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y the late 1990s, London’s financial district was booming, and, after a decades-long string of bombings by the Irish Republican Army, it was also becoming one of the most heavily surveilled areas on the globe. Two years into the new millennium, in the midst of this tumultuous time, a mild-mannered 27-year-old Swedish design student was quietly crafting his magnum opus: a 15-by10-foot nest-like sculpture sandwiched between two large towers on an elevated set of abandoned railroad tracks. Composed of sticks and branches woven into a sphere, the nest was large enough to hold several people—a brash insertion of nature and whimsy into the exacting heart of capitalism, with the underscoring of socially conscious art twisted into its form. For three weeks in the spring of 2002, Hannes Wingate would leave the abandoned 19th-century dress factory where he lived with several friends and ride his bike south to his project site between Shoreditch and Liverpool Street Station. Keeping a sporadic schedule to avoid arrest, Wingate hoisted himself over a cement wall, with little more than a knife, an axe, some food, a camera, and a bundle of recently collected branches to add to the orb. More than just a zeitgeisty guerrilla art installation, the nest was Wingate’s thesis project, the capstone to his four years at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins art school. Within weeks of its completion, word started to spread about the financial district’s mysterious sphere. Friends told Wingate about acquaintances and family members who had glimpsed the nest from office windows, and rumors emerged about the alleged artist: Was it Banksy? Or upstart punks raising a metaphorical middle finger to the rich? Nearly three years later, when Wingate attended a gallery party in Stockholm, a random woman brought up the nest in conversation, imbuing her description with hints of mystery. Rather than reveal his involvement, Wingate chatted for a few minutes, smiled at her excitement, and moved on with his night. An expatriate resident of the Pacific Northwest for the past nine years, Wingate is mercurially unclassifiable, an artist, designer, and vagabond creator all at once. He’s not a trained architect, but people call him the “land whisperer”; development companies, architecture firms, and private clients often have him consult on projects to coax out the underlying story of a site and how it could influence materials, structure, design, and placement. He’s furnished dozens of residences around the globe (including architect Todd Saunders’s home in Bergen, Norway), yet he claims to “not give a shit about interior design.” His sculptures have popped up in places as scattered as Eglwys

Fach, Wales, and Eden, Utah. A survivalist, Wingate has trained himself and others how to subsist in the wilderness with little more than a knife and a wool blanket. He founded his one-man Portland design firm, Foreign Service, in 2007, drawing on his seemingly disparate paths and practices, which have provided him with a multilensed viewpoint on storytelling and the critical interface between people and nature. Growing up in western Sweden, the second of three children, Wingate and his siblings had near-total freedom to roam 100 square miles of land full of lakes, streams, and forests. Their TV picked up only two channels, and the kids spent most of their time outdoors. “My parents came from intellectually rigorous and culturally rich backgrounds,” he says of his photographer mother and chemical-engineer-turned-writer father. “They were essentially part of the ‘back-to-the-land’ movement. It was a bit like a sheltered commune. For all of the things you could say we lacked, that period had a huge creative impact on my life.” Riding bikes and exploring the surrounding woods, Wingate would spend hours building shelters and whittling wooden sculptures. “I often felt like whatever people presented as a reality wasn’t true,” he muses. “Even as a child, I could sense that there was something deeper and more exciting, more mystical in building landscapes and shelters than just creating physical objects. I was interested in exploring that. I still am.” After high school, Wingate eschewed the usual jump into higher education, moving to Gothenburg and organizing underground clubs and parties with a group of creative friends. “It was pretty outlandish,” he recalls. “We built these crazy art installations that took up multiple rooms. We wanted to fuck with people’s expectations and make it an adventure.” At one party, he met the owner and founder of budding creative firm Stylt Trampoli AB, whose pioneering embrace of storytelling as a driving design force fully aligned with Wingate’s personal ethos. He was hired as an independent contractor for the firm in 1994 and spent three years working on various projects, including the interiors of the Stora Hotellet in Umeå, Sweden. (After staying at the hotel, the travel editor of the London Evening Standard contacted Wingate, and in 2001, he designed the interiors of her home.) By the end of this period, he says, “I was looking for something else. I had answered a lot of my own questions: ‘Do I have talent?’ ‘How does this business work?’ ‘How do I operate in these roles?’ And I decided that I wanted to go to school to give myself time to see what lay beyond [those answers].” After a vagabond year in Spain, where Wingate met his wife, Jessica, he enrolled at Central Saint Martins in the fall of 1998. Here he encountered “a very Darwinian environment,” with overworked, underequipped staff and competitive peers. During his last two years at the university, Wingate dug in his heels. » graymag . com

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Profile for GRAY

GRAY No. 35  

The DESIGN Magazine of the Pacific Northwest

GRAY No. 35  

The DESIGN Magazine of the Pacific Northwest

Profile for graymag