At Design Miami/ Basel, Alexandra Kehayoglou’s New Carpet Commemorates Vanishing Landscapes
“It’s a small creek in a suburb in Buenos Aires—it could be insignificant, but for me it’s everything,” Alexandra Kehayoglou tells me over the phone, her voice filtering through the loud whirring noises of carpet-making machinery in her studio, located on the outskirts of the Argentine capital. She’s describing the subject of one of her newest works, No Longer Creek (2016), an interactive carpet installation that will debut at Design Miami/ Basel this week, which was inspired by a creek near her home that was recently destroyed by the construction of a shopping mall.
Kehayoglou’s lush wool carpets have been cropping up across the globe in recent years—from cloaking Dries Van Noten runways in soft faux moss to infusing the boutique windows of Hermès Athens with hints of the Greek Isles, to featuring in prominent art-world venues, like the Victoria & Albert Museum and Frieze London, and with galleries like New York’s Chamber and Athens’s The Breeder. Striking a balance between art and design, her carpets mimic features and textures of the natural world, like grass and trees or rolling hills and streams. But her attraction to nature is not merely an aesthetic decision, it’s part of a deep, personal dedication to environmental issues, namely preserving natural landscapes.
“I grew up surrounded by nature, in a house with a big park; I spent my time in trees,” Kehayoglou says. “I have this mission of protecting or talking about what’s happening with the nature. It’s something I didn’t even choose, it’s always been part of my life for as long as I can remember.” This calling penetrates much of her work, and is especially palpable in No Longer Creek, which will feature in Design Miami/ Basel’s Design at Large section in conjunction with Artsy Projects. (Full disclosure: No Longer Creek is presented by Artsy.) The installation invites visitors to linger and rest on Kehayoglou’s carpet, and reflect on human impact on the natural landscape, while a camera will capture the scene from above and stream it on an adjacent screen, and online. “When I was invited to create a project for Basel, I was thinking about the instability of landscape; I wanted to create a stable landscape for spectators and simultaneously I heard about this creek being destroyed,” she recalls. “I took it as a sign.”
No Longer Creek, created with the artist’s signature tufts of green and blue wool, reconstructs the former natural oasis of Raggio creek—located some 10 blocks from the artist’s home—where the city meets the suburbs in Buenos Aires. “It used to be unpolluted, with crystal waters, no industrial chemicals; it was a place where you could find reptiles, native birds, and animals,” she explains, “and they destroyed it to work on this construction site.” No Longer Creek is a soft yet striking reminder of the lands that fall victim to industrial progress.
Kehayoglou’s passion for nature is matched by a passion for carpet-making, a tradition that is embedded in her DNA. The artist grew up in the premises of her family’s carpet-making company, El Espartano, which her grandparents opened in 1956. “When I was seven I told my father that at school they asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I told him I wanted to be a carpet-maker,” she tells me with a laugh. Despite these aspirations, she later strayed from pursuits related to the family business and went to art school, where she specialized in painting and photography, unaware that carpet-making would ultimately become her choice mode of expression. Following school Kehayoglou returned home to design for El Espartano, where she eventually began to reclaim discarded yarn to create her own works. “I didn’t feel comfortable with painting or sculpture; I needed something that would be spatial, but that wasn’t installation,” she explains. “I ended up finding these things in the carpet as a medium.”
She soon set up a workshop in the company’s factory, and even introduced the technique she uses for her own works there (El Espartano carries a line called Alexa that her work inspired). Earlier this year, she moved into her own studio, where assistants continue to aid her each day in reimagining real and fictional landscapes in vibrant wool. “It’s never organized and it’s never the same; there’s never a recipe,” she says. “It’s never the way you plan it, it always has this component of surprise—which is what makes me love this technique.”
The months ahead will see a new collaboration with Hermès in London, as well as several other projects that are still under wraps. And despite her great success, the artist is most proud of her day-to-day collaborations, and her ability to bring attention to environmental causes, as she will with No Longer Creek. “I feel most proud about the process, working with a team, being able to take this artistic practice into new places,” she tells me. “As an artist, it’s important to me that my work has a purpose that goes beyond me and what I do.”