The Way Beyond Art: Wider White Space: Warmest, Kirsty & Emma
Warmest, Kirsty & Emma explores the richly detailed work of London-based graphic design studio, A Practice For Everyday Life (APFEL). Kirsty Carter and Emma Thomas founded APFEL in 2003 after becoming friends in graduate school. With a strong focus on cultural institutions and the arts, APFEL craft astonishingly intricate patterns and details that might at first glance appear effortless. This simplicity is, however, an illusion – their work is rich with meaning; APFEL are inspired by the aesthetic qualities living in ordinary materials that others may overlook. The studio's ability to appropriate and recontextualize the everyday imbues their careful, precise work with a sense of playfulness that is, at times, tongue in cheek.
Warmest, Kirsty & Emma is an appropriation of APFEL's work to a studio context. The Xerox process references the everyday ephemera of the studio while opulent materials and enlargement help to unify the sundry patterns and details as a continuous narrative. The union of the casual and precise in Warmest, Kirsty and Emma seeks to translate the disarming approach that is so central to APFEL's work.
Curated by Anne Kenady, Greg Johnson, Zoe Minikes and Angie Stalker
The following conversation was conducted over email in February 2011.
Talk about your experience as high profile, young, women designers in a field that is mostly male.
Every designer has an individual approach regardless of gender. We are just two individuals who set up our own studio to make projects we love! We don't think that it is remarkable that we are women, we have had the same opportunities as men in our industry, we both have brothers and we have always been encouraged to be ambitious and follow our dreams the same way as they did. Of course we are aware we are women, but it rarely came into our minds that professionally we are any different from men. The studio has a complete 50/50 balance of females and males, Stephen, Jason and Jesper are designers, then there is Louise our studio manager and of course the both of us. We have collaborated with many women, whether they are designers, writers or architects. Isabel Allen, was the Architects' Journal's editor when we re-designed it in 2005, an historic magazine in a predominately male dominated industry, and 3 young women redesigned a magazine which is close to every English architect's heart, we thought that was quite an achievement. More recently we have been working with Maria Fusco on the 'Happy Hypocrite' a journal about experimental art writing, she is also the professor & director of the art writing course at Goldsmith's College in London, she is a great inspiration for us. We admire strong women and often work with women. Each collaboration is different and that is not because of gender.
We do love yellow! It is the color of the sun and it makes us happy in a gray city like London. We use it for anything to do with APFEL, on our business cards, letterheads, website and we even had the lights in our studio spray painted yellow from white. In terms of using yellow within our work it is only ever for a reason and we haven't actually used that yellow as much as other colors. Red is the most common color within our portfolio, it's a strong primary color loaded with a lot of meaning politically, and it is the most common color on a flag with connotations of blood, sacrifice and revolution.
How do you incorporate elements of the everyday in your design practice?
We imagine every designer incorporates their everyday into their design process - it is hard to separate the two. But, as Certeau described, we like to be observers or 'flâneurs' of our surroundings, we approach a brief/project/client as researchers, collectors, and collaborators - and all of these elements help form the visuals and ideas for a project.
Could you elaborate on the connections between your name and Michel de Certeau's book, The Practice of Everyday Life?
We chose the name for our business when we were at the Royal College of Art, writing our theses, sitting in Emma's bedroom deciding how we should name ourselves in our final exhibition. The one book we continually referred to was this book, so it was decided. We didn't call our studio by our names, because we wanted it to be independent of us, and we wanted a name, which would be more easily shared by future members of the studio. Michel Certeau describes his way of making sense of the city with eyes open, collecting materials, drawing together stories. We liked the reference of "practice" as a habit, exercise and pursuit. These practices were the basis of how we wanted APFEL to work.
How has the APFEL studio environment grown and changed since 2003?
We wanted a studio so we could design with our own vision, without compromising by working for someone else. We had a clear idea of what we wanted to do and whom we wanted to work for. We wanted to go on a journey that would excite and challenge us-—each person joining APFEL along the way would add another element/perspective and there would be other strands, disciplines, in many directions (whether print, digital media, project management, exhibition making, architecture) but all coming from a school of thought.
Being print-lovers, much of our work has an object quality to it: you understand it when you hold it. Often process is really important and we of course produce a lot of print materials for our clients. Perhaps much of our work has quite a paired back aesthetic and the project only comes to life when you hold the object, whether it is an invite or a publication, but this is the same case for exhibition design and web design, the joy is when you start using it. APFEL is always evolving and that is the way we like it to be, at the moment we are designing a lot of exhibitions, so our ideas are becoming much more 3D. We are also designing a lot more websites, which pulls on very different design skills from print but in the same way 3D design does, but in principal it's the same design process and attention to detail.