Cecilia Vicuña: COS x Serpentine Park Nights

The Chilean poet discusses her new participatory poetic performance Clit Nest, part of COS x Serpentine Park Nights

documenta 14 Cecilia Vicuña, A Ritual Performance by the Sea, Photo: Mathias Voelzke.

I was invited to be part of the Park Nights program by the Artistic Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Live Programmes Curator, Claude Adjl.

Ishigami’s design for the Serpentine Pavilion suggests an ancient stone dwelling, reminiscent of the caves, which in all cultures are associated to the womb of the Mother, a place for ceremonies to restore and regenerate the life force.

When I first saw the images of his design, I immediately felt the connection between the caves where underground water flows, arousing the bodily memory of our own inner water and ability to generate fluid. Now, when we face extinction, we invoke Joy, and the clit, an organ created for Joy, to give us strength to turn around the destruction of the earth.

Living Quipu Performance, Henry Art Gallery, Photo: Chona Kasinger.

I began working at the edge of the sea in the 60’s, and this dedication to water intensified in the 80’s and 90’s when the water crisis in the Andes began to be felt. The collective rituals that I performed in the 60’s, continue to re-emerge cyclically in my work, adapting and transforming to meet the times. Now, when people and indigenous communities around the world are being murdered to steal their water, rivers and lakes, rituals are becoming urgent acts. This need is present in the great movements of today, like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future calling us to join in! 

When I approach a project, I don’t necessarily set out to “communicate something”, I invite people to join to explore together our deep questions, our forgotten senses. The challenge I face, which ties to the consideration of a one-night-show like Park Nights, is the little time allowed for art, by the constrains of city life. I hope that people come away from tonight with a sense of the possible, of what is yet to be discovered in us.

Cecilia Vicuna: ‘Living Quipu’ Community Performance at the Brooklyn Museum, Photo: KOLIN MENDEZ

This year’s COS × Serpentine Park Nights takes place at the Serpentine Pavilion, designed by architect Junya Ishigami. Practitioners in the fields of art, music, poetry, theatre, augmented reality and fashion will present eight evenings of new work commissioned by the Serpentine each responding to Ishigami’s contemplative design.

We are proud to support Park Nights for a seventh consecutive year, and also to bring an element of this pioneering series to our store in Coal Drops Yard for the first time. The interdisciplinary nature of the Park Nights programme offers a platform for creatives of all backgrounds to push the boundaries of their practice. At COS we always derive a huge amount of inspiration from these unique, one-off events, and can’t wait to discover what this year’s artists present over the summer

– Karin Gustafsson, COS creative director

Cecilia Vicuñas performance will take place on Friday 27th September. COS x Serpentine Park Nights 2019 runs on selected nights throughout the summer. For more information please click here.


Port visits COS’ Salone del Mobile.Milano installation and discusses the future of architecture with Arthur Mamou-Mani

The Nun of Monza, Sister Marianna de Leyva – the real-life subject of Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed – began a love affair with Count Gian Paolo Osio that rocked Milanese society in the 16th Century. Following the birth of their child and endeavouring to keep their affair a secret, the Count began a spree of murders, killing anyone who threatened to reveal the affair. Imprisoned and sentenced to death for his crimes, the Count fled, taking refuge in the Palazzo Isimbardi, home to Senator Cesare Taverna. Yet his supposed friend betrayed the Count, ordering his murder in the cellar of his own home.

The stuff of fairy-tale. Yet, the Palazzo Isimbardi in Milan stands the test of time. Passed down through Italy’s nobility since the turn of the 15th century, evolving from a Marquis’ country residence, a centre for scientific research and once the site of an alleged murder – it now forms the governing headquarters of the Metropolitan City of Milan and a site of significant artistic heritage.

Today, the palace has been transformed into an installation by French Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani, in collaboration with fashion label COS for their 8th installation at the Salone Del Mobile design festival in Milan. Delicately monumental, Conifera, one of the largest 3D-printed projects ever made, traces the journey from Palazzo Isimbardi’s courtyard to the garden, weaving itself into the palace’s own architecture and landscape in a multitude of wooden, white and translucent bio-bricks. Interlacing squares and crosses form 700 lattices, hanging suspended mid-air; a 90s computer game inserted into Renaissance Italy. Using wholly renewable resources, the installation responds to the interdependent relationship between architecture and nature, and between the digital and physical worlds.

