‘As long as you think it could work and that anyone would be interested.’ was the affirmative reply I received from Lucy Upward, Editor of COVER Magazine, when asked if she would be willing to be interviewed as part of my series ‘Over Coffee’. ‘We’ll do it over afternoon coffee at Jan Kath‘s during ‘A Family Affair’ I replied, ‘I think it has the potential to be quite interesting. It will be a fun exploration of our thoughts, handfulls of people will find it enjoyable. Handfulls!!’ I concluded. ‘Handfuls. At least ten (10)… .’ Lucy replied.
And so it was decided that we would sit down and chat while Lucy and I were both in attendance at the second annual ‘A Family Affair’, graciously hosted by Jan Kath, his eponymous firm, and the extended and diverse global Jan Kath family – in both the literal and figurative sense. As we then sorted the details of our arrivals and coordinated a time to meet, I began to think of what exactly do two (2) people whose line of work involves discussion of carpets talk about. Well ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present: Lucy Upward, Editor of COVER Magazine.
Location: Jan Kath Headquarters, Friederikastraße 148, Bochum, Germany.
Time and Date: 3:00 PM (15:00) local time, Thursday, 12 January 2017
Note Bene: Ars gratia artis.
The Ruggist (MC): Thanks for agreeing to sit down for this Lucy. It’s lovely to see you again by the way, especially in such sublime surroundings with all these great carpets. I’m loving the ‘Erased Heritage’ World Map, though I did notice Europe and Asia aren’t differentiated… .
Lucy Upward (LU): Well it’s good to see you too, Michael, surrounded by beautiful rugs again and enjoying our caffeinated beverages.
MC: Let’s start off big picture with a question that has been intriguing me a lot recently: How much hand do we need in handmade? What objects, in a broad sense, and what elements of a carpet in a narrow manner, are we to insist have an element of the hand?
LU: A discerning portion of public is getting more of a taste for handmade goods as they try to escape the monotony of the mass market but not everyone can afford to buy handmade. It comes down to cost, if you are paying for handmade you want to see hand marks and have photographic evidence that it wasn’t produced in bulk in China. But I guess I am just in my bubble and this is a small percentage of people in a world that only cares about the colour of something, the cost, and if the kids can break it. Handmade is a bit of a trend right now. But in terms of rugs, I think you either appreciate what a handmade rug can give you or you don’t.
MC: When I started selling rugs in [mumbles year] I had zero appreciation for handmade and at first was completely in the dark differentiating quality, and of course had no appreciation of value either. Then I saw the modernist work of Odegard and to a lesser extent Tufenkian and something just clicked. My appreciation for traditional Persian styled carpets on the other hand is reasonably newfound. Thanks in part to work like Kath’s bringing traditional Persian elements and construction into the modern sphere. I said modern but perhaps I should have said ‘making it contemporaneous.’ Of course, who knows what we’ll see in another twenty-one (21) years.
LU: When I started working at HALI in [mumbles year also], before COVER started, I knew nothing about rugs but I was immersed in the world of antique carpets. It took some time but after a while I was able to recognize what a great rug looks like. We used to have a few pages in HALI dedicated to modern production. Can you imagine that? I now struggle to keep COVER to less than 130 pages. So when we started with COVER I found it strange to be transported into the world of modern production and it took some time for me to appreciate that it’s basically the same art. I did a fine art painting degree so the contemporary designs fed much more into my field of interest. I appreciated good colour and design but I wanted to find rugs that had a soul like their antique relations. What is available in modern production has changed dramatically over the last ten (10) years. There are so many inspiring rugs that reference all sorts of traditions, art movements and concepts. Rug design seems to be moving forward with its own momentum.
