This Friday, among the plethora of white-gallery shows opening in Lower Manhattan, an old metal shop originally meant for rolling noodles will creak to life on Ludlow Street once more. Only this time, instead of noodles, there will be painstakingly crafted patterns, lines, vectors, and collages.
Yes, this odd little space will be the location for Obsessive Tendencies, a exhibition of new graphic design work by multidisciplinary designers Claudine Eriksson, Andrea Johansson, and Darcy Moore. The opening reception will also act as a launch event for the trio’s new collective, 3xStudio. It will be hosted by Solie, singer and curator of Den Entertainment, who is also assisting the collective in producing the show. True to the “3” in the collective’s name, they will be showing three works each.
Amidst the stress of their impending show, the Obsessive Tendencies team sat down with me at the colorful Crosby Street Hotel’s dining room for coffee and a brief respite from all the madness. They’re a little stressed about installing the works, since it’s not a typical gallery space. The walls are all metal, so they’ve chosen to hang the pieces using magnets. The 36 Ludlow space, which one of the girls described as ”the epitome of urban raw,” was a bit of a happy accident. While on the ever-mysterious hunt for a venue, Andrea heard of an odd space that a friend of a friend had for reasons unbeknownst to her. Though they were initially only scoping out more traditional spaces, they checked it out, and were immediately interested.
However, they aren’t just focusing their efforts on displaying works, but are striving to create a full experience that will engage more than the typical art world patron. The evening will also feature live “obsessive music” by Elias Meister and bartending (beer and cider, no little cups of wine here) by a woman who creates her own costumes. Every element of the event has been carefully crafted by Solie and the 3xStudio collective: Claudine and Andrea are Swedish, and to honor that the team has partnered with a Swedish cider and will be wearing clothing from Galore Groupe, a friend’s showroom that specializes in Swedish brands.
It’s a bit of a unique venture, as exhibitions featuring design work are relatively rare. Solie says that was part of why she wanted to pursue this show. “Design is so broad,” Claudine tells me. “There’s not always a platform to show this type of work, so if there’s no platform, we have to act as the curator. Why not? We decide the location, we decide who we collaborate with, we decide the music, who the sponsors are. It’s ten times as much work, but you have full control.”
“It’s really exciting to me because whenever I hear about a gallery opening down in Chinatown or LES, it’s always art,” says Darcy. “So I’m just proud that it’s a design show, because we’re obviously committed designers. I would feel confident that the three of us could take on a pretty heavy project and execute it really well, because we’re all skilled in different ways.” Each member of 3xStudio identifies as a graphic designer foremost, but with variations: Claudine also works in film and art direction, Andrea is more interested in illustration, and Darcy is drawn to vectors and patterns and works in digital product design during the day.
The trio met while in school at Parsons, where they connected creatively. Years later, they decided to take all the times they’d spoken about working together and actually do something. Thus, 3xStudio was born. “We’re all doing the same thing, we’re all graphic designers, but [Claudine and Darcy are] good at stuff I’m not good at,” says Andrea. “That’s the perfect way to have a collaborator. For me, it feels a little bit like being back in school. Because you have to reflect and look at your work in another way.”
Obsessive Tendencies sprung from the trio’s sensibilities as well as the field of design itself. “There’s definitely an obsessive factor in all our works, and in the design industry in general. So this form of repetition and obsessing over the smallest details, and being really detail-oriented are things that come through, even if aesthetically they can look different,” says Claudine. The musician selected for the show also falls into this obsessive, repetition-laden form. “He loops guitar—and it will have the same sensibility as the works that we’re showing, which is repetition, rhythm and movement that builds upon itself and becomes one thing, one gestalt.”
“It definitely comes through in typography, in pattern making, in overall design, when it comes down to what kind of of paper stock, how you build something,” Andrea says. “I’m doing a line drawing illustration which is also based on repetition, visual rhythm and negative space. It goes well with obsession in general, and how it can be something beautiful. Especially if you look at it in the design world, it’s a drive. Whereas outside the art or design world, it’s something more negative.”
The works in particular exemplify this attention to detail. Darcy’s pieces feature complex vector forms, detailed gradients and tiny shapes. Claudine tells me she’s most drawn to projects that are both mentally and physically time-consuming; her collages feature nearly 100 photos from shoots she art directed (which she narrowed down from 600) and cut out and assembled by hand. Andrea, who utilizes an illustration style for her pieces she has been developing for years, is infatuated with negative space, saying she could focus for hours on the most minuscule of details.
Not only are they all graphic designers, but everyone on the team is female. There’s historically always been a skewed ratio of men to women represented in the art world, but the graphic design world is especially interesting. There are typically far more women than men in design schools, but when it comes to who is actually getting jobs, the same old patriarchy still manages to prevail.
“Most of my teachers have been men. In the work industry, there’s just more focus on men than women,” Claudine says. “But there are so many talented female designers out there, too. Their voice isn’t as heard as men’s are. And I’m not sure why. I think it’s just reflecting how the world is set up, unfortunately. But that’s also why we’re doing this.” Solie has often produced female-fronted events, and has taken steps to also procure a female bartender, event photographer, and so on.
She’s also upfront with her qualms about being a woman in a leadership position. “Sometimes before I write, I take a step back and make sure that people won’t perceive it as being aggressive as a woman. I feel like, as a man, I wouldn’t have to have that double checkpoint. But I do. Especially as a black woman.”
However, the women agree that graphic design is typically more portfolio-based than focused on the identity of the creator, which is usually beneficial for designers. “At the end of the day it comes down to technique and skill,” says Darcy. Which is why I’m so proud of this too. We’re showing we can make this stuff.”
“I think gender should only be celebrated, not separate us.” says Claudine.
Similar to this show, the women of 3xStudio seem very interested in bringing on additional collaborators rather than staying insular. “We’re really open, the three of us, to having other people work with us in general. Like Solie, for example,” says Darcy. “It’s not a cliquey exclusive thing. Yes, it has our names on it, but we’re so open to other people working with us and teaching us.”
“What’s amazing is that so many people have no idea what to expect from the show, and they’re still excited. Just reading the amount of response that I’ve gotten from people that don’t come to shows, haven’t come to a party in ages, and all of the sudden are coming to this,” says Solie, with pride. “A reactivation of people.”
The opening reception of ‘Obsessive Tendencies’ begins at 7pm on Friday, December 11 at 36 Ludlow Street, Lower East Side. The exhibition is on view until December 12.