subtlety strange Colönia
The last time I went to Portugal, I had the pleasure of visiting one of the most intriguing, exciting portuguese projects, Colönia.
The 3 in 1 Design Studio, Store, and Micro-gallery owned by Joana Machado and João Cruz curates unusual objects, clothes, books and magazines, and introduces a new and innovating approach of design and communication in Portugal.
For the first time here, an exclusive interview with Colönia:
How would you define Colönia?
Colönia is an hybrid project consisting of a Design Studio, a Store, and a Micro-gallery sharing the same space. At the Design Studio we develop commercial and self-commissioned projects, at the Store we curate a collection of odd multidisciplinary objects, ranging from avant-garde jewelry, to fashion, ceramics, and particularly objects in-between fields; at last the Micro-gallery, installed exclusively in one of our windows, showcases artists and projects on art, design and technological innovation.
The main idea or transversal concept among these different areas concerns the will to show everyday objects or everyday representations in non-familiar expressions (defamiliarization). Our search for the subtlety strange is no more than an invitation for reflection from the perspective of our quotidian experiences.
How did you came up with this concept?
The idea came to us in Oporto while driving over an empty store in a corner near our house. We had just arrived from Berlin and the idea of having a Design Studio and a Store / Gallery with a curation of objects came up that way, later we brainstormed and discussed on the idea for a while until we thought it was refined enough to put into practice.
One one end it was a will to do design in a different way, in an open and transparent way, closer to the public. On the other end, designing from a perspective that extends way beyond the territory of communication design, crossing and questioning its boundaries.
What is your connection to Germany (Colönia=Köln)?
Colönia’s relationship with Germany started with me (Joana) when in the Summer of 1999 I met film director Sebastian Schipper and the photographer Michael Hudler in Odeceixe, in the south of Portugal. We become very good friends. In 2000 when I visited Germany for the first time my empathy and complicity with Berlin was immediate.
From then on I naturally developed a body of professional references that sort of came together when Colönia came up. Also, I think there’s this thought component or philosophy in some german brands and creators that we identify with, and specially the search for a certain state of rawness on things.
How has been the public’s reaction?
We have had great feedback among our community target and even on a broader spectrum people’s reactions have been positive. We’re often complimented as being highly creative, courageous and a source of inspiration to other people’s work, which of course is wonderful to know. As our office faces the street, the contact with people is extremely direct and we’ve been able to witness people’s curiosity and amazement about our office and products first-hand by just looking outside.
Tell me a bit about the products in Colönia… Is there one that you particularly like?
We sort of cherish the idea of having products with stories. Every product in our Store is special or has a particular story to be told. They’re all picked one by one which is about the same relationship that we have to things as buyers. We think of ourselves as curators of a collection of unusual wonderful things. And think of our objects as having a special place in our customers’ lives, even if of a modest and simple nature. We feel a mixture of pleasure and sadness when an object departs our store and are almost always astonished with the perfect match between our products and our clients.
As we wander with our eyes around the Store we can highlight WET, by We The Knot, a limited edition of unique Swimwear trunks made of abandoned umbrellas’ textiles gathered around Porto and Lisbon; USMA, a clock without a visual interface that brings rural time back to our busy urban existence; or even Julio Dolbeth’s edititon of three Golden Lucky Skulls’ cardboard sculptures specially crafted for Colönia. Of course, there’s also The Moore Pattern, a kinetic sculpture by Jeff Liberman that we are showing at the Colönia Micro-gallery.
At the moment, Cruz’s favorite objects are Hugo Madureira’s Airl Lift Cufflinks while Joana are USMA, a clock without a visual interface and the iconic Bless’ cable jewelleries.
I met Colönia through your first exclusive product, 10. What’s the story behind this piece?
10 is a celebratory piece, it came out of the idea to celebrate 10 years of friendship with my German friends met in the Summer of 1999 in the south of Portugal. I felt the need to materialize the celebration of a decade of friendship and the wax stamp seemed the perfect format to make this hallmark in my life tangible.
Later João suggested that we should generalize the piece to just stamp a 10 and in that way make accessible to anyone wanting to celebrate 10 years, 10 months, 10 days or 10 something out of something.
It’s a piece about people and relationships.
Regarding your work as a Studio, you often use videos. Where did the connection to this media comes from? Do you relate it to Fashion Film?
Well is true that the medium is one of our passions. Both of us have a background on video as practice and research. At the Fine-Arts, where we both got our degree in Communication Design, the approach to video was mainly experimental and with a great level of aesthetic freedom. We then both pursued research concerning adjacent New Media areas.
Joana’s studies in Electronic Arts Aesthetics with Claudia Gianetti, at the Mecad in Barcelona, touched several aspects of video currents in the 1970s, for instance Young Blood’s Expanded Cinema or Jonas Mekas avant-garde, while Cruz Master’s degree in Multimedia Art concerned the articulation of sound and image under the guise of Intermedia and in the context of experimental video and live visual manipulation.
We later veered our approach towards the construction of small fictions that fulfill our shared vision of film, and common aesthetic concerns regardless of the context our work deals with. If it’s called Fashion Film or something else it’s not up to us. We definitely get extremely excited conceiving, shooting, and editing film, more than everything else.
Colönia is in Oporto, in Rua 15 de Novembro 47.