Platform Design and Research Blog

PASTPERFEKT’S Kelly Tivnan discusses…

On a warm sunny day in Berlin, two girls meet for a chat about design and art, this is not uncommon here or anywhere I guess. In this particular case, I meet Kelly, the main creator of PASTPERFEKT, for a coffee and a chat along the Spree. She is warm, sunny, welcoming, shy, quiet, interesting, interested and eloquent. The conversation just flows, even the family of rats at our feet and the surrounding animals interrupt us to be a part of our discussion. This interviewer forgetting to start the interview.

Once it starts though you immediately tune into the fact that for Kelly, her work is not about delivering a Produkt. It’s about human interactions, storytelling, and the connection to her material, which are mostly found parts here and there. She has lived here for four years, easily inspired by what is around, and works either on her own or with a set group of collaborators. Here is what happened when I finally turned the tape recorder on:

Alex: When did you start creating and putting things together:

Probably when I was three, because my grandfather had a wood shop and I would spend my time there and then it really started more in High School, I had a very supportive art teacher who encouraged me to explore any direction I could take…(reflective pause). Then with college it all made sense, everything came together and I knew which direction I would take, and it made sense for design, I think so.

Alex: You know how you describe your pieces as “Little guys”, and so it seems like there is a big personal implication, so these creatures aren’t just objects for you:

No, they are portraits kind of even, maybe not directly towards any certain person, but they do take on their character, and I know that they have a story with adding all these elements together and they flourish and speak to me and hope they speak to other people and that is why they are named certain things. Most of the time they inspire dialogs with me as I am building them…Yeah definitely.

Alex: And so the pieces speak to you or create an image in your head:

I don’t think I ever know what the final thing would look like necessarily, but something I am still working on is knowing when I am finished, or when to stop. For me they could keep on growing and building. One thing usually starts a series for me, for example these glass balls from old lighting and whether I get 3 of them or 6 or 11, then that instigates a family for me, a little flock and then I will use that as something that ties them all together and then they will each be their own colors or combination, different switches or wood, being pushed in another direction, yeah really found objects stuff, they need just one element to tie them all together to show that they’re siblings…if that is weird to say, but they are brothers and sisters.

Alex: Even in that series, when you showed Anette (from SEMIDOMESTICATED) and I these pieces, they sort of compartmentalized out, because of the wood, or the sanding, and because of the different materials, and so there is a strong link in between all of them, but at the same time they do start to set off on their own and stand as individuals:

Everything that I make is one of a kind, and I really like that, because there is so much pressure, when you are a product designer, that you have to create something that is easy to reproduce, and I want to get away from that because it also is against my concept with being wasteful. We have spoken about this process before. I also think that just allowing one thing that brings them all together is enough. The show pieces for for High Risk/ Low Tech, they were from three different families, or no four.

It’s really a beautiful job to revitalize and not just throw things in the trash, left to be broken.

Alex: And so do you have a link with whomever you sell to or is it always done through somebody else…I don’t want to call them clients because that positions them into a certain mold, but the people that own your pieces do you have an open dialogue with them:

I do, I’m lucky enough to have friends that support my designs, they are my biggest collectors. Then through word of mouth things travel. I mean it’s a proper pace, but it is very slow because the other thing, with creating individual pieces they are not made for every one. One beautiful story was from my friend, she just recently got married and she and her husband, after being together for a really long time, decided:”ok we are getting hitched”, and they never agreed on interior elements ever. When they saw the pineapple family they both were like:”Oh my god”. Since they were the same but different, Mario picked out the one with the green cable and Silke picked out another one that she thought more feminine, and those were their wedding presents to one another. I was amazed because that was WOW you know, that was a great story and it makes me really happy that they were so individual yet they fit together and now they are on their bedside tables.

I mean you either like it (my work) or you don’t, well like anything I guess. My parents are also extremely supportive of me and my work. They have a lot of stuff back home…they have a full Kelly collection.

But actually, I don’t think we have a big client base, the people at the markets are always very interested in what we do and we sell a couple a time, it’s not like we sell completely out, you know, it’s at least good enough to generate word to sell on our website, things are picking up and it’s good. Maybe one day I could say “we have clients or people collecting”, because even the pineapple family as a whole, I was thinking how rad it would be if they could live together on someones’ table. I have a Vimeo movie actually, and it’s just adorable, you should watch it(, it’s a stop animation short, with the lights going on at different times as if they are just talking to one another.


