pasta noodles. In the final stage, after upholstering and hand stitching each individual section closed, the pair intuitively wrap the foam around the metal frame, resulting in what appears to be a cross between an amorphous rubber band ball and supersized strands of DNA. Sinuously crafted yet strangely comfy, the Lawless pieces do more than defy convention. “In the end, it’s just me working with these materials one-to-one,” Fay says. “It’s a bodily movement that involves my entire body wrapping and tucking these foam sections.” To clarify, Aratani injects, “We’re really trying to instill the spontaneous feeling of the sketch into the final form—more of an expressive art form rather than a stagnant piece of design.” In the Button-Up chair, a womblike cylinder of 100 percent wool creates what looks like a cozy escape nook from the harried nature of public life—a “welcome home,” as Aratani puts it, not unlike the common Japanese salutation “tadaima” issued to anyone entering a home before removing their shoes. When the chair’s edges are folded back, it reveals hand-sewn ruffles that envelop the person seated inside, at once decadent and simple. “We’re always prototyping new ideas,” says Fay. “Some of the models we come back to, even if the first time

[ 6 8 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E

they don’t totally work out.” While working on a piece of seating made of natural sponges, the form they developed didn’t initially “sit” well with an American market. “To a Japanese market, it might have done decently. Here, it wasn’t the right proportions. But we recently had a curator at our studio who had really keen interest toward the sponge seating typology. So we’re going to give it another shot.” The enduring experimental ethos of their furniture design feels refreshing in a world where the bottom line tends to be all one sets her bottom on. “We try not to force ideas,” Fay continues. “We want to discover something in the process along the way. If something isn’t coming to us or reaching out or screaming at us, we’re not going to keep pushing and prodding.” Aratani distinguishes their creative approach from what she saw growing up. “In Japanese culture, there are less expressive, artful pieces because of their market, where it’s not as good as a creator to have an individual voice. My chance to do that is actually larger in the United States.” At the same time, her Eastern perspective informs everything she draws and makes. “As a Japanese person, my eyes are very detail oriented, which is a good match with Evan. He’s very intuitive for an American man. Our intention for expressive, artful furniture is the same.” As for sticking to their Pontiac studio, both creators are clearly in it for the run. “There’s an attitude in Detroit that you can do anything,” says Fay. “It’s not the best city for everyone, but it’s an interesting time to be here as a young designer. It’s great to be part of a community that has that mentality that if you want to make it happen, you can. You can’t build off the backs of others, so you have to make everything yourself.”


[ 70 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 71]


[ 7 2 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 7 3 ]


[ 74 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 75 ]


[ 76 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 7 7]


[ 7 8 ]

A L I V E

M AG A Z I N E


M I C H I G A N

[ 7 9 ]


Pastime

By Eileen G’Sell

I was an umpire in 1991. An intramural league of very small girls. After games I passionately spent my fresh $5 on concessions. Crushed ice, fountain cola, strawberry licorice bit into straw. I peeled each Bar None wafer layer and ate each slowly, roof to floor. From the hood of a sky blue Cutlass Supreme, I crossed my legs, recalled close fouls. A penchant for beauty in no way predisposes a person to justice. It is often quite the opposite. I knew I was rare in valuing both.

Eileen G’Sell is a poet and culture critic focusing on film, ar t and visual culture. Her latest book is “Life Af ter Rugby” (2018).


VOLUME 18 ISSUE 3

$12

Profile for ALIVE Media Group

ALIVE Magazine Issue 3 2019  

In the third issue of 2019 we bring you compelling conversations with creatives in the middle of the country who are changing their communit...

ALIVE Magazine Issue 3 2019  

In the third issue of 2019 we bring you compelling conversations with creatives in the middle of the country who are changing their communit...