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Paris Design Week 2021: Meet Isabel + Helen

This Paris Design Week, London-based design duo Isabel + Helen transforms our Rue du Bac store with its enthralling 'Cocoon' installation: a live display of 12 wooden stools wrapped in coloured strings by a rotating device. Meet its makers to discover more about their beginnings, inspiration, and next steps.

1. How did you meet? 

We met whilst studying at the Chelsea College of Art, since graduating in 2012 we began collaborating on projects that highlighted our shared love of analogue design processes and understated kinetics.

2. How would you define yourselves as artists? 

Our work is underpinned by our ongoing exploration of movement, materials and mechanisms, as we seek to simplify often complex ideas and ambitions, translating them into something more readable and relatable. Informed by our experimental approach ideas often come about through making, where the execution is often stripped back and direct in aesthetic. Our work often lies on the intersection of art and design.

3. Are there any designers that have inspired you along the way? 

Bruno Munari: His multi-disciplinary approach from sculptor and designer through to inventor and teacher.

Fischli/Weiss: Their raw and honest aesthetic and apparently ad-hoc experiments.

Charles and Ray Eames: Their playful and graphic communication of ideas.

4. How was your Cocoon concept created?

The cocoon machine came about during lockdown last year, whilst experimenting with different wrapping and weaving techniques mimicking nature.

We were drawn to the repetitive and mesmerising action, as each individual thread travels on its own path restricted by the width of its spool.

Beginning with an empty skeletal framework, that slowly becomes consumed by the machine’s wrap; a revelatory moment where 1000 meters of threads come together. Once the machine is turned on we the artists become spectators… transfixed as each stool begins to take shape and reveal itself.

Nowadays we’re surrounded by mass-produced and fully formed objects, we give very little thought to how these things are made. This installation taps into something innate in humans, our brains naturally want to question things and see the inner workings.

5. What represents The Conran Shop for you? If you could pick one thing from The Conran Shop, which one would it be and why?

For us, The Conran Shop has always represented a playful and accessible approach to design. Its bold use of colour within the stores works so well as a contemporary backdrop for showcasing the design classics. We love this juxtaposition of old meets new. Our favourites are Isamu Noguchi's Akari Lighting Sculptures, the Hang It All by the Eameses, and the F41E Breuer-Couch by Marcel Breuer, perfect for sunny days in our studio garden.

6. What do you hope the future might hold for you? What is your next project?

More experiments….more contraptions….more collaborations…. more exhibitions.…

Unfortunately, Paris Design Week is now over, but be sure to follow Isabel + Helen on Instagram to see what new heights they scale.

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