Alex: Obviously, because you do recuperate a lot of things that have been thrown away or that you find in the Trödel Markts, do you think that a particular city inspires you, where you live in at the moment, or do you think it is more your imprint on those objects that inspire you:

I think that my gut feeling is definitely that it has to do with where I am because I’ve noticed from every city I have lived in how, maybe it is coincidence, but it does really influence who I am, and what I am capable of doing, and I have only gotten more experience since I have lived here. I think that what I have now, the direction that I am going in, it’s the effect the previous cities have had on me with a Berlin imprint. Berlin has a lot of old, and then a lot of new, and that is precisely what I am trying to figure out, so it’s the perfect balance for me here, I like it a lot.

I think if I were living in the country side right now, I wouldn’t be exposed to all of this and I wouldn’t have the same thought process, with my design or even how I pursue my creativity.

Alex: How do you find the community or the collaboration aspect:

I’m…I love them, when it’s the right equation. My last school I studied at was at Oregon College of Art and Crafts, it’s in Portland, Oregon and I met amazing people there, before that I never actually did so much collaboration or felt inspired to engage with others on a creative level. I was always kind of more careful with my ideas, and wanted to reserve them or keep them my own, work on them on my own. I have realized that the school I was at, yeah sharing is really healthy and other things come out of it when other people become involved. I have been living here for only four years and I have met some incredible people, and we can work together, but it  took time to find them but I feel lucky that I have them. Especially Sara Davis, without her Pastperfekt would have probably never surfaced. Then of course Victor and Anders from REMAKE/REMODEL. We did a bit for Roskilde, we did a little bit more for the World is not fair, World’s fair at Tempelhof, and now we just finished an installation outside a gallery, for 48 Stunde Neukölln. Another thing we did was some stage design+building for friends of mine in a band.

Alex: Oh that is exciting:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the work went to the Sydney Opera House, it was pretty good for our portfolios. Other recent connections are working with two Italian ladies and plants, their website hasn’t launched yet but soon. Another up and coming event is doing a light installation for an architectural/cultural event, that is happening in Wedding/Berlin. My husband is also a musician and I also perform with him, or rather i project with him, with my stop animation or photography.

Alex: How do you see Design in general, because it is a bit of a touchy subject in general, most people see it as only something that is functional or aesthetic, but that there is no connection to what is happening in parallel, in the real world:

I…also at this OCAC, this school in Portland, it was very tricky because it is an Art and a Craft school, it was based off of the Bauhaus, so there were traditional things we were learning and then there were very modern and experimental techniques at the same time. We juxtaposed them and we talked endlessly about functionality versus aesthetic, I mean what is beauty, harmony?’s an endless dialog, obviously that is why so many people are still having it. It’s a fun thing to discuss because I don’t think there is necessarily an answer to it. I think Art has a function, when you have a picture on the wall and you have a story behind it and it’s keeping you company. I don’t think you have to title it as something and for me I have stopped even saying necessarily that I’m an artist or designer, because I am really, I need to do both and they blur together. I say I’m an inventor because I can’t really define anymore. Perhaps it is like when you are a musician and someone asks you what kind of music you make, you can’t really specify what it is, because there is not necessarily a title or a genre, it belongs to you.

So I like inventor and it also keeps people interested on a different level, as so many people here title themselves as an artist or designer, so it’s nice to be something else.

(A dog comes to interrupt)

Alex: Yeah I mean vocabulary is so touchy because it is already ingrained with so much meaning:

Yeah form and function, these terms we’ve debated and everything has a form and a function, even on the simplest level that it makes you happy. That is a function, so that’s what I think. (we both giggle)

Alex: You make different types of objects, from your necklaces… do you see it all as an open dialogue,through your material or through your spirit in general. Do you see it all as one continuation:

Yes, there is definitely a time line, or something chronological…I think color is a good way to define what is happening or material for me, I have these moods and it’s also depends on what I have on hand in my studio. But it is ongoing because that is the way I work, it just kind of snowballs, actually it branches, and I’ve always got a few different things happening, so I do a little and then realize that that is what I want to do with another project. they inspire one another for me, and then I learn through one and then I say okay that is a better way or more efficient, and then hopefully bring it back to something else, so it’s a rotating process for me.

