As their first major solo art exhibition opens at The Bass in Miami, Wallpaper* meets the LA-based fraternal duo
WRITER: BETHAN RYDER
‘Spotley Crue’ beaded chair with cast bronze feet, by The Haas Brothers and The Haas Sisters, 2017. Photography: Joe Kramm
If you don't know the wonderful world of The Haas Brothers, which perches anthropomorphically between art, craft and design, their new solo exhibition at The Bass will prove an entertaining, immersive introduction. Hailing from a family of creatives, LA-based twins Nikolai and Simon have been making things together since their early teens – an early work being ‘Pussy Foot’ slippers which they made aged 13 – but they established themselves as The Haas Brothers in 2010.
Represented by New York gallery R&Company, the pair regularly show at Design Miami, unleashing over recent years limited edition collections of hairy chaises, wild beaded chairs and fungi and liquid clay accretion vases – exploring themes of science and nature, sexuality, nostalgia and social equity. Wallpaper* caught up with them to hear how their imaginarium of monsters, beasts, flora and fauna has evolved, culminating in the solo show ‘Ferngully’.
Wallpaper*: Why is your show at The Bass named after the 1992 film FernGully?
Simon Haas: Niki and I were obsessed with that movie as kids. FernGully gave us the idea of a magical forest, and a lot of our aesthetic is based on that.
Nikolai Haas: These magical forests are a fantasy from our heads in which we create pseudo real-life situations, where we can explore thoughts and feelings. This show is about revisiting childhood, understanding ourselves, our place in the world and our relationship together as twins. The title is a way to diffuse the seriousness of the show. We always make dumb pop culture names, but really this exhibition is about diving inside ourselves and revisiting childhood.
W*: What can visitors expect to see?
S: A chronology of our career. There are pieces that have been seen before, borrowed from collectors, but a third of the show is brand new, which we are really excited about. It’s our first major public museum show, so we needed to show context and present the entirety of our flora and fauna to the public who may not know our work. New pieces include three palm trees constructed from copper bronze, with trunks made out of beeswax, parachute chord basketweaving and bunches of dates that are made from beadwork.
N: It will show the evolution of our career development. We create an archive of our feelings and thoughts at the time we built the pieces. You can feel where we started and where we ended physically in terms of the actual pieces, but also philosophically and intellectually.
"Three Headed Socrata’, brass hex sculpture floor lamp, by The Haas Brothers Photography: UTA Artist Space
‘Two Headed Socrata’, brass hex sculpture floor lamp, by The Haas Brothers. Photography: UTA Artist Space
W*: How do you feel your work developed since 2010?
S: Today we are very comfortable with the way we express ourselves and we do less editing from a creative standpoint and more editing just from having so much experience. The creatures used to only be furry and weren’t allowed to have a face, but now we’re showing creatures that have faces and we didn’t do that lightly. We reached a point where we felt we could put a face on it. We are comfortable with our identity now, so the pieces have more of an identity.
N: In the beginning we were considered fabricators, then designers, then high-end designers and now artists. Our motivations are different today; we used to want to make a beautiful chair and now we want to create something that makes somebody think differently, or feel a certain way or comments on society. Our motivations have become more abstract and less concrete and that’s a scary thing to switch into. We know who we are now and that circles back to ‘Ferngully’. We have two years of major self-exploration that we needed to go through, personally, but also in order to finish ‘Ferngully’ for The Bass.
S: In the movie an unlikely duo keeps a forest from getting bulldozed. We had that moment of crisis, where the forest was getting bulldozed and the two of us came together and united in our vision. We’ve always wanted to create things, and been on the same page, but there was a moment of real personal difficulty. As a result the new work is more meditative, more peaceful, more handworked and also more playful.
‘There is more spirituality in our work now than sexuality. Not a religiosity, but it is definitely a spiritual pursuit’
W*: Does humour around genitalia still continue in your new work?
S: Not as much. We’re less fixated on sexuality. Shame used to dominate my own experience of sex because I grew up gay in Texas. Shame is not part of my reality at this point. We’ve grown up, and its not that we’ve abandoned that, because we’re still really fascinated by it, but there is more spirituality in our work than sexuality. Not a religiosity, but it is definitely a spiritual pursuit.
