Artworking With You

For “Collective Works,” the innovative Vienna-based duo mischer’traxler was dubbed Designer of the Future 2011

On The Town | Boris Kostadinov | December 2011 / January 2012

By the end of the year, mischer’traxler will be presented at the Qubique – Gallery walk in Berlin (with the Limited editions design gallery by Engelhorn and Turkiewicz) and at Novalis Fine Arts in Turin (Photo: mischer’traxler)

They create "radical" design, without ever seeming radical. Their youth may just be the necessary prerequisite for their special insight into the material world. They are quiet. There are no loud manifestos; no overexposed or self-sufficient forms. They prefer dialogue and feedback from the audience. They have never made products that "dress" the "children" of post-consumerism. Their activities are a means of understanding the systems we live in and the contexts that shape us. Leaving the classical notion of design, their work combines the fields of sociology, social theory, economics, politics and art.

They are Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler. Both settled in Vienna, after completing their education at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. I met them in the MAK Design Shop, where they recently presented "Reversed Volumes" – bowls shaped by capturing the imprint of fruit or vegetable.

Katharina was too busy with visitors. So I sat down to talk with Thomas. "We have been very busy the last few months. Almost no time to get out of the studio. But it’s not bad at all" – he smiled. He obviously likes to be busy, serving as a mediator between the studio’s work and the environment.

"For us, the most important thing is to ask many questions", he said. "We have a dialogue with ourselves, a dialogue between the two of us, a dialogue with people. Thus, one understands better, not only the others but also one’s self. The most important question is: what we want to communicate with the audience." Perhaps it is precisely their courage to discuss, analyse and criticise that makes their work successful.

This year, the mischer’traxler studio was honoured with the Designer of the Future Award by Design Miami/Basel, sponsored by W Hotels. At this significant design trade fair, they presented Collective Works, an installation that gives form to their theory, coming to life in interaction with the viewer.

In essence, a machine produces baskets, however, the device is capricious and requires attention – it only starts working when a person shows genuine interest in it. When a second person joins, the machine begins to decorate the basket with coloured marker. With a third visitor, a darker colour is added to the design. Every spectator leaves a mark and therefore each basket becomes a unique record of peoples’ interest in the object’s production.

A basket – a vessel used to collect something  – becomes itself a collection of data. If no one is interested, it stops producing and the final object just does not get made.

The work raises a paradoxical question: "Who actually creates these baskets – the machine or the audience?" The installation is a commentary on the economic argument that a production exists only when satisfying public needs and interests.

The work is very human, yet at the same time it is uncompromisingly accurate –  through its sensors. At the Basel fair, the machine produced a basket every day. Gathered together, the baskets were of various sizes, designs and colours, documenting the level of visitor interest. Mischer and Traxler’s results, in fact, came close to the statistics gathered by the organizers of Miami/Basel.

Drawing Time, their other big project this year, was created for their exhibition "This is My Forest: The Harvest Cycle" in Perugia. Sponsored by an Italian lumber manufacturer, the environment remains protected: For every tree felled, another is planted. Raising some initial questions – How long does it take a tree to grow? How is the environment changing? How we can adapt to shape the future? – they create a work of universal significance.

The installation Drawing Time is a wall piece that tells and documents time by drawing spirographs on the wall. The Plexiglas device consists of two discs – one for the minutes and one for the hours – transparent gearwheels with markers, and clockwork.

Very slowly – every 18th second for the minute’s disc and every 216th second for the hour’s – the two pens in the clock move a few millimetres and leave their mark, forming a complex outline for the passed minutes and a simpler one for the hours. After a day, the device moves randomly to another spot on the wall and continues recording its existence. This randomness is just like the uncertainty of the future, leaving space for surprises. Day by day, the wall fills up with graphical patterns. Over time, they slowly overlap to a graphical composition of weeks, months, years, even decades, a positive outlook on long-term planning, and a belief in the future.

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