Alex: If I give you a space, 20 square meters, how would you make it your own, everything is white:

Are there windows…

Alex: No there is none:

I would definitely make some windows, knock out some space in the walls, obviously I would need a door, from there…it would depend on how it was outdoors. If it was winter I would make something really cozy and definitely use some type of warmth in colors. I don’t necessarily like white walls, I don’t really know, I am pretty flexible when it comes to what makes it my own. A shelf, yoga ball and table, books and a radio. It would also depend on how much money I had, you know what I mean, maybe there is not just one thing I could bring into that room to make it mine, it would have some plants for sure. (a heron coming)

My instinct is more to say what would that room be for other people and not for me necessarily because of my interior design background I would just be more inclined to make it friendly, that people would like to interact in there.

Alex: That is so nice Kelly, it’s so inclusive of how other people feel, but okay, when you are working what are your favorite tools to work with:

I definitely need a drill and a saw and a hammer and screws and a soldering iron, but what i truly adore in my studio is this little guy called a drill press. I found one here used, and I named him the Green Gobblin (even my tools have names, all of them) he’s good to me. It’s very meditative. Without the Green Gobblin I would have never been able to make the necklaces, because It would have been very difficult to hold the object and then the drill with a hand held one. Especially the colored pencils and it was so beautiful to mine out the color from them, the color bubbled out like a little volcano of colors. Those pigments I actually kept and made something else out of them. Yeah the drill press is definitely very versatile and used often.

Oh I forgot to mention that needle and thread and/or sewing machine are also very valuable tools for me.

I recently got a portable saw that follows a line, and that has enabled me to do new cuts and things which I appreciate. Accuracy is good business. All and all though, I am pretty minimal, with tools, I didn’t have a studio until last year so I was living in my sketchbook before that, daydreaming in 3D. At first I was doing a lot of painting or watercolors, and building miniature furniture out of pipe cleaners because I just missed making, and didn’t have space but now yeah I have room to build bigger things.

Alex: Are you alone in your studio:

I share the space with a band that is upstairs.

Alex: How do you see light:

Light…light is a spectrum there is cold and warm light, I am still learning about it but I think it is one of the most important things in the world. We definitely all need light, and react to it differently, and we need it. Whether it’s candle light or a lamp or the sun, they all give us different reactions and utility. You know reading by candlelight isn’t necessarily comfortable or good for your eyes. Then bulbs…I am actually kind of nervous with the environmental dilemma, some bulbs that I use might not be available anymore at a certain time, which is kind of a weird thing to think about. But I see it as the strongest design element for me, it really does interact with people, good lighting is when you don’t realize that something is lighted, I mean you know it but you don’t know it, and I want to get better with working with it.

Alex: When you are working, is there a particular smell that makes you think oh that reminds me of Trolley (one of Kellys’ new pieces) or this is something else:

My studio space is actually an old house, where people used to print and bind books. So there is an already musty kind of ink smell, that you could never wash away, it’s seeped into the brick walls forever, and on top of that the smell of cut wood or wax. These three things are really nostalgic and i think they are settled on my objects for sure. Even when I leave the studio and forget the smell, my friend will hang my coat and remark about these distinctive odors.

Did you notice that when you took the pieces out of the boxes for the show?

Alex: Yes there were very particular smells to all of the different objects, and especially because of the packaging. But what we noticed even more was the absence of smell from all of the cement pieces and that was really weird for me because everything retains a smell but the cement does not, and so then it was more about the weight of it, and I was trying to figure out what smell I could give to it but…Obviously the pieces that you find, there is a sort of history ingrained into them, you said that those pieces talk to you but are you always conscious of that, or is it reappropriation from the start:

I think the second.

Alex: And for the last question…What do you eat on Sunday mornings, or do you have a particular favorite day of the week:

OOhhh…I think it is more about sleeping in when I can, which usually happens on Sundays for me, one of my other favorite days is on Thursday, because that day my husband doesn’t need to go to work and so we don’t set the alarm, and we can spend time together, and because usually my schedule is more flexible than his, but it’s so nice to turn our alarm off.

What do you eat on Sunday mornings?

Alex: Ahh well normally I’m still sort of awake pretty early and so have normal breakfast just to wake up, but my favorite is cake all day, there is this shop on Yorckstrasse and it has the freshest, biggest portions and it makes me happy, so always one or two portions on that day.

Photography by:(feature image: Alex Sebag, Pieces images:Kelly Tivnan)

4 Responses to PASTPERFEKT’S Kelly Tivnan discusses…

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