Photo: Wendy Goodman
Micha KahnThe Sunset Park studio sits next to a large network of transformers in a still heavily industrial squat area of the town it moved to two years ago from Bushwick. A broker “showed me a bunch of cool spaces and then said he’d show me some kind of curve ball, but it was really cheap,” he says. There’s no AT&T mobile service inside, so I had to knock hard to get his attention and let me in.
Kahn has spent much of the pandemic “at his house in Minnesota, on my parents’ bridge, losing his mind,” he says. So rehabilitating the new space was something to throw yourself into. He opened bricked-up windows, repaired broken doors and took out 20,000 pounds of trash. “I think something nefarious happened here,” he said, laughing at the dire state he was in. But he also took the time to experiment with new technologies that were helpful in both designing and executing his ideas.
Kahn graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011 and was featured in the Museum of Arts and Design biennial in 2014. The following year he collaborated with Gone Rural, a group of women weavers and based in Eswatini, for a show. , “Scrappy”. His 2017 exhibition at Friedman Benda“Midden Heap”, was a spooky voyage of design objects, incorporating detritus washed up on the shores of Rockaway beaches – including, in one memorable case, a toilet seat washed up by the sea.
Currently, his works include glass tondi: circular sculptures he calls “portals”. It also works a lot with clay and has very extravagant and comfortable padded parts.
Kahn’s work is no longer completely handmade – at least by human hands. I encountered a giant dinosaur-like assistant robot that had its own room, surrounded by mounds of fine, sand-colored sawdust shavings. “It’s the #1 robot,” he says of the machine ready for action. “I have a second one who works around the clock in German painting. It’s a bit like the sculpture room.
The machine accelerated the execution of Kahn’s designs. “It made the process very smooth,” he says. “I can draw something and then he carves it.”
This process lays the foundation for the bigger pieces. “I created the shape digitally,” he says, and the robot milled it, “but there’s obviously the ceramic process done with the fingers.” The human touch is always essential.
The robot was acquired from a “used robot conglomerate” and, according to Kahn, could have been used in something like a car factory. “We’re reprogramming it to do a lot of stuff, which has been like a crazy new adventure,” he says. “I feel like the studio is now half and half – some people are really IT, and some people are really tactile, and I think that’s a good mix.”
We then move into a room with a sunken dining and work area, with a large window overlooking the transformer maze.
Kahn manufactures another version of the sofa in Italy. “It’s a tour de force,” he said. “It’s kind of the opposite of that. This one is so practical, and the one in Italy is done entirely on a computer… Everything fits together without any hardware.
He then covers the rooms telling me that they discovered that a possum likes to come at night for a comfortable place to lie down. “We had a studio couch here,” he told me, “and [the possum] always came home and slept in the same place; you could see the dent he made. How did he know it was a possum? “We saw it on the security camera!” he said laughing.
As we head up the stairs to the second floor, you can hear the mechanical hum and rattle of machines talking to each other – and, of course, once up there are 15 3D printers spinning in a language of own them. “They’re busy making parts for chair legs,” Kahn explains. “You need talented people and talented machines.”
Beyond this room is Kahn’s office with his bulletin board and treasure trove of objects as well as drawings and samples of the 24 new pieces he is making for Art Basel, which opens June 14. The exhibition at Friedman Benda opens on June 2. time,” he says with a big smile. “And then I start planting seeds again.”
Photo: Wendy Goodman
Photo: Wendy Goodman
“Style Without Substance” is playing at Friedman Benda from June 2 to July 1.