ALEXANDRA CAUFIN
ALEXANDRA CAUFIN

S E L E C T E D   W R I T I N G


This Creative City

Designlines Magazine
January 2018, Spring Issue

 
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Step into the offices of multidisciplinary architecture firm Partisans, and the world as you know it changes. In their world, a dated parking garage becomes a landmark waterside hotel. The long-dormant Hearn power plant is reborn as the stomping grounds of Luminato. And a traditional Canadian A-frame is reinterpreted as a hyper-modern cottage never before seen on the shores of the Muskokas. “A lot of firms build their brand based on a consistency of aesthetic,” says Nicola Spunt, Partisans’ director of culture and content. “We strive to surprise at every turn.”

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When Jordan Söderberg Mills set out to create an Instagram filter you could hold in the palm of your hand, he turned to glass prisms and physical optics over HTML5. His miniature cubes are completely analogue and can be rested on an iPhone camera to create a techni-colour periscope. The same old-school technology powers Söderberg Mills’ Anaglyph mirrors – hybrid art and design pieces making the rounds at galleries and design shows across the globe.

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A purple antelope, seafoam-green vines, and a bull wearing a neckerchief jockey in the spokes of a fiery-red wheel. In the middle, a rocking horse is accented by shoots of tropical flowers. It’s not an acid trip – it’s a silk scarf by architect and designer Yaw Tony, and it mesmerizes with its wild colourscape.

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Every artist or designer entertains a dialogue with their materials. For some, the conversation remains covert. For Julia Dault, it becomes the art itself. Untitled 39, 9:30-11:50 AM, September 26, 2017 is one of her latest sculptures in which sheets of Formica and Plexiglas are bent to energetic curves, then harnessed with ropes and Everlast boxing wrap. Untitled 1 was her first piece exhibited, the thesis produced in 2008 for her MFA at Parsons School of Design. In 2012, she showed two paintings and a sculpture at the prestigious New Museum Triennial, and soon, the collectors came calling.

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As lighting designers, Christian Lo and David Ryan of Anony were up to their elbows in bedazzled chandeliers and custom lighting systems – some with steep price tags – when reality hit them hard. “The objects were out of touch with what we prefer aesthetically, and what we could afford ourselves,” says Lo, realizing that she still had a bare lightbulb hanging from a junction box in her own apartment kitchen.

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Riddle Me This

Designlines Magazine, October 2017
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IT WAS ERNO RUBIK, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, who pointed out that the problems of puzzles are very near to the problems of life. Full of voids, misplaced pieces and false starts, existence has no simple arrangement. Maybe that’s why puzzles remain such beloved objects, harnessing life’s rare sensation that something has fallen directly into place, and compressing it into winnable play.

Such a puzzle lives in Porch Modern, Colen Colthurst’s rare furniture showroom off Geary Avenue. It’s a 1972 edition of 16 Animali by Enzo Mari, made from expandable resin masquerading as wood – and it will cost you $1500.

Limited production (Danese makes 200 a year) contributes to the price tag, but by no means does that translate to hands off. It may be a revered object from an Italian artist-designer whose work has been collected by the MoMA, but it also begs to be stacked, towered and herded, bringing the static 2D puzzle into 3D form. “It’s an expensive toy,” says Colthurst. “But it’s an inexpensive piece of sculpture, too.”

 

One that might seem at odds with its maker. Mari is, after all, known for his abrupt temperament and communist leanings. His Marxist-inspired DIY furniture – blueprinted in the 1974 book Autoprogettazione – is a far cry from his series of toys for Danese Milano. According to Colthurst, Mari dreamt about Animali before designing the first version in 1957, his Noah-esque vision not yet tainted by the political strife of 1970s Italy.

A flirtation between naiveté and sophistication, the elephant, birds, kangaroo and others are de ned by the meticulous precision of their connections. It’s a careful order that allows the pieces to function intricately as one. Harmony may be among life’s tougher puzzles, one we’re still trying to solve in our own ways. But as Mari surely knows, you can capture it, if even for just a moment – that’s the beauty of a toy.

 

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Brussels: In conversation with Kasper Bosmans

Double Dot Magazine, October 2017
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When New York-based art dealer Barbara Gladstone announced that Brussels would become home to her new European outpost in 2008, the art world was stunned. After all, Brussels is a smaller hub compared to London, Paris or Berlin. Nine years later, the city’s landscape for art and design has found itself on the international radar of creative communities to watch. That development is, in part, thanks to Kasper Bosmans, who, in November 2016, became the first Belgian artist to show at the now-acclaimed Gladstone Gallery.

Bosmans’ show locates itself in the turbulent year when bombings rocked the Maalbeek neighbourhood of Brussels. In March, a metro station was destroyed in an attacked claimed by Daesh. It was not far from where many artists, including Bosmans, keep their studios.

