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Tejo Remy and René Veenhuizen's first solo exhibition in the U.S. shows the duo's focus on hands-on experimentation, reuse and materiality without a milk bottle, rag chair or stack of drawers in sight.

By No author / 25-03-2010

“During our 10-year partnership we have created many projects, mostly commissions in the Netherlands that deal with the public and social interaction.” Tejo Remy is describing his longtime work with René Veenhuizen in their eponymous atelier. “People know this work in Holland,” he continues. Americans, meanwhile, associate the duo with just three products sold at Droog.

When Craig Appelbaum approached Remy and Veenhuizen to stage work in his new Washington, DC–based gallery Industry, he, too, was aware of the Ragchair-Milkbottle-lamp-Chest-of-Drawers box into which the pair had been crammed. “I emailed Tejo and said, You’re creating these amazing pieces that have not received the audience of your previous works.” The resulting exhibition “Hands On” is Atelier Remy & Veenhuizen’s first solo show in the United States. There are no milk bottles, recombinant rags, nor forlorn drawers on the gallery floor.

“Washington is appealing because it’s the capital city, known throughout the world for politics, but not so much for design,” Remy also reasons. “We thought it would be good for Washington to get some design.”

Indeed, Industry Gallery’s location is a surprise; that it is the only venue in the U.S. displaying 21st-century design solely is another feather in its unexpectedly positioned cap. But Appelbaum smoothes over the incongruity of presenting high design to white-shoe Washingtonians. An attorney by day, built like a gymnast, and prone to discussing design in torrents, one could rightly assume that whatever the 39-year-old touches turns to singleminded commitment. He says he was turned on to the discipline while shopping for his first apartment. An epiphany at B&B Italia led him to more experimental brands, then to collecting rarer works from Sollo Rago, Wright, and Phillips de Pury, and then from designers directly. He opened Industry in mid-January. “Because I loved it so much, I wanted other people to learn about it,” he says, adding that his effort rests on the shoulders of local players like Apartment Zero to crack open DC’s conservative tastes.

Appelbaum notes that he opened the 400-square-meter space, too, to give emerging designers the exposure they deserve. He hosts only solo shows so the talent may fully tell “their story,” with exhibit installations intended as “an analogue to what they’re showing.” In the case of Atelier Remy & Veenhuizen, “We created a house within the gallery to show people that these large commissioned pieces are residentially friendly.”

Even the 2.4-meter-long Reef Bench feels homey in this virtual house. The bench shape-shifts in a series of sectional cuts, and in addition to yielding a multifaceted, topographical form, the geometry of Reef Bench allows users to sit back to back. Both divider and public service, the piece has much in common with Meeting Fence, which Atelier Remy & Veenhuizen installed at Primary School Noordelicht in 2006, and a photograph of which stands behind Reef Bench here.

The inclusion of Reef Bench at “Hands On” serves as one attempt to introduce viewers to the design studio’s civic contributions. It also evidences a waxing interest in materiality, Appelbaum observes. “If you see Bamboo Chair and Grow Bench, you almost don’t think they could have been done by the same people,” he says, referring to two pieces that sit within the same frame in “Hands On.” The former is a six-edition series of chairs made of swooping ribbons of moulded bamboo. “I like that they’re broadening their language.”

Fans of Atelier Remy & Veenhuizen’s signature—“cheeky reuse” as one of the gallerist’s friends puts it—won’t be disappointed either. Grow Bench, for example, comprises myriad tennis balls glued to a steel armature. “Hands On” also includes Accidental Carpet, whose curvilinear forms complement Bamboo Chair’s swags, but which is made of recycled woollen blankets.

The highlight of the repurposing theme is a collection of four prototypes of concrete furniture, created in flexible tensile molds. “Concrete is a low-class or common material, and fits our interest in working with materials considered cheap or rejected—like the rejected tennis balls in Grow Bench or the old blankets we cut up to make Accidental Carpet,” Remy explains.

Yet this new work shows cheeky reuse and materiality converging. “Concrete starts as liquid stone. You put it into a mold and it hardens. It’s a simple method of making, and what we created is something that shows the soft appearance of concrete,” Remy says, adding, more broadly, that “The things we make are more a result of a hands-on method. Each work or series evolves from its own logic.” Much like Democrats and Republicans transform opposite views into workable legislation just blocks from Industry Gallery itself, Remy and Veenhuizen are teaching American design aficionados that one special interest need not exclude another.  

Hands On
Tejo Remy and René Veenhuizen
Industry Gallery, Washington DC
20 March - 8 May 2010

Photography © Atelier Remy & Veenhuizen, courtesy Industry Gallery

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