Listen to the conversation between Rosanna and Studio IMA.

“I realised that there was something missing – people were tired of the white-walled galleries, they were looking for more human ways to look at art and design,” notes Bettina Kiehnle, the Founder of Studio IMA. Established in contrast to the clinical galleries and spotless showrooms that are so ubiquitous in the world of art and design, Kiehnle prefers to present work in a domestic setting, inviting people into her home to admire the pieces that she has gathered from around the world.

In this new context, one can appreciate and absorb design in a more relatable environment, in proportions that feel comfortable, and among the textures and particulars of a normal life. Design becomes usable rather than austere, and works of art are in dialogue with the other objects that populate the room…

Whilst studying for a Masters Degree in Media in London and Los Angeles, Kiehnle would spend her free time visiting galleries and design shops, taking notes and researching the many ways that design is displayed. Located, at the time, in a beautifully restored top-floor apartment, the London gallery, Thaddeus Ropac, was a great inspiration – as was The Future Perfect, an intimate design space based in Los Angeles. “[After graduating]I moved back to Mexico City, where I found a beautiful apartment and started designing in my mind what would become IMA. It took a few months, but with all my notes and all the places I‘d seen in LA and NY [it came together seamlessly].”

“I’m always finding things from here and there…”

The studio’s name, IMA, has a double meaning: most straight-forwardly, it is an acronym for ‘In My Apartment’ – however, its true roots lie in the Japanese concept ‘ima’, which relates to time and space. Kiehnle explains: “Basically it means that everything is changing all the time, and so, in the end, change is the only thing that is permanent… We as people change all the time, spaces change, the climate changes – everything changes. I felt this was very beautiful, and that the concept related to living in the present, and so I felt really connected to that term.”

As the Curator of Studio IMA, Kiehnle indulges her love of art and design, of natural material and true craft. Representing makers that defy easy categorisation, Kiehnle presents art and design alongside found objects, antiques and curiosities from her travels. Keen to offer her audience something specific, Kiehnle is drawn to objects that cannot be replicated or found elsewhere: “We like things that are not mass produced – things that are made in limited edition, or that can only be found at IMA. Even though we share artists with other spaces, we try not to show the same pieces…”

Located on a sleepy street in Mexico City’s Roma Norte district, Studio IMA’s space evolves slowly over the weeks and months. Kiehnle curates around three exhibitions a year, yet each of these shows gradually morphs into a different iteration of itself over time, as “whatever is sold is replaced with something new yet similar…”

“Most of the time [I curate] by intuition, though always related to matters of earth and nature”

Currently on view IMA is a selection of furniture by Sala Haars and Frama, alongside delicate trompe l’oeil vessels by EMA, which are painted to look like beach pebbles or fragments of space rock. There are organic sculptures in stone and wood by Joshua Vogel, Alejandro Ibarra’s elephantine ceramics, and contemporary artefacts by Daniel Boccato and Armando Rosales. The result of IMA’s collaboration with the Taiwanese design-duo, Yellow Nose Studio, is also on view; a collection of one-of-a-kind plates, bowls and cups that have gently dimpled surfaces and a rough-edged lip. Made in an edition of 100, each piece has its own form, complete with idiosyncratic detailing and a raw, tactile finish – “which is amazing because you can create a very original tableware set.”

Disciplina Studio, founded by Mexican architect-designer, Tomás Díaz Cedeño – also follows a similarly one-of-a-kind production process: “We work very closely with Tomás, who has been exploring different natural materials. He’s very interested in transforming simple materials into art. Tomás found that when bricks are overcooked they melt and crystallise, and these weird shapes appear… At the beginning he would take whatever he found [at the brick kilns] making sculptures from these, but now he intentionally makes his own.”

Retaining the rough and rugged aspect of his materials, Disciplina’s small sculptures made of misshapen and burnt bricks have a sense of monumentality, like maquettes for a larger piece, perhaps a Richard Serra or the Land Artists of the 1960s. The molten, melted bricks are assembled to create sculpture, furniture and homeware, including candle holders and vases. “From an error, Tomás has made something beautiful – his eye is very sophisticated, he can transform whatever material is left over to make something really beautiful.”

Kiehnle’s mission – and that of the artists that she represents – is deeply interwoven with the ideals of Wabi Sabi, the Japanese concept of finding delight and beauty in the imperfections. Leonard Koren describes Wabi Sabi in his book on the subject as, “the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence,” stating that, “The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means: pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry…”

An installation titled ‘Living Soil’ by the Bulgarian artist, Raya Stefanova, is currently on view: a highly conceptual piece, Stefanova takes a stance against the environmental impact of producing traditional design, products and objects by making ephemeral objects that disappear without a trace. Made from compacted soil, the series of vessels is intended to disintegrate, falling apart over time to be returned to the earth without any waste.

“We are used to thinking that art and design is permanent – that it will be here forever – and [Stefanova’s piece] is a way of re-thinking that concept – making us more conscious of the environment … All of the work at IMA is much deeper than just the way it looks – though it looks amazing – it is work that is also reflective. It isn’t true of all the pieces, but we do try to make people conscious of these important topics through design [itself], rather than through a pamphlet.”

“We try to show things that can make you think after you’ve left the space”

A natural communicator, Kiehnle brings people, objects and ideas together, creating new conversations amongst them. Since childhood, Kiehnle has developed a refined intuition for art and design, finding pieces that convey a story, or communicate significance and meaning. “Ever since I can remember, my mother has always said that whenever we travelled we had to bring something back for the home. She would always buy something when we were away, and so I started doing the same, buying things for my room, collecting little objects and things from my travels.”

In Studio IMA Kiehnle continues her family tradition, creating another type of home – a home for design, a place where she can share her treasured finds. A place where people can share Kiehnle’s sense of discovery, Studio IMA replicates the thrill of finding something uniquely beautiful – something that captures a memory of a particular place or moment in time -something that simply can’t be left behind…

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