This interview is part of an ongoing series of conversations with the Areaware designers. We asked our Spring 2016 designers to pick someone they know to conduct an interview with them about their practice. Jolie Mae Signorile and Gabriel Fredericks Cohen of Fredericks & Mae (pictured above at ages 2 & 3) sat down recently with their biggest influences - their mom's Donna and Stacey.
Donna (Jolie’s Mom): As your business and career are growing have you ever considered that there is any correlation to your family's tradition of working with your hands , your wood working and transferring this to making your collection?
Jolie: Certainly I think if everyone had been doctors, things might have been different. It's true, on both sides of my family I have a legacy of creativity and craftsmanship. My family was always supportive of my creative pursuits, and never discouraged me from going into/towards the arts. Grandpa Signorile was the kind of guy that could fix anything. He was always tooling around in his shop making things that would somehow improve daily life, or suit the needs or desires of one of his family members. None of it was beautiful per se, but it had that handmade, one of a kind, this is a special thing kind of feeling to it.
This has all been very informative to my sense of aesthetics, and the value I place on being able to make things, and especially the things I would want in my life, or to be able to give to someone I love.
Donna: I remember when you graduated and came home you surely considered exploring different directions. Despite any second thoughts or any negativity you received as feedback (silk screening in particular) what made you so persistent in going on with your own thoughts in going forward with Fredericks and Mae?
J: Gabe and I started Fredericks & Mae in our living room, as a way of hanging out. We were friends with a shared interest and at least at first had no expectations for where it would take us. It was for us, the thing we did to stay sane, and connected to our interests as artists. We received some steadily good feedback from almost the very beginning, and that was certainly reaffirming.
Gabe: Fredericks & Mae grew for a longtime without anything resembling a strategy. We were reacting more to demand and our own internal impulses than anything else. In the beginning, I think it was sheer joy that motivated us, and later, when there was a glimmer that this could become our full time gig - we were motivated by the idea we could be our own bosses and and build something we loved.
Donna: Looking forward if you had any and all resources available where do you see your line of eclectic art going?
J: While it's so fun to dream big, I've always loved constraints, like an assignment in art class. The parameters are the boundaries within which you get to be creative. Up till now those parameters have been set by what we (Gabe and I) can make in our studio. As our business grows, and we partner up with companies like Areaware, I feel excited to see products that we've imagine come into light, using skills and resources that would otherwise be prohibitive for us. It feels like our world is expanding, and I'm excited to get more of our ideas out there into the world.
G: Maybe we will become boat designers? Spaceships? I would love to make costumes for dance also.
Donna: Since you were 6 you were totally immersed in competitive sports (soccer, lacrosse, volleyball & rugby). Do you think there is any correlation to your choices of your product line that you are crafting now? It seems that you can take everyday familiar things, board games , sports inspired pieces and have elevated them to beautiful objects of desirable art?
J: This is the hardest question that you've asked me so far, and I am still trying to draw the connection between my past life as a competitive athlete with my current life as a full time artist/designer. I've always been interested in the two, it used to be that my sports was the thing that I threw my whole self at unrelentingly. I guess now its just switched, and Fredericks & Mae is that thing that I am throwing my whole entire self at. The backbone of that sports stuff feels like it shows itself when things get hard here now, there's that voice inside me that's like work harder.
G: I know this question was not directed at me - I was deeply not a sports kid (I was more of a asthma and journaling kind of kid) - but if I might - I think that Jolie’s training as an athlete turns up everywhere in Fredericks & Mae. Maybe most explicitly in our line of games - where the idea and history of competition is important to what makes those products emotional - and I also think it turns up in our process now and then. Jolie is able to get competitive with the prospective that it’s healthy, productive and fun - in a way that often eludes me (i can get sad and crumple in the face of competition). Her perspective/experience here has been really useful in pushing me forward, and has been a great boon to our creative, collaborative process.
Stacey (Gabe’s Mom): When you were little and the house went quiet I would often find you in your room making something. Do you remember that and what is the first thing you remember making that made you happy?