 

Reflections on these events informed Bosmans’ mixed media show at the Gladstone Gallery. The scent of a homemade iris tincture (the yellow iris is the official flower of Brussels) wafts through the space’s three rooms. In a nod to migration, two plinths bearing the flags of Gibraltar and Ceuta are tipped over onto one another. In Fire Hazard, a crystal ball sits upon three bales of hay, referencing farmers who, in 2015, appeared in front of Brussels’ European Commission and burned haystacks in protest of industry losses. (The gallery bales cannot be placed in the sun lest the crystal ball act as a magnifying glass igniting the straw.)

 

Flying Books writing school takes off

NOW Magazine, May 2017.
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Toronto’s indie school for creative writing is rallying some of the city’s literary best with a refreshing new model. 

Photo and text by Alexandra Caufin

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Scaachi Koul shows she's more than a Twitter provocateur

NOW Magazine, March 2017
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In One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter, the Toronto writer showcases her multifaceted voice. 

Photo and text by Alexandra Caufin


Dragonette's Den

Designlines Magazine, October 2017
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Arriving at Hepbourne Hall Lofts is not unlike pulling up to a classic college dorm. A conservative brick entrance leads to a series of narrow hallways, complete with endless single doors lining each side. Stepping into Martina Sorbara’s wide-open, first-floor unit, however, brings a definite moment of awe. It’s an all-too appropriate response, given that the 1910 Bloorcourt building once served as a church rectory before it was converted into condos in 1990.

When Martina, lead singer of indie band Dragonette, first saw the 210-metre space in 2015, she loved the arched windows and lofty ceilings (some as high as four metres). But non-starters were aplenty: bathrooms weighed down by dated granite, oppressive cherry millwork in the living room and a cooped-up kitchen set on a platform three steps up. And while most approach a reno with a detailed checklist, for Martina, the path was a little more…abstract.

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Getting the Green Light:
Drake Commissary

Designlines Magazine, October 2017
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Repurposing defunct factories is something that comes naturally to John Tong. The design pro behind the Drake Hotel lived in industrial buildings throughout his twenties – spaces ripe for re-interpretation by the then-burgeoning creative. Maybe that’s why when it came to the Drake’s newest venue, the Commissary on Sterling Road, he knew exactly where to begin.

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Street Art Study:
La Palma

Designlines Magazine, October 2017
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It’s not hard to see the similarities between Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood and Venice Beach, Los Angeles – both populated with ever-present street art, the trendiest in food and drink and all denominations of hipsters lounging in public green space. It was both the approach to healthy Italian fare and the joyful frenzy of L.A.’s art scene that got interior designer Alexandra Hutchison stuck on a California vision for her second venture with husband-chef Craig Harding. 

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Borrowing Blue:
Souk Tabule

Designlines Magazine, October 2017
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Cerulean tiles, creamy cyan accents and sapphire wallpaper are just a few pieces of the design puzzle at Souk. The newest addition to the Tabule family of restaurants balances the ambiance of a Beirut street market with clean lighting, touches of gold and modern furniture – infusing generations of Middle Eastern food culture into a cookie-cutter condo campus.


Insider's Guide:
Our Man in Melbourne

enRoute Magazine May 2017
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More than 10 years ago, motion designer and animator Jason James left Montreal for a dose of Melbourne sun and never looked back. The Woodstock, Ontario, native behind this year’s playful, multi-pronged Australian Open animated campaign (he’s also designed for Nike and Spotify) says it’s the balmy winters that got him hooked for good. “I felt at home here as soon as I got off the plane.

 


This Creative City

Designlines Magazine
January 2017, Spring Issue

 
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In 2007, Djuna Day looked at a pile of discarded offcuts and instead of seeing wood waste, she saw an art series. The self-taught designer had found her start at Dakota Jackson’s studio in New York, putting the finishing touches on avant-garde furniture destined for Hollywood homes. During her rogue training at woodworking co-ops in Brooklyn, Day began arranging the offcuts in framed boxes and staining them black. “It was the beginning of my commentary on how we disassemble our planet. The patterns I was assembling felt very dystopian to me – very sci-fi, post-apocalyptic and foreign to what the material once was – a tree.”

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Not many folks can lay claim to a personal home with international design status, but then Christine Ho Ping Kong and Peter Tan are not your average couple. It’s Saturday morning at their Courtyard House, one of the most famous iterations of residential architecture Toronto has seen since the millennium. The Asian-inspired home and office is also the project that launched Studio Junction, the duo’s award-winning architecture firm. Now, in their studio, located in their ivy-covered abode, Ho Ping Kong’s and Tan’s original tables, credenzas and tea carts beam in muted white oak and rich walnut. More than 10 years after its exciting debut, Studio Junction has set its sights on a new pursuit: a furniture line.

