Familiar Places With Rosie Li

Brooklyn based artists like Rosie Li compete in global industrial markets through making intimate and thoughtful handmade objects setting the tone for a more relational product. We sat down with Rosie in her studio to discuss about plants, design and familiar places. 

*Interview has been transcribed and edited

My mother wasn't a great gardener but this connection with plants has always been something that I have been interested in. It's a little bit about systemizing natural chaos, lending order to organic systems. I grew up in Arizona and California, the desert is my happy place, so I wanted to replicate a little bit of that in my studio. I figured out how to do it from a flat copper piece hammered into grooves, and I love them.

There has always been this proliferation of media; everybody sees the same things. It is like a global trend in design that's happening. You can go somewhere in South America, and it looks like a cafe in Tokyo that’s just like a slice of Brooklyn. All these places start to seem very very similar, and we feel like it is not enough to jump on this aesthetic trend. However, instead make things that are more critical to things that are true to you, and things that add to the current conversation rather than what creates more of the same. 

I believe my work has a contrast between these soft-rounded shapes and solid machined objects. These are cut with the C.N.C. which is entirely machine. The curves were all drawn by hand. It has this dichotomy that I think plays well with my work. What I do in our studio is again marrying hand with the machine. There’s a lot of hand-drawn elements that we work with getting placed on to this very crisp, exact framework. So again, I think that that is something that has resonated with many people just because it exists between minimalism and maximalism.

Maximalism being like more is more – putting it all into one space. This has been a little bit like ‘this is what luxury is; being able to get the most detailed artisan pieces that money can buy without getting myself into trouble like we should question that. What is like hand labor versus machine labor. What is the philosophy behind these design objects? Is it made for purely aesthetic reasons? Are we okay with that? Because we are starting to become very conscious consumers and I think it is because of the advent of Amazon, you know, you see it, and you are like, oh, it looks nice. It ticks off these checks on the right boxes, but do you have an attachment to these things? Do you need to have an attachment to these things? And I think by putting work together that doesn't entirely exist in the realm of design or the realm of art, we are starting to have this conversation about critical thinking and design. 

There's been a super, fantastical element to some of these works that I create and I find that if you can jostle someone out of what they are expecting, that is when you can get through to them - something that is hard to wrap your mind around at first glance. I think that is what hooks you in. As an artist or a designer working in a studio, you have many choices to make, and those choices govern how you run your business, and how you interact with other vendors. Also, if you do have a choice, you can choose to re-envision. You can take your business and use it as a vehicle for promotion. Cross-pollination and collaboration for all these sorts of things that we had not considered because corporations are just opaque, but now we see that we can choose how to run our business and what proposals to take on to your practice. I think that being able to touch all these different categories makes you a more well-rounded person and helps with the critical thinking aspect of what we are trying to push.

What do I imagine happening to these pieces once they exist in someone's home or another space?  I hope that they give something back to the user. It is a lot of work. However, once you are finished you get a massive sense of accomplishment that every single hole is filled, and very rigorous detail is in order. I hope the sense of calmness can bring a sense of peace and resolution to the person who has it in their own space, and I think this is an opportunity to give a description of intention that goes beyond what someone interprets themselves.

These are passion projects for us, you know. We do not expect to make tens of thousands. We do this because we believe in the process of figuring all these details of engineering. People do not understand that someone is thinking about every little detail. How does it get assembled? How does it get installed? How does a YouTube user interface with it?  These are all things that go into making a product. People still think that I have piles of lights in a warehouse that are waiting to be shipped out. Not knowing all these things get made one-by-one by humans - we need to bring back that level of understanding and hopefully my work is a step in that direction.

“There has always been this proliferation of media; everybody sees the same things. It is like a global trend in design that's happening. You can go somewhere in South America, and it looks like a cafe in Tokyo that’s just like a slice of Brooklyn. All these places start to seem very very similar, and we feel like it is not enough to jump on this aesthetic trend. However, instead make things that are more critical to things that are true to you, and things that add to the current conversation rather than what creates more of the same.”

“There's been a super, fantastical element to some of these works that I create and I find that if you can jostle someone out of what they are expecting, that is when you can get through to them - something that is hard to wrap your mind around at first glance. I think that is what hooks you in.”

Rosie Li is a Chinese-born American designer focusing on sculptural lighting, where she blends geometric forms with organic elements.  Her works challenge visual perception and blur the lines between product and sculpture. Rosie Li currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Text and Images by Justin Ryan Kim

*Interview has been transcribed and edited