Design is a building block, a way to a broader experience for Elizabeth Beer and Brian Janusiak, co-founding partners of Various Projects. The New York–based studio creates objects, apparel, and environments but their curiosities and enthusiasms know no borders. They roam in all directions in a continual expansion. Working as a collaborative cultural sponge, their shared vision is an existential one, with no particular specialization or categorization favored over another. Fact and fiction, real and imagined, the established and the not yet dreamt up— all possibilities are explored as equal, open territory. They have made their practice versatile, pliant to their interests, with overlapping sincerities between art, design, fashion, and performance. At its core, Various Projects is studio as experimental platform for the exchange of ideas and dialogue.
But Various Projects’ work also has an immediate allure thanks to Beer and Janusiak’s instinctive facility for materials and color, a formidable eye, and a working logic that thrives on collaboration—a theme that has come naturally to them since the formation of their partnership in 2005. A growing roster of collaborators forge shape-shifting communities with Beer, who has a background in sculpture and clothing design, and Janusiak, trained in graphic design, at the center. “We are constantly re-creating community over and over in different configurations and at different scales,” say the designers. “The objects, clothing, spaces—though important in the moment—seem secondary to the experience. That is what, in the end, we remember and return to.”
Various Projects’ practice hints at the power of community to re-situate design within the world at large. In Reflect (2016), shown at Houston’s Day for Night music and visual arts festival, a landscape of flash-activated hammocks provided a multisensory lounge space for concertgoers. There have been several collaborations with Print All Over Me (PAOM), an online retailer offering customizable clothes and accessories, including projects with Snarkitecture, Wallpaper Projects, and furniture designer Katie Stout. A series of residencies have been underway at Various Projects’ retail space in Chinatown. Most recently, the independent nonprofit 8-Ball Community has used the space to host a series of screenings, talks, and events in the lead-up to the 2017 presidential inauguration.
The title of the Various Projects studio itself telegraphs a penchant for nonconformity as well as the pair’s ceaseless restlessness. Transient retail experiences such as Project No. 8 (their eighth collaboration), have been reinvented as pop-ups in Tribeca, Paris, and East Hampton, and at TurnStyle—a food and shopping market that opened beneath Columbus Circle in 2016—as a travel shop at the Ace Hotel, and on Division Street before the studio relocated to its current home on Orchard Street. In addition to collections of clothing for men and women, Various Projects has created radiant orange garments for visitors to Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center to modify into wearable sculptures. Beer and Janusiak have designed the Whitney Biennial Uniform for Dexter Sinister and printed special-edition dresses for the opening of Chris Ofili’s New Museum retrospective bearing the artist’s work on the fabric.
A degree of playfulness and absurdity often filter into their approach. Bricks and variously sized rocks are covered in black, blue, brown, gray, red, and white angora and serve as paperweights or friendly sculptural objects, a witty and amusing juxtaposition of a hard material on the inside with a soft exoskeleton. Beer and Janusiak bring that tactility of material to the fore in a project with the Viennese Werkstätte Carl Auböck, a workshop now run by Carl Auböck IV and his son Carl Auböck V, relatives of the late designer Carl Auböck II (1900–1957). The ongoing series, in which Various Projects outfitted stones in leather, is an homage to Auböck’s own collection of leather-covered pebbles he sourced from the riverbanks of the Danube where his family owned a cabin. By using rocks collected as souvenirs from personally meaningful locations—the Judd Foundation in Marfa, a hike in upstate New York—Various Projects presents both an object and an untold story. Fusing a sense of humor with conversation, Signal Mittens is an interchangeable series of gloves with one-, two-, three-finger, or thumb-only wool mittens, meant to suggest a short narrative. Keytags, an ongoing project, invites people to share in the dialogue by submitting short quips or sayings to have printed on colorful made-to-order tags for keyrings.
Taken together, their instinct-driven work exudes a sophisticated ambiguousness. By learning in motion, Beer and Janusiak send a signal to the world that rather than purposefully blur the lines between disciplines, one can simply reject their existence altogether. Such a position allows Various Projects to introduce ideas and work that would otherwise not fit into a prescribed model of design. The impression so far is two people impelled by curiosity, passion, and intuition continuously working.
Tiffany Lambert is a curator, editor, educator, and writer.