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Dozens upon dozens of plaster moulds line the shelves of Janet Macpherson’s studio on Geary Avenue. “Rat tail”, one reads. “Sheep head”, another, and a concise but slightly troubling, “Arms”. The Barrie-born artist is preparing for her next exhibition at the Gardiner Museum, and nearly every surface is covered in her signature spliced ceramic animals, the haunting figurines she’s been engineering since 2008.

Macpherson focused on pottery characterized by its sgraffito technique for six years before a mould-making class (taken while completing her MFA at Ohio State University) sparked her departure from functional pots. “It resonated immediately as the way I was supposed to be working,” she says.

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Shane Krepakevich gestures to a table lamp in his living room, a smooth block of maple speared by two delicate metal rods. “I like creating objects with asymmetry, but I always try to create a balanced final form,” he says.

The studio, hidden down a laneway in Little Portugal, is an archive of the maker’s history in art and design. On the bookshelf, a stainless-steel prismatic desktop organizer occupies space as both a sculpture and design object. Commissioned for the 2016 Youth exhibition at Souvenir Studios, the Brockton Village design boutique, the eye-catching piece was inspired by a 1980s desk accessory from his dad’s office that had captivated him as a kid. Meanwhile, his trademark Cut Pendant glows above the dining table, casting moody amber light around the room.

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When you commission Christine Leu and Alan Webb for an art installation, there’s no telling what you’re going to get – and that’s just how their patrons like it. The architects behind LeuWebb Projects have pulled off everything from an interactive inflatable parachute at MaRS, to the rewiring of a 1940s sign for a sound-responsive light show at Nuit Blanche. Oh, and they’re currently developing a design to recreate the Gladstone Hotel’s historic cupola (read: its original tower peak, removed in 1930) using locally manufactured solar panels.

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Burt's Bees expands to Hong Kong with a refreshed retail concept
Azure Magazine, January 2017

Niagara Falls light show gets a high-tech makeover
Azure Magazine, December 2016

A bold intervention in Chile's Atacama Desert
Azure Magazine, January 2017

KOTI unveils six traditional Finnish cabins in the middle of Paris
Azure Magazine, December 2016

 
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Lost in Translation


A Parisian in New York finds fascination in the trouble of language.

 

Double Dot Magazine, Issue 8, pub. June 2016. Print. 
download full article here

 

They say Parisians are among the world’s worst for shaming improper language. I can vouch for this. The last time I visited the city, I watched as my American friend stared into the eyes of a young, square-jawed server and earnestly stumbled through a series of questions about the menu. Quest ce que dans cette plat? she asked, the syllables rolling out thick and unsure. Eventually, the server coldly clarified, I speak English, okay? And although I am not a professional translator of subtext, I do believe it was something along the lines of Please go stick your head in the sand and die.

Very quickly, the lesson was learned. Trying to converse in the city’s native tongue was our way of distancing ourselves from that lugubrious, backpack-toting, American stereotype that Europeans so disdain. But in fact, to mispronounce, mistranslate, speak in antiquated phrasing – Voulez-vous un autre verre de vin? was, apparently, the greater insult.

The struggle, it turns out, is not only real, but universal. Just ask Parisian artist Camille Henrot, someone who has made a career of exploring translation and the power dynamics at the heart of communication – and by communication, I mean everything from the oral storytelling traditions of ancient societies, to those automated telephone hotlines we spend hours on when we need a new modem or have to adjust our cell phone plans.

Best known for her video installation Grosse Fatigue, a project that earned the 38-year-old artist the prestigious Silver Lion award at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Henrot has shown at galleries across the world including the Pompidou, the Louvre, the Palais de Tokyo, and the New Museum in New York City. Her work has been profiled by Vogue, The Guardian, and The New York Times. Critics have confidently called her one of 2016’s artists to watch. 

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Nomads

Nomadic art organizations draw our attention to Toronto's forgotten spaces and their explicit and implicit purposes.
[Carbon Paper Magazine. Issue 3, pub. September 2015. Print]

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Tomorrow Gallery

New York's local anxieties and aesthetics influence the Lower East Side's Tomorrow Gallery. [Double Dot Magazine, Issue 7, pub June 2015. Print]. Photography by Benjamin Freedman. 

download full article - print version (.pdf) or read article online

 

Post Punk

In case you haven’t heard, print media isn’t doing so well. Case and point: Toronto’s awardwinning, dearly beloved The Grid was laid to rest over the summer on account of dwindling revenue from ad sales. It’s the same story at papers across the continent. And yet, amidst this crisis, the zine scene in Toronto isn’t just alive—it’s thriving. It’s a subculture comprising graphic designers, artists, print connoisseurs and punks. Alexandra Caufin speaks to the boundary-pushers about how zines are evolving, crossing borders into art and emerging in bold new forms. 


[Carbon Paper Magazine. Issue 3, pub. September 2015. Print]
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