Picture in your mind the iconic Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque champagne bottle designed in 1902 by Emile Galle, with its flowing Art Nouveau motif of delicate white Japanese anemones. Then step forward to 2015 and imagine an up-to-date reinterpretation of the Art Nouveau style. This is what was happening in the light and airy studio of the designers mischer’traxler in the heart of Vienna, where Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler had been commissioned by the champagne house Perrier-Jouët to create an installation for London Design Week. This free-standing installation entitled “Curiosity Cloud” was also shown until the end of the month in the famous Baroque cream and gold Norfolk House Music Room at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington.
Perrier-Jouët, ever since the creation of their champagne bottle, have been patrons of the arts. This led them to accumulate the largest private collection of Art Nouveau in Europe, including works by Galle, Majorelle and Lalique. The collection can be seen at the Perrier-Jouët Maison Belle Epoque at Epernay in France and is a must visit for lovers of Art Nouveau.
So what is this installation? It is called “Curiosity Cloud” and I can only describe it as a thing of beauty. Art Nouveau was famous for deriving its inspiration from the natural world, in particular from foliage and flowers but also from insects. micher’traxler have chosen to focus on butterflies, moths, bees, dragon flies, ladybirds – in fact, all those insects we love.
mischer’traxler are known for creating installations that surprise. They are concerned with the ephemeral quality and transience of nature as well as man’s interaction with it. One minute you see and the next you don’t. For example, one minute you will see a deer and the next minute it has vanished, so that you wonder if it might have been a trick of the light or your imagination. mischer’traxler already collaborated with Perrier-Jouët for Miami Design 2014 with a work entitled “Ephemera.” This consisted of a table from which coloured cut-outs of foliage and flowers sprang directly upright from the very wood of the table itself. As the visitor approached, the flowers and foliage reacted by leaning over horizontally onto the table. A couple of decorated mirrors with botanical motifs on the walls of the installation had an equally surprising reaction to the visitor. As he or she approached, the motifs disappeared.
Katarina points out that “Curiosity Cloud”, the installation for the V&A, is a sister to the design in Miami and should be viewed as thus. “Curiosity Cloud” will be made up of 250 hand-crafted and hand-painted insects, each hanging individually in its own mouth-blown crystal bulb roughly the size of a large ostrich egg, with specially crafted metal tops. The bulbs have been made by the exclusive Viennese glass and chandelier manufacturer, Lobmeyr, and the metal tops by metal spinners Wilhelm Seidl. As the visitor approaches, each insect will flutter and gather its own momentum as it bangs against the wall of the bulb. One has to imagine the sparkling lit-up brightness of a crystal bulb with its marvellous insect moving around inside and this repeated 250 times. The 25 species of insects are made of laser-cut printing foil, fluffy felt, glue, wood and other materials. Each insect is painted and coloured by hand reproducing the exact colours of nature. The butterflies are utterly beautiful, as are indeed all the insects for that matter. Of the 25 species that are represented, 2 are in danger, 6 are extinct, 11 are common and 6 are new discoveries. By mixing up extinct species with existing ones, mischer’traxler have added another dimension by creating what is a surreal experience. It will be interesting to see what the public’s reaction will be!
On a recent visit to the Austrian capital, I was able to meet Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler, a young couple in their early thirties who met whilst studying design in Austria, England and Germany. They graduated in 2008, and in 2009 they founded Studio misher’traxler where they develop and design objects, furniture and installations. Despite their youth, their work is already in the permanent collections of the Art Institute in Chicago, the Vitra Design Museum and the MAK in Vienna. They have also exhibited widely around the world. Katharina has the impish face of an elf and Thomas the dark, all-seeing gaze of the artist. Both are serious as well as charming and happy to talk about their work. Katharina explains that they were asked by Perrier-Jouët to create a work for London Design Week that would have something to do with the Art Nouveau heritage of their champagne. With “Curiosity Cloud,” they want to “capture moments in nature in an artificial way, but somehow recreating a moment or a memory of a real encounter with nature.” They were also inspired by the curiosity cabinets found in museums, how we deal with the past and how things are kept.
As well as the mischer’traxler studio, I was able to visit the family-run crystal works of Lobmeyr, which made the 250 bulbs for the installation. Lobmeyr specialise in lead-free, mouth-blown, hand-cut crystal and have been producing exquisite pieces for nearly 200 years. They were purveyors to the Imperial Court in the 19th Century as well as carrying out such noted commissions as the chandeliers and wall lightings for the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1966. Most interestingly, they have not been afraid to work with innovative and avant garde designers. In 1910, they were in the forefront of the Modern Movement, working in collaboration with designers such as Stephan Rath and Joseph Hoffman. The lines of their glass became purer and more geometric challenging prevailing taste. In 1925, Lobmeyr exhibited at the “Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in Paris. They were awarded the Grand Prix. This great exhibition signalled the beginning of the Art Deco period. Leonid Rath, one of the 6th generation family owners of Lobmeyr, says that the company is committed to carrying on this innovative tradition by working with a new generation of designers.
Wilhelm Seidl, a family-run metal works since 1908, made the aluminium capsules for the bulbs. They specialise in shaping and spinning unique single pieces in copper, brass, aluminium and silver, and will make anything from spotlights for theatres to customised mud caps. I was able to visit their works in an extraordinary turn-of-the-century building created for the sole purpose of housing different craft works. In this day and age, where everything moves so fast, companies such as Lobmeyr and Wilhelm Seidl still take the time to make things by hand with great skill.
I came away from Vienna feeling uplifted and reassured. It was a joy to watch Vienna’s famous cafe society spilling out onto the pavements, relaxing in the warmth of the summer’s evening. One could almost imagine Freud or Mozart doing the same thing 100 or 200 years ago. This city, which has seen so much history, has all the pedigree of its past but at the same time embraces the present. I stayed in an edgy hotel, The Daniel, in a converted sixties office block. The rooms were deliberately rudimentary although the shower was tip-top, as was the comfort of the bed. Breakfast consisted of wonderful home-made cherry, plum and apricot jams, caraway flavoured cream cheese, and the type of muesli one dreams of as well as several types of freshly baked breads, amongst other delicacies, reminding one that even though Austria can go minimalist, it won’t forego its traditional luxuries. One could say the same thing for its art, craftsmanship and design. With the confidence and back-up of its historic tradition for excellence, and with its capacity for renewal and new ideas, Vienna and its inhabitants are well set to sail the course of the 21st Century.
Perrier-Jouët – www.perrier-jouet.com
mischler’traxler – www.mischertraxler.com
Lobmeyr – www.lobmeyr.at
Wilhelm Seidl – www.metalldesign-wien.at