MC: So, everything is built on the past, and there is nothing new? What about trends? They seem to have cycles, colour especially. ‘Beige is dead, long live grey. Grey is dead, long live colour!!’ Rinse and repeat. I’ve come to terms with the fact that design and fashion industries love trends as a way to increase sales by making the just prior ‘best thing ever’ now somehow passé, but I deplore them as they tend to create homogeny and actually drown out individuality. We’ve (as an industry) created this great machine of customization and individualization yet to look at an average shelter publication all one sees is… …well boring repetitive interiors. Perhaps it is us in bubble as you said, though to be fair the customer did get to pick the exact shade of whatever colour is hot this year thanks to Pantone and the media, ourselves included.
LU: In high-end handmade rugs the best stuff is new and original. And then other companies seem to follow that, which creates a ‘kind of’ trend. We are currently in a transitional vortex, unable to get out but generally I think rug trends move onwards and upwards (my mother always said I should find a Mr. Onward). Clever designs reference traditional elements but add something innovative. We can’t all be crazy maverick creatives and outside of how rug design is developing in a long term there are interior trends which have a bearing on what most companies can sell. I do trend pages in COVER based on things I observe but in a way a short-term trend is a bit irrelevant to a rug that can take up to six months to make. I like grey but I don’t like being told I have to like grey. It’s sad to see so many interiors looking the same. Why not take a risk and buy something that excites you? People are looking at the wrong magazines to be influenced! What rugs do you have at home Michael?
MC: ‘Do as we do, but do not copy!’ a new publication brought to you by the Editor of COVER and The Ruggist. It will sell tens of copies. Tens! Probably to those same ten (10) readers of this article… . But to answer your question and reveal my heavy bias I own a budding collection of room sized Odegard carpets, one custom Nova Scotia Tartan made by Lapchi (an homage to the first place I lived in Canada), and a 5×7 tiger carpet also made by Odegard. At this moment, the latter is of most interest to me intellectually as it is a research and development carpet so the quality – referencing the technique – is unique, not yet production ready. It’s actually the first carpet I acquired simply to collect and it heavily influenced both my Tiger Rug article last year (now also readable in the Spring 2017 Issue of Rug Insider) and the NYICS review I wrote for HALI. The idea of personally collecting carpets is new to me, as until recently I had not viewed the modern aesthetic mature enough, but some twenty-five to thirty (25-30) years in I think it is as good as time as any to start.
MC (continuing): I call two (2) of the room sized ‘classics’ as they are early decorative (or commercial if you rather) Tibetan weave Nepali carpets; super low knot count. The other is a 100 knot of like origin of course, handspun, handcarded et cetera, a bit more au courant, but the ‘classics’ are dated (or is that datable?) and definitely not en vogue at the moment owing to fact some are pushing twenty (20) years in age and aesthetic. I bought them as you suggest, because I loved them. Sure I might desire something more ‘in the now’ but if I am to lambaste trends, I need to act accordingly. Coming back to trends and cycles, are we doing a disservice by talking trends with products capable of lasting far beyond any one (1) trend cycle? Furthermore, take a Jan Kath piece: Would you buy a used Jan Kath even if it was outmoded? Maybe outmoded isn’t right given his use of classical elements. How about ‘…no longer in fashion?’, perhaps something of his circa 2005?
LU: I would be buying it because I loved it as a piece of art so how it fits into fashion is pretty much immaterial. I have a list of about twenty (20) or so rugs I have seen and really coveted over the last ten (10) years. I think I still love them all now but maybe if I had to pick one from twenty (20) years back I would struggle. Perhaps the rug fashion cycle is about ten (10) years or so but then that is probably subjective. I’m married to an antique dealer so my house features antique rugs and accompanying moths only, but if I owned any of those ‘favourite’ contemporary rugs I mentioned I cannot imagine putting them on the floor. Some rugs can be viewed as authentic pieces of art, they can be as expressive as a painting and appreciated in the same way. I would have them as the focus of my room, no television, no toys, just sit and look at the rug kids! So, the art goes on the walls and then I can put the great design grey rug on the floor.
MC: I’ll admit that seems like a novel solution to my quandary regarding grey rugs but you saying you ‘cannot imagine putting them on the floor?’ is a statement I don’t think I appreciate in the context you describe. Part of the art of rug making is that it is the marriage of art/design with craft/materials and intent. It is intended for the floor and thus – for me – it is where it belongs. Perhaps though this goes back to what you said earlier [See the above video at approximately the twenty-three (23) second mark.] before we sat down for coffee, that it’s all about context.
