Like small poltergeists
Apr 16, 2012
Painted by hand, photo © Meiré and Meiré

Designer Mike Meiré enjoys an international reputation for his editorial design and work for premium brands. With "brand eins" he crafted a new look for business magazines, "032c", "Kid's wear" and "Garage" set new standards in magazine design. Since the end of 2011 the German version of "Interview", Andy Warhol's 'people' magazine has numbered amongst Meiré's achievements. For many years the 47-year old has been developing the communication for Dornbracht; he works for Mini, Sahco, Bulthaup, Siedle, Vorwerk and other leading brands. For the Salone del Mobile he designed the booth of Finnish furniture maker Artek – and produced a colorful look for six stools by Alvar Aalto – almost casually. Jörg Zimmermann interviewed Mike Meire in the "Factory".

Jörg Zimmermann: Mike, you are currently working in the Factory on the magazine Interview ...

Mike Meiré: The spirits that I have called...

Was it inevitable when the hall was renamed "Factory" that you should do "Interview"?

Meiré: (laughs) Self-fulfilling prophecy. I had to laugh when Jörg Koch, the editor-in-chief asked me. And I was absolutely delighted. Tim Giesen and I had the concept for the magazine done in just two days. In my mind, I grew up with Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol. Every single one of my pores oozes Pop and Warhol. There are so many facets to Warhol, he was intellectual, yet people often accused him of being superficial.

Editorial design is not our topic today. You designed the fair booth for Artek and then set your sights on the famous "60" stool by Aalto. How did your collaboration with Artek come about?

Meiré: 2007 I did the farm project in Miami for Dornbracht. You could say Artek with the pavilion by Shigeru Ban was virtually our neighbor. I met Ville Kokkonen and we thought about doing a joint project. Two years ago we had a workshop but due to restructuring measures at Artek the results did not get realized. Then last December I was asked if I would do the new fair booth for Salone. And on top of that I "customized" six stools by Alvar Aalto.

How come you decided to tackle a design icon? After all, Aalto produced the stool back in the 1930s and it is still produced the same today.

Meiré: It is just so fitting at the moment. On the one hand people want things that are sustainable and classic, while on the other they mull over the question of what is new. That is the ambivalent situation we operate in. You try to sidestep this neurotic development but then you feel the need to be in on the act when the next hot level shit comes along.

There is something charming about the products by Artek. The creations by these Finnish designers are real classics with that Nordic quality. Artek has the claim "Buy now, keep forever". That says that you allow yourself to invest in something, and that zeitgeist is not central to design, it is not as hysterical so it meets the requirement of being sustainable. Yet simultaneously the designs are so restrained that you as user and owner can be just as you are. Which is why I found the "customized" idea so appealing.

Last year I had the opportunity to adapt the "b3"for Bulthaup. That was also "tailor made" but with extremely exclusive materials. The brief was to show that classic items prove their worth anew by being given a contemporary interpretation. Classic products must repeatedly face this question of transformation.

What does that mean exactly?

Meiré: I looked at the stools and because I was painting at the time or rather paint with the help of my artistic assistant Bela Jansen it seemed only logical – to simply paint the stools or have them painted. This is connected with the question of how can I infuse luxury products with a high degree of individuality. With Bulthaup the vehicle was perfection, here with Artek the motivation was more the charming aspect, to make something really personal, to take a brush and paint.

Even the fair booth for Artek comes across this year somewhat differently than usual.

Meiré: Previously Artek often had this museum touch to its product presentations to make it clear that they are historical design classics. But optimism is the thing in the fashion industry right now; everywhere you look you see this opulent coloring. Another reason why I wanted to lure Artek out of this seemingly safe black-white-gray niche. The logo crops up in color, and there are markings that remind you of sports courts.

So why did you opt for the stool?

