Interview with Korban and Flaubert
Janos Korban and Stephanie Flaubert started in Germany more than two decades ago and have developed a successful studio based practice and life together in Sydney Australia.
Their output spans both design and sculpture and helps to sustain their practice in a way that leaves them in control and probably satisfying diverse creative needs. They follow in a line of successful artists or studio practices that span worlds of architecture, design and sculpture from Isamu Noguchi to Thomas Heatherwick, to name but two. Not everyone agrees in blurring the lines between disciplines but their prowess with metal is evident.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your journey to where you are now in your career?
Stefanie Flaubert: We started working together during an extended period in Stuttgart on the 1990s. I was working for Gunter Behnisch as an architect on some exciting complex projects and Janos was working as a modelmaker for a series of artists and exhibition designers. Janos started working for a specialist metal workshop and we began a series of quick weekend furniture projects. We ended up with an exhibition of experimental chaise longues in 1994. Then when we came back to Sydney in 1995 we set up a workshop and things just rolled on from there.
Janos Korban: We started making super simple small volumetric forms, some functional, some not, and gradually expanded the scale of things until the first sculpture commissions started coming in from architects from 2001.
SF: so we now move between small and larger projects, from product to site specific sculpture work. Mostly commissioned within architectural projects.
Q. Your work spans a number of disciplines from design and production to sculpture and installations. Does one feed another or do you view them as separate?
JK: It feels like it’s all one thing. Or a series of connected things. Just the scale varies from project to project and so the kind of experience varies too.
SF: We work through related themes in all of our pieces, they just emerge in different ways. We look at energy and motion. Tracking lines, fast or slow, suggesting stretching flatness but also volume. This applies only to our sculpture work but energy and motion are in our products too. The screens explore rhythm and repetition, the simple furniture pieces look at distilled natural volumetric growth.
JK: so maybe it all feels as if it’s coming from one idea, connected at some point in the process, but diverges.
SF: One notable exception is our new chair: absolute chair. We approached this piece in a consciously less abstract way. Chairs have the weight of history within them. We wanted to acknowledge the rich history of chairs and make something rather like a reduced ur-chair but as a crafted artefact. But then the material has a major impact too, we could see it in a highly polished aluminium so it became something of a formed machine age artefact.
JK: and let’s face it The product side does tend to pay the rent more consistently…so one side certainly feeds the other in that sense! This is a different kind of survival setup from other sculptors who do not entirely support themselves through their sculpture. It has been a good model for us, but we are aware it is unusual. It has enabled us to maintain our fierce independence but we may be at the point where we should try and get some representation.
Q. Do you perceive yourself as catering for very different audiences when you produce sculptural work as opposed to a designed piece that requires function?
JK: We don’t really start off with function in mind…even for the pieces that end up as functional.
SF: A lot of the time we don’t think about the audience much at all, we don’t think about the end product. We just go and explore and see what comes out of it.
JK: But that said…our pieces often end up in quite different locations with different audiences.
SF: In between we tend to work with architects and interior designers on most projects so they are the common factors. The first layer of audience.
Q. Working as a partnership do you fit into specific roles in your day-to-day practice or is your working relationship more fluid or perhaps egalitarian?
SF: I tend to work more directly with clients and concept direction, then we both make models and develop the forms and ultimately Janos forms, welds and polishes the pieces. We have a model-making studio upstairs and a good sized metal workshop downstairs so there is some fluidity and also some autonomy. We have very different skills but merge somewhere in the middle.
Q. Metal predominates your sculptural work, with light and other materials playing a peripheral role. What’s the importance of using metal as a primary resource given it’s seemingly restrictive nature?
JK: I don’t really understand the question. What is restrictive about metal? It’s one of the bases of modern civilisation! You can’t have mass transportation…refrigeration…communications…electronics without metal. Everything is either made of it or it needs metal to make it. Even carbon fibre products need metal tooling.
SF: Maybe you mean restrictive because it isn’t easy to work with? We like the challenge of metal. It’s ductile and elastic. And we like to work with it in such a way that the tensions and fluidity of the metal play a major part in determining the forms. Janos has worked with metal as a full time obsession for nearly 25 years. We like the idea of taking something that started as dirt and turning it into something exciting and valuable. It is treasure from the earth.
Q. What has been the high point of your partnership so far?
SF: It’s hard to say…we’ve been together since 1986…working together since 1993…it’s a long time! I don’t think one single significant high point is obvious…but each time we have some kind of breakthrough with the form and material we get some kind of sense of achievement. If it opens up a new direction it feels like we are getting somewhere.
JK: We have had exhibitions in places like new York which have had some excitement and hype around them, that’s all good fun but quite different to the anticipation that you might be moving into good new territory to explore…