Chiaozza Copartners Dream Up Fantastical, Nature-Inspired Works in Their Brooklyn Studio
In 2011, less than a year after they met at Chinatown karaoke bar Winnie’s and started dating, Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza had a career-defining experience: Chiao, an architect and alum of 2×4 and OMA, was working on a tiny scale model of a treehouse, and asked Frezza, a fine artist, to help her fill it with foliage. Together, they fashioned a miniature garden full of wild, neon-colored paper plants (which eventually inspired a life-size version at Wave Hill garden in the Bronx). The project helped them realize they worked well together, so they decided to cofound a studio, smushing their last names together to christen it Chiaozza.
Since then, they’ve had a daughter as well as expanded their Brooklyn-based practice to encompass rugs for IKEA, window displays for Hermès, and a stucco forest at Coachella, the latter around the same time they produced Zen Garden, their 5-year-long installation at Industry City in Sunset Park. Recently, they completed a second outdoor exhibition at Industry City, were commissioned by Google to create pieces for the company’s Pier 57 campus in Chelsea, and released a set of wall hooks with fellow Brooklyn brand Areaware (with another functional object in the works).
Yet all their creations are still inspired by plants, or, more accurately, a brightly colored fantasy version of the natural world, as filtered through their especially fertile imaginations. “Physical reality is not the only reality,” Chiao says. “There’s also the internal emotional landscape. Our work is a quest to visualize that.” We sat down with her and Frezza to learn more.
Interior Design: As a New York–based couple, what’s it like to experience your art on public view there?
Terri Chiao: It’s been amazing to contribute to the emotional and cultural landscape of a city that’s already so layered with history, architecture, and culture. And since New York is so global, having our work on view in places like Industry City and Central Park speaks to locals as well as those passing through, connecting us, and helping us have a conversation, with the whole world.
ID: What appeals to you about exhibiting outdoors in general?
Adam Frezza: Placing our work against the neutral backdrop of an urban environment creates a surreal feeling, because it has such high-key color and whimsical shapes and patterns. It lets us create a moment of awe for someone that they can carry with them throughout their day. We love exhibiting in an art gallery, but the concepts are isolated there, especially since some people don’t feel comfortable even walking into a gallery. Outdoors, there’s more potential for a flow of these ideas, with the viewer seeing it more freely and carrying it farther.
ID: Scumble Lumps at Industry City is designed to be touched and climbed. Is human interaction important to your work?
TC: A lot of public art you’re not supposed to touch. But when we’re out in national parks, or even Central Park, there are rocks to climb and so many ways to interact with nature. We want our work to have that same invitation—to lay on it, dream, and expand your mind.
AF: But even if our work causes someone to change their pace, look up from their phone, or distract them from what they were thinking, that’s also a huge compliment, especially in a place as dense as New York.
TC: Or when a child hugs one of our sculptures, which happens sometimes. It speaks to the emotional connection art can have with people.
ID: Which recent New York project is particularly exciting?
AF: Our Floating Wooden Wall Works series for the café at Google Pier 57. They were inspired by maps and wayfinding symbols that loosely reference the building’s history as a former marine and aviation terminal. We like imagining Googlers eating lunch with these charms on the wall acting as little encouragements to daydream.
ID: You also make tabletop sculptures and standard-size paintings. Why do you work in different scales?
TC: Our projects often start small. For example, our Lump Nubbins, small sculptures of recycled paper pulp, act like sketches or tests for our ideas. The process is like a stream of consciousness that we harness to create interesting forms. The work flows directly from our hearts and minds, and there aren’t many restraints. At a larger scale, there are more practical considerations—and hands—involved. For Coachella, we made Sharpie drawings, then a 3-D designer, a team of builders, and our own painters and sculptors brought the forms to life. Whether the artwork fits in your palm or towers above you, though, the goal is to create a feeling of immersion, where the viewer can mentally, spiritually, or physically enter another place, where anything feels possible.
ID: What’s next?
TC: More interventions in nature, and I’d like to experiment with outdoor materials like mushrooms or tree sap. I’m also interested in doing more work with bare stone; I love shapes before I love color, and with interactive work, paint is a challenge anyway, because it wears away. I want to use materials that can just be materials, and the piece’s form—and its relationship to space, and to the person who’s viewing it or touching it—is what makes it powerful. As humans, we respond to bright colors and contrast, the way bees and hummingbirds respond to flowers. Colors create joy and curiosity and prompt touch. The next step for us is to make things that will last outdoors not for months or years but decades.
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