Kicking off this fascinating series, designer Steffen Kehrle and artist Benjamin Röder invaded Munich’s Odeons Square to construct their own version and vision. We caught up with the two for a quick interview during the set-up of their captivating installation. For their installation the artists had the BoConcept smartville collection and the smart fortwo edition BoConcept at hand.
In your opinion: What defines a living room? What turns a room or space into a living room?
Steffen Kehrle: A living room needs to be cozy and comfortable; it needs to evolve and develop slowly. You can’t furnish a living room in a day. A living space that makes you feel comfortable and at home needs to grow and change over the years. It can’t be too static as our lifestyles tend to change. Once upon a time, people would furnish their home – and a chair, once placed, would stay in the same place – but this is no longer always true. (Naturally, I lead a lifestyle that promotes such changes).
Can you simply translate this feel-good aspect to public space?
Benjamin Röder: By definition, a living room includes people – it is a place to meet and communicate. This touches on the function of public space itself and promotes the notion of taking the living room idea to the outside world.
You have staged and installed a living room right here, on Munich’s Odeons Square. How did you approach this project?
Röder: For us, it was mostly about incorporating a maximum of the surrounding space into the final motif. We wanted to give outside influences and impressions like the weather, wind, clouds, and sun noticeable bit parts in the backdrop.
Kehrle: … and the people.
Röder: Yes, exactly. The people, the passers-by, the curious, those asking for further information; all of those should become involved. Working in public space is a very interactive experience, so our starting point was to stay open to all external aspects, but to provide them with a focused direction in order to capture a strong motif, one that is striking and expressive enough to represent this situation.
Generally speaking, how private is a living room? Did this notion play a role?
Röder: Take the Dutch, for example. They don’t use curtains or blinds, but simply live in full view of the outside world. German people, on the other hand, tend to be more withdrawn and keep most of their private lives behind closed doors. That’s not the case in other countries where life takes place out on the streets, on patios, or in front of people’s homes. Our notion of privacy is not a given. After all, you don’t do the same things in a living room and your bedroom.
Kehrle: I tend to agree with Benny. The mirrors in our installation both capture and dissolve everything they show. They reflect everything, but also make the installation invisible by doing away with the concept of walls – while serving as walls of their own. They close off the room, yet dissolve it in the same instance. Within the city, the mirrors resemble pictures, offering completely different perspectives and insights into surrounding space. It’s no real living room or space, but an installation – and it remains important to separate the two.
There is something narcissistic about mirrors. People, too, tend to be more self-obsessed and conscious of their appearance when they leave the house than when they are at home in their sweatpants.
Kehrle: Sure, that’s totally true. And it was one of the reasons why we picked mirrors beyond their obvious duplication effect. The sofa shows the car from completely different perspectives and reflects it into all directions.
What role does the car play in the installation? Or as a living space per se?
Kehrle: We did not design the installation just for the smart car, although it was commissioned by the brand. That’s not even what smart wanted – they simply asked us to show them our interpretation of an ‘urban living room.’ Naturally, the car plays a part in our installation, but it’s not meant to be a smart showcase.
We are starting to get increasingly mobile – as individuals and a society – so the actual location of our living room becomes less and less important. Can we simply pack up and take our ‘private bubble’ anywhere we go?
Kehrle: Although we are certainly getting more and more mobile, that’s actually a problem in itself. The intrinsic quality of a cozy apartment, of a cozy home, is very hard to replace or replicate. We are getting increasingly mobile, always on the move, equipped with more and more communication devices, but this sense of comfort and coziness falls by the wayside – although it does us a world of good. So, your own comfortable sofa or your own living room has a quality that a hotel room, train cabin, or airplane simply couldn’t offer or recreate. It’s important to feel at home.
Does a living room also equal freedom? After all, it is a more or less private space that gives you room to do whatever you want, including things that might not be possible due to certain social norms, values, or restrictions …
Kehrle: You mean like lounging on the sofa naked? Well, in that case … but then you would need to bring back the curtains!
Interview: Reinhold Koehler
All photos, incl. the header image, by Willem Thomson