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Life of the Party

Interview

Office – Tell me a bit about where you work. How have you created a space that is welcoming and inspiring?

 

Julie Ho – Well we’ve been in our space in South Williamsburg for over a year. We were in Chelsea before that, but we both live in this neighborhood so it’s more convenient. It’s nice to walk to work every day, and we also know people who have studios and artist spaces throughout the building. Our studio functions as a workshop, where we basically produce and create everything, and design on the computer, plus take care of everything administrative as well. The space itself, we started by painting everything white, including the floor, to have a clean, pure backdrop for our pieces. When people come in they’re always surprised, because we have lots of objects that we’re currently working on, and then we like to keep at least one piece from each past project, so those are all suspended from the ceiling, which creates a little cavernous, colorful space. We always have things that inspire us distributed throughout the area, little knickknacks and books and things that are displayed on shelves, hanging from different corners. One of our friends came in and said it felt like a Chinatown bodega or something. [Laughs] We both love going into little old dusty stores that have lots of things you can rummage through, where you can find really special objects, so we were super psyched that someone felt that from our space.

 

O – I feel like vertical space is important for that immersive effect, in those bodegas there is so much going on above your head, it’s more of a three-dimensional experience and there’s more to engage with.

 

Nicholas Andersen – Totally.

 

JH – Yeah and it’s sort of a mix of orderly and chaotic, like everything’s on shelves but you feel like it might be about to fall or something. So our space is playful in that way, but we know where everything is. We try to take advantage of the space as much as we can.

 

O – How did you both end up in New York?

 

JH – I grew up here, so after college I moved back to seek creative opportunities.

 

O – And Nick you grew up in Hawaii?

 

NA – I did, then I went to University of Michigan, and then moved to New York sort of on a whim, with just one suitcase. I started helping my friend out on her fashion line, and then sort of just fell into a series of fashion and styling jobs. One of my really good friends went to school with Julie in Baltimore at MICA, so we met through that mutual acquaintance. We’ve known each other for over twelve years, since before our business.

O – What is it that inspired you two to collaborate? What level did you connect on?

 

NA – We definitely connected on, sort of what Julie was talking about just now, the feeling you get exploring shops. Julie would take me to Chinatown, to her favorite shops or little corners and alleys, and it was fun to explore our references, we found that we shared a really similar aesthetic.

 

JH – Also, we grew up in really different areas, but kind of similar in that Honolulu and Queens both have a lot of traditional cultural references, so when we were younger we would both go to celebrations, ceremonies and that kind of thing. We both experienced those influences separately when we were young, and were really inspired by it, so when we started hanging out we’d both get excited by similar ideas and designs. We decided to work together as a personal art project, just for fun.

 

O – The concept of the party is fundamental to your work, and you mentioned your appreciation for the use of vertical space—why do you think so many cultures suspend objects in the air to create an atmosphere of celebration?

 

NA – I think in a way it creates a portal or passageway, traditionally. So you’re stepping into a new space. It’s been a phenomenon that’s occurred ever since humans have been having ceremonies, and so we want to recreate that, it’s attractive.

 

JH – A celebration also symbolizes a marker in a person’s life, and so the physical act of putting something up expresses that.

 

NA – An indicator that one is passing into a new phase in one’s life.

 

O – Whether it’s wrapping paper, tissue, confetti, streamers, bunting—why is paper, one of your primary materials, so evocative of a celebratory environment?

 

JH – Well one reason we were attracted to it was for its simplicity.

 

NA – It’s the ultimate blank slate.
 

JH – Yeah, so we get raw sheets of tissue and foil and can cut it to any size and dimension that works for whatever project we’re working on. For us it’s exciting to figure out how to transform simple flat material into something new and unexpected. Also the idea that paper is this ephemeral thing. One thing that excited us when we were getting started is this aspect of living in the moment, the fact that the objects we are creating don’t need to be archival, permanent objects, and we liked the idea of people actually using them and interacting with them, not just observing them. For example the piñata, people are supposed to break it and destroy it, and have fun. Paper holds that same idea, it’s not a permanent material that’s always precious. But also when it’s saved, and ages, it’s a really beautiful thing that transforms in color and texture. Often it’s even more gorgeous.