G: I don't really remember making things quietly in my room - but my earliest memory of making something was in art class when I was 4 or so. I made a plush pink hedgehog with a large feather mohawk. It was basically a fabric balloon with tiny nub legs and a strip of boa sewed onto it. I remember loving making it - taking so much joy bringing it into the world - and then when it was done feeling much less interested.
Stacey: Almost everyone in our extended family works for themselves. Were you aware of that growing up? Do you think it influenced your direction?
G: Not explicitly - I do though remember having a really hard time thinking of professions other than therapist (both of my parents are). I also remember grown-ups talking about the joys of working for yourself - and I'm sure that embedded itself in my brain—if only to assure me it was possible. It was really lovely to have that model held out for me as available (and fun!)
Stacey: Can you tell the story of how the piece in your Oberlin Senior Project came to be - the one with the flying white body cast with rainbow threads?
J: Yes - That was our first collaborative piece. It a lot of ways in marks the beginning of our brain meld. We were both thinking about similar things, but coming at it from a different angle. I was thinking about nostalgia, and Gabe was thinking about the apocalypse. We were both thinking about our inability to imagine the future. That piece was a full scale body casting of my body, in the stance of turning and looking behind me (mid dance move). The sculpture was covered in rock salt as a reference to lot's wife who turns to salt for looking behind her. From my (felt wooled) eyes, came hundreds of pieces of colorful thread that were connected to nails on the far wall that held the place of the stars in the sky on the last predicted day of the earth as imagined by the mayans.
G: Yeah! Jolie and I met when we were assigned neighboring studios in our senior year at college - we had never met before, and developed a “materials” crush on each other - feeling attracted to the materials we were both working with and leaving around our studios. We ended up doing our final show together - though we only collaborated on this one piece. It was a cast of Jolie’s body, mid-dance, coated in salt - and out of the eyes 365 lengths of thread extended onto a wall mapping out stars as seen from jerusalem on December 21, 2012. We were thinking a lot about nostalgia and the apocalypse (the salt body was a reference to Lot’s wife who was punished for looking back, and 12/21/2012 is the date the Mayan calendar predicted some sort of global transformation). Jolie and I were looking for a way to work together - and the various elements of this project came together slowly over 6 months.
Stacey: How would you describe your design process? How has it changed from when your first projects?
G: The first part is about identifying attraction - to an object, a component, a material or a category of objects (like kites). The second part is research based - learning as much as we can about the history of the thing - about its use, construction and evolution. Then it’s a process of figuring what's the best way to make a new version in our studio.
Jolie: Each thing we make will get passed back and forth between us until we both love it. Once the object is loved by the both of us, then we have a final product.
Stacey: What aspect of your work life are you most proud of?
G: I love the community of people who have gathered around Fredericks & Mae. The crew we work with in our studio is an amazing group of people - really the best group of people - and I feel so proud of having put that together. I also love being a part of some generation of American designers who came up together - and i feel really proud of the work we have done as a broad community to effect design. Also also - I feel really proud of Jolie’s and my relationship - its singular in my life as a committed, platonic, super productive, wildly fun partnership that produces challenges and joys unlike any other.
Jolie: I’m proud of my relationship to our work. I look forward to heading in, and miss it when I am gone for too long. It feeds and nurtures me, both in the practice of designing, making, playing, and also in terms of the community of people we work with. I’ve had other jobs where I worked hard to make my life feel like it didn’t revolve around my work. I far prefer to have my life orbit my work, and for that relationship to feel good, productive, and mutual.
Stacey: What aspect of your work life do you find most challenging?
G: The business side - budgets and cashflow and what not. That’s the part that most consistently feels like work.
J: Starting, and growing a business feels a bit like a rollercoaster. There are highs, and lows, and it can be hard not to take that stress home. We are learning as we go, and you know how that is.
Fredericks & Mae is the art/design team of Jolie Mae Signorile and Gabriel Fredericks Cohen. The two met through a shared love for materials - Fredericks & Mae started in the piles of feathers, thread, gold and paper that decorated their first studio in 2007. Their collaborative practice has since evolved into a series of objects for the home, garden and sky. Fredericks & Mae is a material anthropology of objects with confused origins. Tools, games and rituals trace arcs though history and across the earth - we follow these arcs: nose to the ground and mouths agape.