Sight Unseen OFFSITE
May 25 2014
With a background in design editorial, Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov launched much-loved art and design site Sight Unseen in 2009 with the intent of giving us peeks behind the curtains of artists and creatives alike. In 2010, they launched Noho Design District, a showcase for cutting-edge design which helped launch emerging talent like Fort Standard and Jonah Takagi. This week we talked to Jill Singer about the confluence of design and commerce and what’s next for what is now known as Sight Unseen OFFSITE.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves and how OFFSITE came to be:
Monica and I met at iD Magazine nine years ago. We were editors there for four years and after we left we talked about what our next move would be. As editors, we were always visiting people studios and talking to artists about their process, writing about the way people work and the things that inspired them. Very soon thereafter, we launched Sight Unseen, which was for anyone that was interested in how you lived a creative life. In May 2010, we started Noho Design District, which was a way to exhibit a whole group of emerging designers. We had so many young designer friends who couldn’t afford to ship their wares, they couldn’t even afford a booth at the New York Furniture fair, so it was a way for them to get exposure. It was more experimental and conceptual and open to the public, not just the trade. We ran that market for four years, and NoHo (North of Houston) changed so much and turned into this hot neighborhood. This year we moved into a 20,000 square foot space in SoHo and rebranded it as Sight Unseen OFFSITE.
You both used to work at ID Magazine. How does your experience with editorial help you curate the OFFSITE?
The two are very intertwined, we’re scouting all year long, on Instagram, going to design fairs, checking out other design blogs, new studios. When we put it together we just ask: Who do we really love right now? What would be great as an exhibit versus just featured on the website? We like compiling all of these designers into once place because it helps people understand how big this world is.
How would you describe Sight Unseen OFFSITE? Is it predominantly a market, a design fair, and a social happening?
It ended up being all of those things. We wanted it to have a retail element; it’s frustrating to go to a place like this and not be able to walk away with something. The booths run the gamut: We had people showing their $30,000 coffee tables next to KIOSK with a vending machine where everything was under $12. We brought in these women who run the website MOLD, which is an editorial platform that explores the intersection of food and design, to run a pop-up cafe. They did this “future food” concept where they served insects, ancient grains and whole food snacks. That was a big point of conversation the whole weekend. The OFFSITE is free, open to the public and we had nearly thirty emerging studios and designers represented.
How has it evolved over the years? What is the turnout like?
It’s a good mix of people including other designers, a lot of press, a lot of retailers, a few celebrities, and of course just regular people who appreciate design. It’s almost as if Tumblr come to life! Of course there is lots of eye candy. Overall, we had around 6,000 people turn out.
Can you talk a little bit about some of your favorite pieces in the exhibit?
Ian Stell: A designer represented by Matter store who debuted this incredible line of kinetic, moving furniture. He made these lattice-work tables that you can move into rhombus shapes. Those were very cool.
Print All Over Me: We paired them with furniture designers and clothing designers to create original pieces, including Dusen Dusen. The end result was like Candyland with all the bright colors.
Moving Mountains: They made these geometric shelves with color and mirrors.
John Hogan: A glassworker who made these prisms with geometric patterns cut into them.
Brook&Lyn: She made these gorgeous wall weavings out of twilight colors.
AMMA Studio: They’re a brand new studio that made tables and lamps out of different materials including block salt, coffee grounds, and BB pellets. The resulting pieces are different and elegant.
It seems like independent artists and designers who make original and sellable goods are at high demand. Why do you think that is?
We get asked this a lot and I don’t really know what the answer is. When the economy went south, a lot of the jobs that designers would have had dried up, so they figured out how to make their own work and sell it directly on their own websites or via the internet. In 2009, I don’t think Tumblr and Instagram even existed yet. With these platforms it’s so much easier to find work and get it out to a huge number of people who had never known about it before. Eric Trine, one of the furniture designers, attributes most of his success to Instagram which is where he makes most of his sales. People don’t have to only shop at Ikea anymore and everyone has such interesting and unique domestic spaces.
What is next for Sight Unseen OFFSITE?
Throughout the year we will do smaller pop-up shops, but we don’t know exactly what we’re going to do next year with OFFSITE. A lot of it depends on the space. We’re pretty nomadic.
Installation photos by Mike Vorrasi.