LU: Absolutely! Context is everything. Henzel Studio‘s carpets are being created in an art context so for me I cannot imagine putting them on the floor but I am sure people do. I think the intention behind some rugs is different from just beautiful floor covering. I understand that rugs are made for the floor and would put ninety-nine percent (99%) of them there but if the rug has something more to say it’s hard to make a point from underneath a coffee table.
MC: Tangentially then, because that’s the way I think, it’s much like readymade art. I love Duchamp’s Fountain. Such an overt and provocative statement. People (as a whole) still don’t appreciate it enough, perhaps we never will. It’s about acknowledging other perspectives exist and that for subjective matters such as Art there is no singular truth. But I digress. You are right about context and thus by moving the carpet to the wall our perception of it changes. Take a Boro jacket or that Boro inspired rug over there [Image below]. On one hand it’s Boro and everything that goes with it, from another perspective it might just be a poorly made late eighties early nineties (80/90s) patchwork denim. The overall aesthetics have similarities, yet we would (and do) view these very differently because of their provenance and the context in which they are presented. (You can read more about Jan Kath’s Boro Collection here!)
LU: For me the Boro rug works on many levels as it is great design, which would look great on the floor and its reference to Boro textiles gives it extra depth, it makes me reflect on the textiles and how the idea has translated into wool. The dress shaped rug there on the other hand [Image below], is a piece of art and for the wall! There seem to be an increasing number of rug exhibitions where carpets are shown on the walls, like ‘Wall to Wall’ at MOCA in Cleveland last year. The viewer is asked to read a rug in a totally different way and its context as both a utilitarian and a handmade object adds another layer to the message behind the work. I find it fascinating as it elevates the status of rugs to an art form and makes us engage with everything that a handmade rug is. It is a separate thing from the workings of 99% of the global rug industry but it feeds into it.
MC: Interesting then that upmarket rug sales presentations favour the opening of rugs from a folded stack or from a flat pile whereas as you move downmarket display racking on the wall becomes more prevalent. [Ponders for a moment] That seems more a function of cost than anything else, though by presenting each carpet individually – the ‘unveiling’ as I’ve called it in the past – each carpet is perceived more as an individual artwork as opposed to a reproducible commodity. It’s all in the interplay, the juxtaposition, the context, and ultimately the appreciation by the viewer/buyer. For me a Jan Kath Boro carpet would go on the floor, whereas a Boro textile would hang on the wall. Perhaps if Kath had actually assembled his Boro carpets from pieces of extant ‘commercially unviable’ carpets then I would hang it at home.
LU: I would say it is about intention and the reading of the viewer/buyer. Put any rug on a white wall and you will find someone to appreciate it as art! If you say it is, it is! But it doesn’t have to be wall mounted to be considered art either. A stack is an exciting way of viewing a collection, think of it as a new book – you have to wait eagerly as each page is turned. No less artistic! Also, it allows the rugs to be read horizontally which makes more sense.
MC: Certainly from the perspective of selling something to go on the floor. [Glances at phone to check time and then flipping notebook to review content.] I think we might need to end it there, we’ve discussed a lot and we do want people to read this when it’s all said and done. This was fun, and a pleasure, thanks again for agreeing to this. I’ll write up my notes later in the spring and then we can edit via email as to present ourselves as polished individuals and all.
LU: It was a pleasure to talk rugs Michael! See you in Hannover in several days where we will most probably be talking about the same subject.
MC: No doubt!
Special thanks to Jan Kath personally and the entire staff of Jan Kath for their hospitality during ‘A Family Affair.’ For those interested, the 2018 edition is scheduled to take place 8-14 January, 2018 in Bochum, Germany. On behalf of myself and if I may be so bold, Ms. Upward, I hope to see you there; assuming of course you appreciate the (art)work and carpets of Jan Kath.