Flowers, rocks, light & beauty

Marset Featuring

Flowers, rocks, light & beauty

A project by Robin Stein & Sonia Rentsch with the Bicoca lamp
Interview by Emmy Koski

Always close to nature, set designer Sonia Rentsch and photographer Robin Stein set off to develop a new vision for Marset’s colourful ​Bicoca​​. Bicoca is designed to accompany you wherever you go, adding comfort and cheer to your daily life. A portable lamp designed by Christophe Mathieu, it projects an intimate light that brings immediate warmth to any personal space. Driven by​ ​the​ optimism of brightening life​ that the Bicoca embodies, Sonia and Robin create a contemporary ​nature morte, combining nature with manufactured materials in a joyful, textural celebration of this little light.

Let’s start from the beginning. When did you first realise that photography and set design were your callings?
SoniaLater than one would imagine. I began assisting in Berlin in 2010. It was a fated conglomerate of events that brought me to Still Life. Some poetic, some not so, but all of them I am grateful for on reflection. There’s no place quite so sweet as working on set with a creative team, building ideas to be captured through a lens.
RobinI’ve been involved with photography since I was really young – as a child, I would play in a dark room my parents had and just fill trays with water pretending I was processing prints - but then went on to be involved with photography more seriously as a teenager. I went to art school where I continued to study Photography but never considered that I would ever be involved in the commercial or editorial realm of photography. I used photography and images primarily as a fine artist working on installations, videos and photo-based documentary projects. It was only in the last six years that I started seeing photography as my career.
Bicoca in white - Photo by Robin Stein & Sonia Rentsch
Bicoca in red wine - Photo by Robin Stein & Sonia Rentsch
Nature morte,​​ it’s been around forever and is still one of our favourite art forms. How have you seen it evolve over the last few years, and how do you see it in the future?
SoniaLike any art form, Nature Morte is constantly evolving. I’m not sure it will ever go away. I have noted that there’s a new sensation of movement that appears to be sneaking in that I quite like - a palpable sense embedded within the Stills. It feels fresh. Futuristically speaking I know there are some amazing 3D renderings being created of Nature Morte that look incredibly true to life. I’m not sure I’ll ever truly feel connected to this scene but I can certainly respect it.
Speaking of 3D, when almost everything today can be digitalised or rendered, what is the value of a real still life?
SoniaFor me, it’s the difference between feeling the weight of a book in your hands as you turn the pages vs a glowing touch screen you swipe a finger across. Isn’t the first example quite obviously much nicer? Robin and I are engaged in a real-world experience with the subject matter, picking it up, moving it around, looking at it in real time. It’s visceral, it comes from a deep understanding of object, space and arrangement, some place magic and innate.
RobinActual physical and tactile engagement with objects and materials is really important to how we work. I feel like a lot of my drive to photograph objects comes from an enthusiasm for materials and the process of arranging things.

“Robin and I are engaged in a real-world experience with the subject matter, picking it up, moving it around, looking at it in real time.”

Sonia Rentsch
I can imagine that textures and materials, in general, play a big part in creating an interesting set, bringing objects to life somehow. Which materials interest you most?
SoniaHa! There is no singular answer to that question. Everything is of interest to me. There is no one definition of beauty.
RobinAll things can create inspiration unexpectedly. I find inspiration from browsing and digging - I go to a lot of salvaged building supply stores looking for props, surfaces and materials for shoots. I often rummage through the dumpster in my studio space, pick up flattened metal off the street, wander through hardware stores or through the catalogues of raw speciality material suppliers. Stores for professional chefs, bookbinders or suppliers of raw industrial materials…
A common thread in your work, I would say, is the use of colour and organic shapes. How would you define your style? And how did it evolve?
RobinIt’s a little hard to say, and in some ways, I’m hesitant to over analyze my aesthetic tendencies. I will say that some of my early enthusiasm and influence came from looking at a lot of early 20th-century avant-garde design and photography. Specifically Russian Constructivists like El Lissitsky and artists from The Bauhaus like Laszlo Moholy Nagy. I think a lot of this has inevitably informed some of the more graphic tendencies of my work. I’ve also felt that the process of developing a rapport with the specific tools I use has also informed my style. Especially with the shift to digital photography. I find it much more challenging than shooting with film, but it forced me to make deliberate decisions about subtleties. When working with film I never really considered things like what colour tone did I want to have in my shadows or highlights.

“All things can create inspiration unexpectedly. I find inspiration from browsing and digging – I go to a lot of salvaged building supply stores looking for props, surfaces and materials for shoots.”

Robin Stein
Bicoca in light blue - Photo by Robin Stein & Sonia Rentsch
For the collaboration with Marset, you have created a unique scenario. How did the concept for this scenario arise?
SoniaI have been working on an ongoing project for Hermes this year. Some of their scarf prints are mind-blowing. There is one, in particular, I couldn’t get out of my head featuring a floral arrangement in incredible detail. It was most certainly the inspiration for me to put pencil to paper and sketch the lamp concept. The idea evolved once Robin joined the fray – he’s an avid collector and called me from a street corner to ask if he should pick up the concrete rocks from a sidewalk. The rest was magic. A dash of adrenalin, a ton of flowers, some real, some not, Robin’s rocks and two artists.
Working with light is essential for any artist, how has the light played a role in your collaboration with Marset?
SoniaIf you ever visit me you’ll quickly notice there are seats tucked under windows in every room of my house. They’re in the place the light falls. It’s so important to me to find good light. I asked Robin to shoot the job because I like his lighting. Marset makes beautiful lights. It all fits nicely together, doesn’t it?.

“A dash of adrenalin, a ton of flowers, some real, some not, Robin’s rocks and two artists.”

Sonia Rentsch
Bicoca in yellow - Photo by Robin Stein & Sonia Rentsch
“The Optimism of brightening life” is a set defined by flowers and textures – and of course the Bicocca lamp. How did you come to this treatment?
SoniaI’m a child of the sun, a country girl from birth. Light and nature in the right amounts are the simplest ingredients for joy. It made sense to me to combine the two in Still Life form. In a sense, the Bicocca lamps are small mobile beacons that bring light to darker corners of our personal universes. When I was pondering ideas of how to present them I wanted to evoke this possibility~ to create a feeling of delight. Adding a natural element such as flowers to do so allowed me to mirror the playful colours of the lights and serve as a subtle reminder that the beauty of light - like flowers - is the optimism they bring. Further texture and weight were added to the scenography through the inclusion of concrete rocks.
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