 

NA – When we visit stores together, we always enjoy finding things that are old and forgotten. In an old shop, it’s even more exciting if it’s paper, and it’s barely holding together, but somehow you found it. Because it is so ephemeral, it is all the more special, and a miracle that you’re even seeing it after, say, fifty years. So folding that concept into our work, it’s really about the emotion that experience gives you.

 

JH – That’s how we started, we wanted to create our own version of those objects, hoping maybe in twenty or thirty years, somebody would find…

 

NA – …like a really faded piece of ours somewhere, and wonder where it came from, and why it exists.

 

O – How do your projects come about?

 

NA – It varies from project to project, sometimes clients will come to us and completely trust our imagination, and just ask that we make something incredible for them.

 

JH – Other times clients are looking for work that is similar to pieces they’ve seen on our website. But sometimes people are really specific, like we work with Opening Ceremony a lot, and they always have fun, crazy ideas of what they want in their windows and displays. That’s much more specific, you know like “We’re looking to have fantastical bird objects as our mannequins.” So that’s a starting point and they’re happy to see where we go with that. It’s nice when someone starts with an idea, then we can add to the idea to create something new.

O – What direction would you like to take your work next?

 

JH – We’ve been experimenting with lighting, kind of like a hanging light, but also our version of a party spotlight. Also, on a larger scale, we’d love to create a playground, like a public installation that could be more permanent. We’ve also been doing a lot with fabric. We’ve been doing the set design for the MoMA PS1 Warm Up parties for a few years, and this past summer we did sort of a soft sculpture, almost like a metallic quilted blanket. We also just recently started making these mirrored silver metallic tiles, sort of in the same world as the blanket, and with the tiles we’ve designed sort of modular furniture, like cubes and different rectangular shapes that you can put together to create a table or sitting situation.

 

NA – So we’re developing sort of more permanent objects, but it’s still very vague.

 

JH – Yeah, environment-based objects. More and more people are asking us about interiors, restaurants and home installations, so we’re evolving in that direction a little bit.

 

NA – But still holding on to that ephemeral quality and those emotions.

 

O – Working as a duo, do you each take on specific elements of a project, or is it all purely collaborative?

 

JH – It’s pretty organic, it’s kind of a constant conversation.

 

NA – We’re always talking and having that back-and-forth. We trust each other’s aesthetic, so it works out really well.

 

JH – We don’t have a very set-up business or anything. [Laughs] It changes from project to project. And we’re both comfortable doing everything, we kind of have to be, and we’re both super hands-on. It’s such a specific aesthetic, it just works.

O – It is a specific aesthetic, and often artists claim to benefit from having boundaries within which they have to create. Is it an advantage for you to have to work within the parameters of your existing style?

 

JH – Definitely. I agree, it’s nice to have parameters, it actually pushes you to do something new with the material each time. Even the idea of Confetti System, we started by asking ourselves how we could experiment with the idea of celebration and what a party object is, and what people perceive party objects to be. So it’s fun to play with popular ideas, like we always wanted to make a noisemaker, for example, but a very different type of noisemaker than the traditional kind you would think of for New Year’s, or whatever. It’s fun to think of cliché party objects and come up with our own versions.

 

NA – Even though our aesthetic and concept seems very specific, it’s actually quite broad. Another important thing is that when we officially started collaborating on pieces, the idea was to create a sort of party supply company—it just sounds like a horrible idea! [Laughs] Like, it’s a completely forgotten category of crafts, things that are barely ever available in the color you want, when you want. But we wanted to create our own category of work, for a new place in people’s lives. Like, who needs a crystal shaped piñata? But we just wanted to make it first, regardless, and sure enough people started wanting it.

 

O – Right, if it is a compelling object then people will get on board. You’re right though, there is something very sad about party supply stores, all this product that’s meant to make people happy and excited, but there’s no spontaneity or creativity, it’s just shelves upon shelves of cheap shit.

 

NA – [Laughs] Yeah definitely, we don’t want to go there for these things. So we decided to create them ourselves.

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