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Jill Singer with her Sight Unseen partner, Monica Khemsurov.
18th July 2017

Assembly: Q&A with Jill Singer of Sight Unseen

America is enormous. With Texas alone being almost three times the size of the UK, and America’s population standing at a cool 321.4 million, representing the country’s thriving design scene in just 13 designers and studios is no mean feat. Cue Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov.
Last year, London Design Fair introduced its Guest Country Pavilion, a move hoped to expand its, already broad, international scope. As a sprawling four-day industry event, London Design Fair brings together 500 exhibitors showing furniture, lighting, textiles, materials and conceptual installations from no fewer than 28 countries. It’s fair to say that the event’s international reach is already large. Last year, London Design Fair introduced India to its line-up. This year the baton is passed to America.
Rubber CYL in Speckled Black, Gris, Royal. Rubber CYL II in Pure Black. Photography by Erika Lapresto.
Occupying the Guest Country Pavilion, Assembly brings together the work of 13 designers and studios connected to America. The show is curated by Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov, founders of online design magazine Sight Unseen (and its pop-up design fair offshoot Sight Unseen OFFSITE), and marks the duo’s first international exhibition.
With London Design Fair fast approaching, we thought it was high time to rack Jill Singer’s brains on the show. In the interview that follows below, Jill discusses Sight Unseen's curation of Assembly, the importance of a low-pressure approach, and why the world is beginning to take note of America’s burgeoning design scene.
This is the first time that the US is represented at the London Design Fair. Does that come with a certain pressure?
 
We wanted to focus on bringing an interesting cross-section of what’s happening in American design right now, rather than singling out a specific aesthetic or constraining our designers with a particular brief.
In your curation of the exhibition, what did you want to communicate to the audience about American design?
 
One thing that’s interesting about American design — and design in general, right now — is that the concept of “doing it yourself” is no longer synonymous with its onetime, more ragtag aesthetic. These designers are making some of the most sophisticated furniture, accessories, and lighting on the market today, but they are often doing so without the benefit of a patron or client. This means that they are making, marketing, and distributing the items themselves. They are designers but also entrepreneurs in their own right. The geographical diversity of Assembly is in some ways a result of that — you no longer need to be based in a design hub in order to survive, but you do need to know how to harness the manufacturing capabilities of your region, which these designers are doing in spades.
Escape desk and bench by Fernando Mastrangelo
There was no brief, how did you approach making a final selection? For example, were you led by material, innovative practice, standard/acclaim, whether they are emerging or established, discipline…
 
We selected designers who we trust implicitly, many of whom we’ve worked with in some capacity since the beginning of Sight Unseen. They are emerging designers in the scheme of things — none is as well known as, say, Yves Behar — but they are established enough to have a maturity about their work and a distinct, consistently evolving, aesthetic. Each of the studios has shown with Sight Unseen at our OFFSITE shows in the past — even Rachel Griffin of Earnest Studio, who is based in Rotterdam but who exhibited at the very first OFFSITE show in 2014. So they’re the kinds of studios we look to feature in general — consistently pushing the envelope in terms of materials and processes and with work that exemplifies the kind of cool, effortless, avant-garde aesthetic that we seek to promote.
Does your final selection of designers reflect the best examples of American design or the most interesting?
                                               
If we were to choose all of the best or most interesting examples of American design studios, we would have taken over the whole fair! But this is a good start.
The line-up features designers and studios based across the US – Chicago, Seattle, California, New York, for example. Was this a conscious decision?  
 
Not really, no.
Is this geographical spread representative of the American design scene? In the UK, design is incredibly London-centric.
 
Yes, it definitely is. It’s not like we said, “Wait a sec, we don’t have a designer from Los Angeles, who can we think of?” It’s just the way it is, though it hasn’t always been this way. This is a relatively recent development within the last 10 years or so. And while there are outliers, like DAMM in Florida, the design communities in each of these bigger markets, like Seattle, LA, or Chicago, tend to be relatively close-knit, constantly sharing local resources and banding together to exhibit.
DAMM Design's Hector lamp
How would you describe the current American design scene (in the context of international design)?
 
I think for the first time in a long time, the international design scene is looking at the American design scene as something of a leader or a trendsetter, which is the result of years of hard work in the States.
Assembly is your first international show. How does the London Design Fair’s largely European audience affect your curatorial approach?
 
It doesn’t really — we are just trying to capture the current spirit of the American design scene and to hopefully find some new fans, collectors, collaborators and friends.
Are you working with anyone that you haven’t before? If so, what is your experience of this? Is it challenging working with designers when you are not 100 per cent familiar with their processes?
 
We aren’t working with anyone new on this show, but we have in the past. Whether it’s challenging or not really depends on the designer. In 2013, we found Eric Trine on Instagram and basically immediately asked him to show with us, which he then did for the next four years. But there have been other designers where it hasn’t been quite so seamless.
Visit the London Design Fair from 21 - 24 September 2017. For more info visit www.londondesignfair.co.uk.

Rugs from Studio Proba
Pat Kim's Owl
Slash Projects' placemat, candlestick and coaster
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