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Kia Utzon-Frank and Fay McCaul photographed by Dunja Opalko
11th January 2017

Q&A: Kia Utzon-Frank & Fay McCaul - Collect Open 2017

- by Milly Burroughs

On 2–6 February 2017, Collect will see the arrival in the Saatchi Gallery of an eye-catching and immersive new installation created by multifaceted designer Kia Utzon-Frank and textile artist Fay McCaul – both graduates of the Royal College of Art. Selected by the Crafts Council to appear at the international art fair, their gallery-filling piece Curved Twist is a monumental colour-changing screen that combines both designers’ expertise to create an immersive, interactive and entirely new expression of art, craft and design innovation.
Photography by Dunja Opalko
Having successfully patented her ingenious Louver Twisting Comb™ mechanism (aka KUFtwist), Kia has introduced a new aesthetic dimension to the system, by incorporating Fay’s colour-changing knitted ribbon into the individual slats of the KUFtwist panel.

To create Curved Twist, McCaul has knitted a series of 42 Italian cotton ribbons (8cm x 250cm), each housing 484 laser-cut acrylic rods, coated in light-reactive dichroic film and inserted by hand into specially knitted pockets. With 2,904 rows of cotton per slat, McCaul has had to manually knit 121,968 rows and pockets for 20,328 rods – making Curved Twist one of the most demanding and spectacular pieces of her career.

Visitors to Collect Open will be greeted by the curving screen, more than three metres long and around two and a half metres tall, which will react to and influence the play of light and colour in the room. Each slat can be individually opened or closed through the use of sliding modules made from Smile Plastic that “twist” the slat. This will allow the screen to be endlessly modified to create an infinitely variable lighting pattern on the floor below.

As the creative duo prepare to launch their captivating installation, we stole a few moments of their time to delve into the details of the collaboration. 
Photography by Dunja Opalko
What are you most looking forward to and what do you hope to achieve with your upcoming show at Collect?

KUF: I can’t wait to see the finished piece and show it. We have designed a completely new type of ribbon using Fay’s knitting method, which makes it possible to scale up the louvers using different, rigid materials. Showing at Saatchi is a huge opportunity to get in contact with future clients and possible manufacturers of the system and I hope this will connect us with someone that can make it into a finished product. 

Fay, can you tell us a bit about your background and where you trained?

FM: I studied mixed media textile design at Leeds University before completing an MA in constructed textiles at RCA, my specialism was knitted textiles. I graduated from there in 2010 and founded my studio in 2012.

Where are you based and how does that influence your work?

FM: I'm London based and grew up here. Access to amazing galleries, fabric and material shops has inspired and  influenced my work. Unusual materials are easy to source and have encouraged experimentation in my work.
Photography by Dunja Opalko
Photography by Dunja Opalko
You appear to work predominantly on interiors projects, was this a conscious decision?

FM: I always wanted to create work for interiors. I've always been inspired by lighting and textiles and wanted to find ways to combine both of these fields within my work.  I have done a fashion collaboration before but it just doesn't interest me as much. I like creating beautiful objects and artworks that create ambience or effect within a space rather than on the body.

Where do you look for inspiration?

FM: Geometric and Islamic patterns, stained glass, artists that use metallic finishes in their work such as Gustav Klimt. Imagery or photographs of reflection and light.

You work a lot with iridescent materials, what started this?

FM: I've always been drawn to light and lighting design and initially my practice started by trying to literally knit with light. I found ways of knitting el-wire, fibre optics, etc. From this I developed a second strand to my work by trying to introduce integral lighting effects into my knitting without using technology. The best way to achieve this was by working with materials that shimmer and reflect naturally. It is something that has become inherent to my work ever since. Essentially, I'm quite like a magpie - instantly drawn to shiny, sparkling things.
How did the collaboration come about?

KUF: Fay contacted me after her flatmate, who I used to study with at RCA, had shown her my work. We met for a coffee and within less than an hour we had designed the new ribbon and decided to apply for Collect. Fay did some successful tests and on our second meeting we decided the shape and materials for the screen and got some sketches made. We work seamlessly together and have a shared interest for exploring materials and new techniques and we both want to engage the viewer in both our finished work as well as the processes that led us there.

FM: I've been wanting to apply my textiles to something different  for quite some time and my housemate (who was in the same year as Kia at RCA) introduced me to Kia's work.

Collect is the “leading international art fair for contemporary objects” and is most often associated with craft, how do you view your work sitting in this sphere?

KUF: Both Fay and I are makers and do as much as we can with our hands. This doesn’t mean we’re defying “modern tools” like laser-cutters and CNC milling which plays a big role in the making of our piece. We want to change people’s perception of craft, which is often associated with ceramics and chunky jewellery. There’s a shift towards breaking down boundaries between categories like art, design and crafts and we’re both working in all of the fields. Innovation happens where different fields meet and new ideas can emerge. I am constantly going into areas I know nothing about. By doing that you’ve not been taught “the rules” and are therefore not afraid of breaking them. You also have to ask a lot of questions and talk to experts in that area and when you know nothing you end up talking up to people, which makes people share much more of their knowledge than if they see you as a competitor. 

FM: I feel so honoured to have been selected by the Crafts Council and really glad to be affiliated with them. It's also incredibly exciting to be exhibiting at such a renowned gallery such as the Saatchi Gallery.
Photography by Dunja Opalko
Kia, you’ve been working on KUFtwist since your degree at the RCA, and recently secured the patent, where would you like to see KUFtwist in the future?

KUF: Everywhere! I want to see it as a new window blinds system, room dividers, façade systems, as bespoke installations and art pieces and in applications I do not yet know about. There are so many uses for this system, I am extremely keen on getting it off the ground.

What else can we expect from KUFstudios in 2017?

KUF: There’s quite a lot going on. I am launching an afternoon tea concept with KUFcakes with 155 Bar & Kitchen at Clerkenwell London in February as well as some other restaurants. The cakes will be bespoke for the occasion and the ingredients and designs will match the teas or cocktails that are accompanying them. I just launched a new line within KUFcakes which is a Danish treat called Flødeboller and I will work on the branding and getting it on the market early next year!
Photography by Dunja Opalko
Visit Kia and Fay at Collect Open 2-6 February 2017 at Saatchi Gallery. 

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