"Cream of Some Fungi’, mushroom sculpture from Afreaks series, by The Haas Brothers and The Haas Sisters Photography: Joe Kramm
W*: Did The Haas Sisters from Cape Town, who created your Afreaks, produce the beadwork for your new pieces?
S: We took what we learned in South Africa with The Haas Sisters, and I’ve spent the last five years developing my own beading technique and taught a group of women in a farming community in central California how to do it. It’s amazing to see how the South African project has spawned this new generation of craft workers in California. That’s exciting to us.
N: Ultimately the potency of the community involvement is the artistic expression, right? The most recent works were made with the intention of supporting the community of women as best we could, that was the goal of the project. At the start of the show you’ll see furniture that was meant to be beautiful or humorous, but humour is uncomplicated, it’s not supporting a community and not doing it efficiently in the way that we figured out.
‘We’re developing our own Galapagos eco system. I’m on the plant side and Niki is on the animal personality side’
‘Tequila Sunrise’, Large Accretion, by The Haas Brothers. Photography: Joe Kramm
‘Father Accretion’, Large Accretion, by The Haas Brothers. Photography: Joe Kramm
W*: How did you choose that community?
S: We were introduced to them by the entrepreneur Lynda Resnick who works in the same town. She told us there was a vacuum for work for women, because most of it was farm labour work. We’re all a beadwork family, it reminds me of a quilting circle where everybody is talking and having a good time. I would love to set an example to any craftspeople that want to outsource things to bring it where work is needed, because it can make a big impact on a small-knit community.
W*: Have your working methods changed?
N: The focus is very much on labour now and hyper experimentation. Simon is an obsessive research and developer, the materials we are using now are all pretty much created, or interpreted by Simon.
S: Take the palm trees they take 30,000 knots to make, which no matter how quickly you tie a knot is a lot of work, many thousands of beads have to be strung together for one palm tree, so we’re using cheaper materials but the amount of labour is really outrageous. The people who are working on them are paid a decent wage, so the expense comes from there.
W*: Your creative journeys started with stone carving, which is quite unusual?
S: Our house was very creative. We started with the most difficult craft, so everything then since has felt simple. Dad was a stone carver, Niki was the youngest natural stone carver in the US. I did it but wasn’t so good. I was more into drawing pictures of Tori Amos and Bjork.
W*: LA is a big influence to you both, why?
S: We were born in LA, but grew up in Texas. LA has been really important to us our whole lives.
N:I always looked to LA as freedom, the place we could go and live my life the way I want to and be successful at it. I go home to Texas and get stupid comments about wearing Birkenstocks in a restaurant. When I’m here don’t even think about that. You’re in place where you can do whatever you want to do with a great mix of people being supportive, but also not really caring what you are up to. That’s LA.
‘Rita Chais-worthy’, grey Icelandic sheepskin, cast bronze, carved ebony horns beast lounge chair, by The Haas Brothers. Photography: Justin Corbett
W*: How do you work as a partnership?
S: We’re developing our own Galapagos eco system. I’m on the plant side and Niki is on the animal personality side. I test things obsessively and am fascinated by computer programming. I’m very fastidious. I could do beadwork for an entire week without leaving my house. I am the big nerd. Niki has an expression and freedom with his forms, which I can’t bring myself to do but I have patience with materials, so we use that to our advantage.
N: Simon starts from the tangible and tries to reach the intangible, and I’m starting from the intangible and trying to make it tangible. We’re meeting somewhere in the middle. Simon is trying to engineer a plan, starting with a bead and I am starting with something that was funny, like an emotion, and trying to figure out how to make it physical. Those things come together and we utilise each other’s facilities to finish it.
S: I’m looking for awe and Niki is looking for connection and empathy.
W*: Tell us about the film you are working on?
S: There are potentially two. A friend has also been documenting us for past six years and this will continue in Miami. So we are stockpiling what could become a documentary that spans our entire career, but don’t have definitive plans for that yet.
N: But there is also our cartoon, we haven’t finished it yet, and it’s too early to talk too much about it. The job of an artist on some level is to try to make a positive difference in the world as much as they possibly and to do it in a way that everyone can enjoy. Our market is a bit of a bubble, only a small percentage of people can afford or even get to interact with our work. The cartoon feels like something literally anyone can watch for free, whoever they are – whether in a tiny town or a big city. Our vision is to create something that’s available for everybody. §