Meiré: I found it interesting to take a stool, a product there is nothing special about at first sight. In my Grid Paintings I already developed an individual color climate. Taking that as a starting point I painted every side of the stool with a different color. Now when you walk around the stool, a different impression, a different climate is evoked. If I now - metaphorically speaking - take the stool down from its design icon pedestal, and imagine that it accompanies me through my day and we know that our emotions are different in the morning, midday and evening then it would be nice to have a stool that we can turn a little every hour so that it reveals a different facet.

So is what you have done with the stool appropriation or a wanton act?

Meiré: I suppose primarily it is appropriation, but in no way is it wanton. To my mind, it is an homage to Alvar Aalto. The stool is not going to be mass produced as a painted object. And it is a piece of zeitgeist, my interpretation. Zeitgeist is always an indication that we continue to move, as I see it. At the moment color moves the zeitgeist, and such a colorful and painted item of furniture is sure to grab attention. It might inspire some people to deal with things differently. To see things afresh or give a personal reinterpretation to products stored in the attic or cellar.

Bearing this in mind, can or should there be new products at all – not based on such interpretations?

Meiré: Well, I am not a product designer, but I believe that say Konstantin Grcic is capable of creating new things. However, a lot depends on the companies you work with. And the question is how do we define new. Artek is more than a brand, after all, and more an institution. The Finns around Alvar Aalto were visionary and had more soul than the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was very ambitious but actually the furniture was too perfect, too cold. The idea behind this new furniture did not work in practice.

Do not people also come to you because they are seeking inspiration?

Meiré: In the past I did a few things, which were taken up and received positive feedback. That gives me a sense of security. But I am not really interested in setting trends. I do try to remain authentic in what I am doing. That might mean doing things that are not exactly "hip". What I am doing here is something I feel right now and so I find it acceptable. The playful, optimistic component must not be missing. Artek has even documented this courage to experiment in its manifesto.

Let me put the question differently: Where is the journey leading you?

Meiré: The next thing for me is daring to use color, and humor, to have a twinkle. We have been working for a few months for Kenzo. My contacts there are Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, who set up the "open ceremony" platform and are now to completely re-think Kenzo. Humor is really important for them. Sometimes you aim for humor and end up with a joke. There is a danger of that happening. And then the question: Is it permissible to still allow the new, or to allow it again? Can we afford to abandon a certain color and formal canon? I find these questions fascinating right now.

Does not every designer have a personal reference frame?

Meiré: I never thought that I have a style in editorial design. But with the large number of different magazines, the high volumes we produce I realized that I do have my own handwriting. There are certain systems governing how I handle images and texts. That is becoming clearer and clearer. For example, I have a certain preference for off colors. Looking at the colors of the stools today I can see a color climate like the one I used for Econy (Editors' note: the predecessor of brand eins).

Or when you look at images on a contact sheet, you are quick to detect the perfect one. I often choose the one right next to it. Through this deviation from the perfect image, the perfect moment, which is not the perfect moment at all a kind of aesthetic predetermined breaking point is created. When we first looked at the stool as a computer model we had the feeling that the design equally contains both the beautiful and the ugly.

The same goes for art. Isa Genzken once wrote in a headline in Artforum: "When everything becomes equal." That is put brilliantly and has stuck in my mind for years. When you are working with materials plastic is equal to chrome.

Beauty is not for me the mainstream idea of the golden section. When things are only perfectly beautiful it gets boring. Which brings me to the question we discussed during the Dornbracht Conversations: What is ordinary or extraordinary? Is it a chair by Jasper Morrison or Lady Gaga? Which is why the stools are to my mind a bit like small poltergeists.

Painted by hand, photo © Meiré and Meiré
Legs of the stool “60“ by Alvar Aalto, photo © Meiré and Meiré
Crime or successful acquisition? photo © Meiré and Meiré
Ambivalence between sustainability and timeless, photo © Meiré and Meiré
Artek claims “Buy now, keep forever“, photo © Meiré and Meiré
Currently color is in favor, photo © Meiré and Meiré
Design-sketches, graphics © Meiré and Meiré
Six stool by Alvar Aalto quasi „customized“, photo © Meiré and Meiré
Mike Meiré, photo © Tim Giesen
Artek in Milan 2012