Cultured Magazine

Winter 2015

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Designer Christopher Schanck injects optimism and new meaning into the discarded industrial materials he incorporates into his signature aluminum-foil furniture. Though humble in material, the forms have earned Schanck a growing collector base and commissions by Tom Ford and Dior, among others. Here, the designer speaks about his contributions to the Made in Detroit movement, and the design landscape at large. When did you discover your visual language? My first experiments with the Alufoil series were at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2011. My work was largely rejected until Paul Johnson (owner of Johnson Trading Gallery in New York City) took notice after designer Max Lamb introduced us. Paul gave me representation, resources and support to develop my language. What role has Detroit played in your work? Detroit was the epicenter of American industry. Our work disputes the principles of that industry. Our studio culture and use of materials perverts the industry's obsession with perfect form and finish. Detroit can be a tough place to live, conditions are alarming and there is an epidemic of inequity. But I still believe in beauty—the beauty of imperfection. Imperfection is the standard for our work. You have successfully integrated a very diverse community into your studio, creating a number of new jobs. How? I use non-artists to help create the work. I involve people from the immediate community in my studio, where experts and amateurs work side by side. It's developed a natural, self- regulatory and very unlikely culture, only possible in this context. We work in my home-cum-studio. The setting is intimate, requiring mutual respect from everyone. You get to know people. Once you know them, you start to care. Could you have achieved this elsewhere? You can't separate your experiences from what you do or who you are. I can't say it's all from Detroit; it's also from my time in New York, and at the aluminum plant back home in Texas. It's from those experiences, lives lived and people loved. To what do you attribute the collaborative and supportive environment you've found yourself in? Limited resources and a shrinking population create a culture of collaborative inventiveness. Extreme conditions require radical solutions and new propositions. To effectively create change and build on the existing cultural capital requires more than a single person's vision. There's a growing critical mass of multi-generations here who share a value system that believes art is a force for change, not just a tool of commerce. What can other cities learn from Detroit? Living in Detroit is like learning to see in the dark. If you're new to a city, get to know its culture; don't impose a new model onto an existing community. Gentrification can be responsibly done by working with existing social structures, not excluding them. Find mentors. People are any city's best resources; get to know those who have seen their city's ups and downs and learn from them. What gives you the most satisfaction? I'm not looking for satisfaction. I seek meaningfulness. 200 CULTURED PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHNSON TRADING COMPANY IMPERFECT UNION Neither foil nor folly defines furniture designer Christopher Schanck. BY CATHY LEFF Alufoil armchairs, 2015

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