Immersed in whimsy, Misha Kahn‘s Bellyflop Collection reimagines familiar items as functional objets d’art. Presented in partnership with Prospect NY, the latest Cultured Commission is Kahn’s shimmering pool float that will have you longing for summer. We sat down with the artist to talk about the inspiration for the Bellyflop Pool Float, now available on 1stdibs.
Your work already has such a playful energy—how do you push this further with the Bellyflop series? I think part of what adds to the work’s playfulness is that the objects are accessible, super usable items. When I make something that’s off-the-wall, but ultimately hard and expensive to produce, it’s a bit precious. What I love about this collection is that people will use them at a party and bring them to life!
What drew you to the idea of everyday objects, particularly ones for outdoors? I grew up swimming—racing—and I’ve always loved pools. I love that people just love to sit almost naked next to water for no apparent reason, and that basically all animals seem to also like this. It’s this idle, passive, sexy activity, but I think sitting poolside shares a type of irreverence that’s important to my work.
How does functionality change the understanding of your work, if it does so at all? I’m not sure it does. For some people, it makes it just a product—which isn’t how I see it at all. To me, inviting people to enter a world through usable items opens up this whole other realm of possibilities—all the people interacting are now characters in a parallel universe where objects are more individual and imaginative, free from the horrible constraints of production. People act in a more free and empathetic way. That can’t really happen without a bit of wear and tear and usability.
What prompted you to create a pool float? I’ve done a lot of work casting objects in vinyl, so it was really cool to make a piece that is just vinyl.
How did the project for Bellyflop Pool Float come about? So much of this collaboration came out of visits with Prospect in my studio, and translating what I have been working on into possible product ideas. The amorphous, slippery shapes of the straws feel related to sculptural upholstery and bronzes I’ve made. The use of formed glass with odd gadgety teeth was pulled from a process I’ve been using to “bedazzle” banged-up metal forms. I think it was super important for both of us to do it this way—so they really felt like the products were pieces and part of a whole story, not just items.
Can you talk about your exploration of the way material and form relate or interact? I would say I like to casually strong-arm materials. A lot of people like to strictly work with materials, letting the materials tell them what they should do, and some people belligerently follow a “concept” that has them as dictators to the production of a work. I’ve taken a very middle-of-the-road path on this, being flexible but with an overall direction.
A theme throughout my work has been using materials to create some visual-tactile friction. So things that look soft are often hard; materials like concrete and wood—which we always see in strong planes and columns—are usually very soft, slumped and friendly. I think this surprise element comes through on the glass blobs on the drinkware set in this collection—the glass feels like it was melted on and still in its liquid state.