Beyond Unconventional Design and Furniture: Misha Kahn

Beyond Unconventional Design and Furniture: Misha Kahn

Especially known by his maximalist, playful and extraordinary designs, Misha Kahn’s works blur the line between furniture and sculpture so he is also known by his sculptural furniture designs. Blending unconventional materials with extraordinary ideas for design, Misha Kahn is one of the most “creative” designers resounding huge. However, where do the roots of his design come from? Do they transmit an idea or are they only for “art for art’s” sake joyful pieces? When we deep down artists’ life and values and set on a journey through his designs and exhibitions it is quite obvious that his works have layered meanings full of excitement in the creation process!

Roots of The Creative Mind

Born in Minnesota in 1989, Misha Kahn grew up with the excitement of garage sales when he was a child. Maybe it is one of the reasons why he uses all different kinds of media in his works mostly astonishing ones, found, reused or recycled objects. So he is also famous as the artist who transforms waste into extraordinary pieces. His exhibition in 2019 called “Extraordinary Journey” and “Midden Heap” in 2017 prove his vision about colliding art with the natural world we live in with the recycled and reused objects he used.

From Midden Heap Exhibition in 2017
From Midden Heap Exhibition in 2017

Kahn graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011 with a BFA in furniture design. From his childhood, he loved miniature furniture from Claymation films and he was also fond of making clothes, it wasn’t a surprise having a degree from furniture design for him. Even though his young age, his meditation on life, objects and the relationship with human and the material give the core theme and inspiration for incredible furniture designs while he is kneaded with pure and joyful imagination.

A detail of Misha Kahn’s “Saturday Morning Store,” part of "NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial"
A detail of Misha Kahn’s “Saturday Morning Store,” part of “NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial”

Kahn gained a reputation after he was selected for the biennial “NYC Makers” in 2014 by New York’s Museum of Arts and Design with his sculptural furniture designed for the biennial and took a chance to exhibit his works alongside the works of Yoko Ono, Paula Hayes and Gaetano Pesce at his very young age. Since then he has created mainly his works with different kinds of media such as plastic bags, a second-hand clock, fiberglass, bronze or foam etc. He both uses analogue and digital design while forming his ideas and playful side of his perspective into marvellous furniture designs.

Surprising Pieces to Meditate on The Function

He describes his work as “joyful and toxic” and maybe, therefore, they are catchy and spectacular. Because he sees a glimpse of design in even trash objects for the majority of people. They are also joyful just because of their maximalist forms and colourful, shimmering aspect appearing as flying out a big party! Kahn’s intention is unsurprisingly an attempt for escaping the conventional rigid forms of design by thinking just from another perspective. However, utility and comfort can be another intention of his works, just like seen in his Pig of The Sea couch. 

Pig of The Sea from Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces Exhibition by Misha Kahn in 2020
Pig of The Sea from Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces Exhibition by Misha Kahn in 2020

“Creative” rather than classifying himself as a sculptor, artist or designer by touching on categorization means losing one of his parts while he loves all things about visual art so it is possible to embrace all the process and works as art. Even if his designs seem hyperreal, sometimes fantastic and unusual they can be functional, though.

Lone Pickle in Empty Fridge
Lone Pickle in Empty Fridge  “Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces” in 2020
Ammonoid Alpha from the exhibition "Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces" by Misha Kahn in 2020
Ammonoid Alpha from the exhibition “Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces” by Misha Kahn in 2020

While he works on his designs he also gives the formula how they are appreciated so much as well as found fun and playful: Finding a balance between flightiness and devotion!

When his works are examined for the features of the form it is seen that he mainly uses curves rather than rectangular or basic shapes. The reason why, of course, is creating a feeling that drives the viewer to feel the novelty by being a part of this interesting journey while giving the vibe of flightiness.

"Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces" exhibition in 2020
“Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces” exhibition in 2020

Could Kahn’s Designs Only Be A “Bad Joke”?

Even if his works can be read as a “bad joke” because of the colourful and indefinite forms and shapes, etherealness and light-heartedness, Kahn’s works are the products of a meticulous work of many people. The most foregrounded reason for this misread is his free way of working. Kahn doesn’t fit into rigid ideas. He also does not prefer making serial designs in his collections and exhibitions but every piece seems coherent with the another naturally and they create one major context. Working and discovering different kinds of materials forms the key formula in his unconventional pieces.

Concentration on The Idea Behind Design 

What is the idea behind the creation of sculptural furniture then? Obviously playing with the rigid norms and creating a playful or fantastic atmosphere are several ideas for the creation of the pieces. Looking from a different perspective to the perception of furniture can be one of the other reinforcing ideas. However, in his every exhibition Misha Kahn has another hidden message to convey to the viewer with his works, the exhibition atmosphere and name of the exhibition, as well. 

For example, his exhibition called “Return of Saturn: Coming of Age in the 21st Century” is actually an introspective exhibition to the works of Kahn. The name of the exhibition also quite interesting and strengths this idea. Saturn completes its return in 27 years and comes back to the same place occupied one’s moment of birth. Kahn was also approaching his 27 years old and wanted to show how these 27 years shaped him in the form of his works with all beauties and the chaos.

"Return of Saturn: Coming of Age in the 21st Century" in 2016
“Return of Saturn: Coming of Age in the 21st Century” in 2016

On the other hand, his exhibition called “Midden Heap” is created by discarded belongings, objects and trash found from ashore. The main focus of the exhibition is focusing on the change that sea creates in our material world with the feeling of vanity of the material. So the atmosphere in the exhibition seems just like a hyperbolic and colourful underwater world occupied with fantastic octopuses!

Midden Heap in 2017
Midden Heap in 2017

In his last solo exhibition named “Soft Bodies, Hard Spaces” Kahn examines the relationship between the body and the hard-edged form of furniture that people mostly used to from classical furniture perception. As an interrogation of rectangular and uncomfortable shapes dominating life in relation to the material world, therefore, his designs match with the idea that actually formed rules of design doesn’t fit into our bodies.

Midden Heap in 2017
Midden Heap in 2017
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