Catching up with the design duo RO/LU is a bit like being inundated with stories and references to everything from experimental architectural collectives of the ’60s and ’70s, to music, and the Walker Art Center; you better be ready to spitball.
The Minneapolis/St. Paul-based studio RO/LU was in New York for the opening of Patrick Parrish’s inaugural show, for which they take center stage with “Surfaces On Which Your Setting and Sitting Will Be Uncertain.” Hours before the opening, Mike Brady and Matt Olson were sprawled in the back of Parrish’s new Tribeca space, cooling off and catching a breath—this is only one of three shows they are featured in this fall.
For Patrick Parrish, RO/LU has created a set of objects that are at once sculpture and furniture—function is hardly the priority. Latticed skeletons of welded and powdercoated wire grid take the shape of what they could be (or what they are)—a table, stools, a chamber, and skeletal men (one on all fours might be a coffee table, the other upright one evades classification)—and comprise their latest collection, each an “Uncertain Surface.”
“We like to use art history as a prop…as a material. We like thinking of these objects and ideas we explore as a sort of journalism that manifests itself in material form,” RO/LU wrote in a self-published catalogue from 2012. Their work has displayed the influence of Lawrence Weiner and Guy de Cointet, Lynda Benglis and Robert Smithson. There have been traces of Ettore Sottsass and Donald Judd. And this time, RO/LU draws inspiration from Superstudio, again from Ettore Sottsass, and from Scott Burton and James Lee Byars, among others. To experience their work isn’t just an art history lesson; new ideas materialize.
“The act of learning is deeply embedded in our values. It feels like a map or a compass we use to follow what we love forward,” the designers have said. RO/LU sorts through matters metaphysical and philosophical by making things—their own handle is a combination of their mother’s maiden names, Rosenlof and Lucas. The duo reacts to complex, layered, and iterative ideas in pursuit of physical form (or sometimes performance). Through their process of simplification, art history is made nearly as mundane as the other everyday materials they typically deploy.
Sure, back at Patrick Parrish you can sit on the stool, maybe use the table—no one will stop you—but remember the title RO/LU has given the collection: “Surfaces On Which Your Setting and Sitting Will Be Uncertain.” For Brady and Olson, the hope is that we consider in the company of these objects the very act of sitting as something that requires trust—a leap of faith. As for our setting, that requires some imagination.
Walk around the objects and you see them moving; kinetic, dynamic, and yet totally still. As much a magic-eye trick as anything else, the objects perform (they condense, darken, and brighten) as viewers explore them in three dimensions. Disassociate a little from Patrick Parrish’s concrete and white wall setting, and one can easily picture the objects outdoors: the grass, weeds, and vines taking residence in the gridded void, the whole thing an armature for something else. This particular conversation will manifest in viewers in myriad ways. RO/LU are playful—and inclusive—provocateurs.
A line of clothing made together with Various Projects takes further the idea that objects are nothing without the people or gaze that animates them. Dresses, scarves, turbans, and tracksuits share the grid of RO/LU’s objects and help to create a uniform not only for interacting with the Uncertain Surfaces, but with all things. “A meta-mirror” for the world.
With free-flowing inspiration and influences of the people, heroes, and histories before them, it’s no wonder that RO/LU finds itself at the (changing) intersections of design, art, and architecture. Brady and Olson stand on the shoulders of giants. Luckily for us, they then climb down, learn, wrestle, create, and share.
“Surfaces On Which Your Setting and Sitting Will Be Uncertain” is on view at Patrick Parrish through October 4.
Matt Olson and Mike Brady. Photograph: Sam Vinz; “Uncertain Surfaces.” Photograph courtesy RO/LU; RO/LU studio. Courtesy RO/LU; “Uncertain Surfaces” at Patrick Parrish Gallery. Photograph: Clemens Kois; Dress, Various Projects. Photograph: Clemens Kois.