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Photography by Alberto Lamback
18th January 2017

Resin d’Etre: Zuza Mengham picked for Paris

We hate to say I told you so, but in Zuza Mengham’s case, we really did. Back in September, when she was busy unveiling Sculpting Scent with Laboratory Perfumes at The Conran Shop for LDF, you couldn’t stop us raving about the London-based artist’s astonishing resin sculptures and creative talent. Now, she’s got the official Tom Dixon seal of approval, as the British design legend has picked her as his nominee for Rising Talent Awards UK – a new initiative for Maison & Objet whereby six of Britain’s design royalty each select an emerging star to showcase their work in Paris later this week.  

Zuza will be showcasing her work on the Rising Talents stand at Paris Nord Villepinte from 20–24 January, presenting her beautiful resin artworks – as well as a few new surprises, including her first piece of furniture. She gave us a sneak preview of what she’ll be showing, shared her feelings about being selected and reminisced about wandering around Habitat as a child…

'Nexus', photography by Alberto Lamback
How did Tom Dixon discover your work and how did he approach you about the show?
Tom saw my work online and in magazines and when he was given a list of potential UK designers for the Rising Talents Award, I was lucky enough to get picked by him!

What does being chosen for the showcase represent to you?
I’m not really sure as that requires so much objective self-analysis! But perhaps openness to something a bit different that jumps between creative practices. I think that Maison deciding to do the Rising Talents for the UK this year means a great deal though. I felt absolute gloom at the political decisions made this year, and it feels really positive to be welcomed and celebrated artistically by our neighbours.

Have you exhibited in Paris before?
Yes. Last year, the Laboratory Perfumes sculptures were displayed at The Conran Shop in Paris – it looked stunning! 

What are you most looking forward to about exhibiting at Maison & Objet? Do you have any expectations or hopes of the audience there?
So many things. I suppose, speaking to people and seeing what they take from the work – you always get a fresh perspective about it when you meet new people with a different point of view. I’m not entirely sure what to expect, the design world has been really kind to me but it’s a very fresh avenue for me so I’ll probably just be soaking it all in.
'Camber', photography by Jonathan Middleton
Can you give us a little insight into what we can expect to see from you at the show?
It’s a mix of different areas I’ve been exploring. I’m taking the ‘Iron’ sculpture from the  ‘As Above, So Beneath’ series, which refers specifically to materials caught up in definitive crucial moments of catalysis in human history: Copper, Bronze, Iron, Slate, Marble and Salt. Then there will be ‘Camber’, which is a new single-stem vase I’ve made which explores semi-transparency and re-cycled works using synthetic onyx. I’m really excited about my first bit of furniture, Nexus, a stool which is hand-made using a birch-ply core and terrazzo-style resin casts. Every surface has been cast individually! I was playing with the terrazzo design as it’s often associated with floor surfaces so I wanted to subvert the surface application, using grey and orange, which reminded me of something you find on cheap vinyl flooring in public spaces. And it makes the shape of a ZM! Also ‘Murmur’ is a new piece, a pair of bookends. Made with colour tints and ground stone marble, the resin bookends are supposed to capture a slice in time, revealing the moment in which the production method was arrested. 

How has Tom Dixon influenced you as a creative?
Tom’s work is so incredibly extensive, from iconic furniture to large-scale design – it goes without saying there’s a great deal I could learn from him and be influenced by. It would be difficult to list all my favourite objects and why, but I love that what he has created has ranged from exceptionally bespoke to accessible to all. But one of my favourite series is ‘Mass’, huge heavyweight bookstands, coat racks and tables which are very sculptural and minimal. They remind me of the kind of metalwork coming from Saint Martins artists in the 60s. You can see the weight in them and I love that – totally exuding the permanence of the material and taking unapologetic ownership of the space they inhabit. Also the best thing about them for me, other than the aesthetic pleasure, is that they are clad in unlacquered brass and are left to develop a natural patina across the surface and become marked. It lets the material do what it wants to do and I think that’s more interesting sometimes than trying to control everything. It’s utilising its natural characteristics to prolong the narrative further than a static finished object, and they will all end up looking different. 

I remember as a kid wandering off into town and visiting a Habitat store. I used to spend ages looking around and trying to decide which thing I might be able to save up for. Little did I know at the time that Tom was the creative force behind the company conjuring my favourite spaces. Also the fact that he is self taught and started off by welding semi-functional objects and chairs in South London in his friend's car-body repair shop in the 80s, kind of hits a chord with me – I learned to weld using the car-repair shop when I was studying at my local foundation comprehensive school. I think it’s really important to know how to make the work yourself and know the process thoroughly. Tom has built up a huge brand of work but at the core of it he’s an exceptionally skilled maker.
'Iron', photography by Jonathan Middleton
2016 was a huge year for you – can you share a couple of your highlights?
It really was! It has to be Laboratory Perfumes – I’m still super grateful for getting to work on that project and being given so much creative freedom by Aaron, the director of the company. It really was a dream to work on and the reception of the sculptures surpassed all expectations. I felt completely invested in the process and the story behind each work so it made it incredibly rewarding to see it come together and get exhibited for LDF at Conran, who did such an incredible job with the display of the work – it’s a real privilege to have shown my work in-store with them. There were so many other highlights but I think making the light-up crystal prop for FKA Twigs was another huge one for me. I totally love her work; she’s an incredible artist, and seeing the piece being used in a performance situation so beautifully was really special.

What are you looking forward to in 2017?
There are a couple of projects coming up which I’m really excited about – time will tell!

'Murmur', photography by Jonathan Middleton
We asked Tom Dixon himself about Zuza and her spot in his selection of rising talents.

In what way does Zuza's style/work reflect your values? 
It's sculptural , its unexpected, personal and colourful-it's photogenic and a little bit mysterious 

What does he hope Zuza gets out of being involved?
I think she deserves to have an international profile- and M&O is a good platform for that . It will expose her to all the opportunities in the retail/interiors/styling sectors and give her a completely new address book 

How do you view the role of multidisciplinary/boundary-crossing artists/sculptors/architects/designers in the future of design?
I think it can only lead to  more interesting work - I spend my time trying to avoid being classified as I think it's restricting - and the fields are very related 

Find Zuza Mengham at Rising Talents stand, Maison & Objet, Paris Nord Villepointe from 20–24 January, 9:30am to 7pm (6pm on Tuesday).

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