Wang & Söderström

nomad
nomad
Dec 14, 2020 · 7 min read

Forms of Amazement

WANG & SÖDERSTRÖM
Photos by Ana Santl
Words by Linda Moers

Our eyes are spoilt for choice. Every day, images from all over the world pass across our screens. We see more than ever, yet we find less to amaze us than ever before. Until the moment when, by way of endless links and arcanely devised algorithms, an image appears in our feed that is unique and incomparable. Seven objects reminiscent of branches of coral grow from a black square, their progress accompanied by sounds that are like listening to a tree grow. The surfaces of the objects are covered with brown and green bumps with a rubbery appearance. But is this coralline, rubbery, nubbly assemblage of cells inanimate, or a living entity? No need for an answer; the eye is both stirred and soothed by this extraordinary spectacle. We scroll on — but after a longer pause than usual.

WANG & SÖDERSTRÖM
Architect Tim Söderström Designer Anny Wang

This unexpected experience was created by Wang & Söderström. The work of this Copenhagen-based studio casts new light on an approach that has all too often been lost: the idea of shaping what surrounds us to create something utterly new and viewing it with fresh eyes. To do so, they make use of materiality and technology to create rare and unexpected experiences, the like of which we have categorically never seen before. On their journey of exploration through new forms and materials, they are also paving the way for new design inspirations for the future. A conversation with Anny Wang and Tim Söderström.

Wang & Söderström: Swedish interior and furniture designer Anny Wang and architect Tim Söderström specialise in digital and physical explorations in their design studio in Copenhagen. By combining materiality and technology, they play with the senses and create new and unexpected experiences.

Linda: To begin with, for pretty much all of us who weren’t around back then, how did it all start with Wang & Söderström?

Anny: We both discovered 3D software during university. Tim studied architecture in Copenhagen and I studied spatial design in Gothenburg. From the first time we met, collaboration and discussion about our various projects came up completely naturally. I started freelancing on the side in 2014 at the same time as finishing my studies, and we began working at an interior design firm. Opening our own studio has always been a dream of ours. The more freelance projects came in alongside our full-time work, the more Tim got involved, and we decided in summer 2016 to start our own thing and spread our wings.

Tim: We first encountered the tools we use today while working on architecture and design projects, but realised they had all these other functions and possibilities to offer that actually came from the movie and game industry. For a while we decided to skip labelling our work as something specific — not calling it design, art or animation, but just experimenting with these newly found digital tools, applying our spatial and physical perspective and background. We were introduced to 3D printing and CNC and other methods of how to embody digital work, and they have been an intrinsic part of our work ever since.

Linda: Speaking about spreading your wings, what were the first discoveries you made when you combined the physical and digital worlds?

Anny: Creating something that integrates references from the real world, like wind or a squeeze, combined with surreal materials and warped physical rules, triggers a certain kind of ripples in your brain. That’s what has kept us continually exploring digital materials. When materials as we know them are digitally rendered, they can be manipulated and behave in a manner that cannot be achieved in the physical world. Those digitally generated materials possess unique qualities, and in that way we seek to influence how we design objects and spaces, whether virtual or real.

Tim: We don’t see digital and physical as two separate worlds. They clearly exist at the same time and become more and more intertwined. But they have very different rules, possibilities and limitations. By working with both “rule sets” in mind, we challenge and push the boundaries between them.

Linda: This year you designed the exhibition for The Mindcraft Project in Milan. Can you give us an insight into what you designed?

Anny: As you may know, the Danish Arts Foundation handed over this project to Copenhagen Design Agency. The new platform will highlight Danish designers with a focus on artistic, research-driven and experimental projects to inspire new ways of thinking, making, consuming and living. And this shift and new focus is something we intend to reflect in the exhibition design and visual imagery. By working with abstract shapes that influence each other, intersect and grow in different ways, we aim to express the action of making an impact. The exhibition design will mainly be made from three elements. One: really solid textile board — this is a material produced from end-of-life textiles and cut-offs from Kvadrat textiles. Two: reusing discarded material from old trade-fair stands. Three: bespoke podium feet cast in jesmonite.

Linda: Due to these pandemic times we are living through, the exhibition finally appeared online on 16 June. Was it easy to transfer the exhibition to the digital world, or does it lack something compared to a physical exhibition?

Tim: This situation was quite unusual. Since the exhibition was not planned to be digital from the start, the physical space made up a big part of it. All the design objects involved have a very rich and interesting physical materiality that is part of the direct and physical experience. In addition, the people involved, the debate and discussions and the new friendships are often purely physical events. However, having a digital platform enabled us to highlight different layers of the exhibited objects. We are very happy about the films produced by Copenhagen Design Agency, which provide a depth that can be lost in a purely digital presentation. We don’t believe digital exhibitions will be the new normal, but then again, thinking of the digital as a parallel and intertwined reality could change, and possibly enhance, how exhibitions will look in the future. What is the most important physical experience, and how can we maximise that? Some things might fit better in the digital world.

Linda: The Mindcraft Project is a platform that shows what design can do in a crossover of disciplines between art, technology and craftsmanship. As this kind of crossover is in Wang & Söderström’s DNA, can you describe for us the beauty that arises from mixed disciplines?

Tim: Disciplines embody traditions and wisdom coming from decades of trial and error. At the same time as it is important to learn from this, it also needs to be challenged — and mixing and crossing disciplines introduces the friction that is needed for something “new” to arise. I’m not saying that this process automatically produces good results — it needs to be questioned, of course — but it also needs to happen, otherwise we stagnate.

Anny: Today our projects have different outcomes where technique, medium and results might vary, but the method is kind of the same. We approach each project with the same mindset. Which is also the reason why we see art and design as a conversation rather than locked into a specific medium. Seeing physical and digital as equals can keep us from being overly biased towards a particular medium.

WANG & SÖDERSTRÖM

Linda: “Designing our future — designing our world” is the main theme of nomad №9. Yet this world has changed during recent months. Has anything changed for you and the way you look at your projects, too?

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