Creative flow: Max Mara, Kerstin Brätsch and the United Brothers’ volcanic collaboration

Creative flow: Max Mara, Kerstin Brätsch and the United Brothers’ volcanic collaboration

What can a pair of sunglasses have to say about our relationship with crisis and anxiety? According to the artists behind Max Mara and the Safilo Group’s latest eyewear collaboration, quite a lot.

This year marks the third time the brand has teamed up with artists in this way. Last year, it collaborated with Shantell Martin on a pair of doodle-inspired black and white frames. For 2018, the painter Kerstin Brätsch and the United Brothers collective, founded by performance artist Ei Arakawa, and his brother Tomoo Arakawa, who runs tanning salons in Fukushima, collaborated on Lavaprisms, a limited-edition pair of sunglasses inspired by lava and the very ground underneath our feet.

Global volcanic sites inspird Max Mara’s latest optical collaboration with Kerstin Brätsch and the United Brothers collective

The trio first began working together in 2011, after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster. ‘Out of crisis in Fukushima, our original idea was to bring this idea of abstract anxiety, something invisible, such as nuclear energy, into our artistic work,’ explains Brätsch. ‘When we first collaborated, not only did we work with the artificial light of Tomoo’s tanning salon space, we also worked with the idea of incorporating sunlight into our artworks. I created glass works, for example, which we brought up Mount Fuji, the highest point in Japan. With that in the back of our mind, when Max Mara approached and [curator and former Venice Biennale director] Francesco Bonami suggested us – I thought our collaboration with United Brothers was the perfect fit. It deals with the same content: sunlight.’

The trio then visited volcanic sites around the world to get a closer look at lava, as a starting point for how the sunglasses might look and feel. They were struck by how the magma at the centre of the earth also connected these disparate locations across the globe. Brätsch explains the concept further. ’The idea [was] that the earth’s core is magma, and at different places in the earth, volcanoes exist. Then lava, even if it’s not erupting all the time, is connecting geographically different places in the earth.’

‘Our beginning point was the Fukushima disaster,’ says Ei Arakawa. ‘And that happened because of the earthquake, but also because of human fascination with this artificial energy, nuclear power. So somehow from there we thought, “Lava can be interesting, if it connects different contexts.” We wanted to incorporate that into the design of the glasses as well.’

The design, which launches today with a performative installation in the Galleria Giò Marconi at Salone del Mobile, walks the line between pure concept and actual wearability. There’s a nod to sci-fi and an almost retro idea of the future in the broad rimless lens and the goggle-like flat top that joins the lenses together. The influence from magma can be found along the temples, where soft rubber is coated with a natural stone coating not unlike the igneous rocks that surround those volcanic sites. The sunglasses, then, are essentially a mediation, as Ei Arakawa explains, between sunlight and eye. Overall, the result feels similar to the character of the ongoing collaboration between United Brothers and Brätsch: an intricate, considered process of bringing one kind of art into another context, shedding some light on form itself along the way.

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