Similarly Unique by mischer’traxler


11 September 2013

"I don’t want to call it nostalgia," begins mischer'traxler's Katharina Mischer, "but history always repeats itself. First we had handcraft and everything was different; then mass production and everything was the same. Now, we’re somewhere in between."

This changing nature of the production process and how individuality and difference can now be cultivated in mass produced objects, is the subject of Similarly Unique, an exhibition of the Austrian design studio mischer'traxler's work at the LYNfabrikken box space in Århus, Denmark.

The box space is a small window display that looks out over Århus' Vestergade. Inside the space, mischer'traxler have installed a metal frame that mimics the appearance of a mirror, splitting the box into two. Either side of the divide are matching editions of the studio's work. Yet while superficially identical, the dual editions reveal a series of differences.

"We analysed our projects and found out that quite a few of them, through the processes of making that we use, create objects that are all slightly different," says Thomas Traxler, the co-founder of the studio. "We're interested in design projects where the outcomes are always dependent on outside influences."

This distinction is most evident in the studio's The Idea of a Tree, a production method that resulted in the benches and lampshades displayed in the exhibition. The project was begun in 2008, when mischer'traxler developed a machine that produces thread-wrapped shapes that can be turned into simple furniture.

mischer'traxler's machine is automatic, but a slave to its environment. The Idea of a Tree is powered by the sun, and the speed and nature of its production is governed by the amount of light it receives. On a bright day, it produces a thicker weave of thread, with a light colouration; on a rainy or cloudy day, the outcome is darker and thinner. Even small details such as ambient shadows or clouds impact upon its production.

"The Idea of Tree had the purpose that its outcomes will never be the same," says Mischer. "The finished forms reflect the machine’s processes," continues Traxler. "One of the benches in the exhibition was made in October and is very long and light; while the other was made in a courtyard in mid-November and is very short. It was a super rainy day."

While variation in production was the theme of Idea of a Tree, other projects included in the exhibition have dealt with the notion of individuality in manufacturing in a more indirect fashion. The studio's 97 metre veneer baskets are created from coiled wooden veneer that gradates in colour as a marker pen is variably exhausted by being traced around the strip.

Similarly, the studio's Reversed Volumes are vessels whose forms are defined by taking resin casts of the imprint of fruit and vegetables inside bowls. The individual vessels vary in colour and shape, although a new commercial version developed for the Spanish brand PCM is more standardised.

"Because modern production processes allow for more individuality, we use that," says Mischer. "Sometimes we seek out individuality and variation within production like in The Idea of a Tree, but sometimes the process simply indicates that we could have more variation, like it does with the veneer baskets."

The projects within Similarly Unique are carefully arranged to emphasise the dualities and differences between the various editions, with each item placed in a mirrored position. The items' locations are defined by a rigid grid that is printed onto a carpet developed for the exhibition by mischer'traxler and the Danish company Ege.

Similarly Unique is a rumination on the current state of manufacture. As production grows more sophisticated, it is adopting many of the qualities of its handcraft predecessor and introducing artisanal elements into the industrial. It is a shift celebrated by the working process of mischer'traxler, whose work directly and indirectly deals with the phenomenon.

Unlike their industrial design predecessors, mischer'traxler do not exactly define their products. Instead, they create a spectrum of possibilities and a margin of error. They design a template, but external factors fill in the detail. "In our work coincidences sometimes shape things, rather than us shaping them," says Mischer. "Guided surprise."