London-based architect Arthur Mamou-Mani is synonymous with the emerging technologies that are opening up new, exciting spaces in architecture, such as 3D printing and algorithmic, parametric design. Named as one of the RIBA’s rising stars in 2017, Mamou-Mani came to prominence in 2018 with his commission at Burning Man Festival for the ‘temple’ – a vortex of wood twisting up from the desert floor.

We caught up with Mamou-Mani to discover more about the project, the advantages of digital technology and his take on the future of architecture.

Photography Sophie Gladstone

How would you describe your style?

It’s the idea of the architect as a maker, and as one who lets the material and other parameters create, rather than having a top-down approach. It comes a lot from my time at the Architectural Association: I learnt that architecture can be the sum of processes, not just arbitrary decisions.

What are the benefits of using digital tools, as opposed to traditional processes?

The digital tools, which include not just computers but also robotic tools for fabrication, create a holistic approach to design. The output, the physical models we make, are a direct reflection of a loop one can create now between the digital and the physical world. It becomes an iterative process, and that’s something that was much harder to do in the past. I can’t imagine an architect carving a stone by hand and putting the stone into the computer, and then carving again.

Photography Sophie Gladstone

How did the project with COS come about?

We were building the temple for Burning Man Festival, in 2018, and we got the call to our London office. They sent us a brief – the location, a palace in Milan, made quite a contrast with the Nevada desert – and I liked that it mentioned ideas like the democratisation of fashion, technology, modularity, in-temporality. It resonated with the work I was doing. I got excited.

Can you talk me through the project in Milan?

The project is based on a modular unit, a sort of bio-brick that is assembled into a series of archways going from the courtyard of the palazzo to the garden, just outside the palazzo. We start with wood, which we are 3D printing, and which slowly becomes this very pure, natural bioplastic. It’s a journey from manmade to the natural, through a technical brick.

How do you think technology will come to change architecture?

I think architecture will accept reversibility, the idea of a building that can un-build itself, which is modular and reassemble-able, and uses materials that can also go back into the earth. It is something that we will have no choice but to embrace; we have an obligation to find solutions in architecture and construction that are more sustainable, and to think more about the long term.


COS x Paul Cocksedge

Designer Paul Cocksedge reflects on his site-specific light installation at COS’ new store

Reinvented by the acclaimed architectural firm Heatherwick Studio, the historic Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross is open for business. Standing among the rich ironwork of the original Victorian coal drops lies the newly opened COS store, spanning 577sqm, three floors and a mezzanine. Original bricks and wood beams blend with a wash of white, with furniture from the likes of Faye Toogood, Destroyers and Builders and Nendo sitting alongside work from emerging artists Beth Partridge and Torben Eskerod. Showcasing its latest autumn winter collections, the hybrid space illustrates the brand’s varied influences from a range of artists and designers, recently launching with the site-specific installation, Orbits, by acclaimed British designer Paul Cocksedge.

Reflecting the elements relevant to the current COS range – principally the harmony and tension between the natural and material world – Orbits is an arresting bind of metal, rock and light. Honouring the space’s industrial past, the installation encourages multiple viewing perspectives, suggesting attraction, balance and pressure simultaneously.

Having studied industrial design at Sheffield Hallam University and product design under Ron Arad at the Royal College of Art in London, Paul Cocksedge is considered to be one of the UK’s most dynamic young designers. Exploring the spectrum and limits of light, his work is now part of the Victoria & Albert Museum and Pinakothek der Moderne Die Neue Sammlung permanent collections. Port talked to Paul about the project, the joys of collaboration and how to communicate through objects.

What role does flexibility and rigidity have in the work?

I wanted to explore the invisible effects of gravity and how it shapes the world around us. Each of the six flexible metal hoops is pulled into its final shape by rocks of different sizes. The rock is trying to return to the ground, but the hoop of light wants to spring back up – this tension implies movement.

How does Orbits play with light and its form?

We often see light as something rigid and controlled, but with Orbits I wanted to explore how it can become soft, and flexible. We were also exploring the tension between the manmade and the natural – pairing electric light with rock.

Where was the rock sourced?

The rocks came from all over the country, although one of them I smuggled back from Paros, Greece. We wanted to include a range of shapes, colours and textures, that in some way connect with the COS palette.

How did COS work with you on this, creatively?

I’ve always admired the way COS works with creatives, and I’ve followed their collaborations in Milan and London. When we started to talk about ideas and inspirations, there was a connection. We were exploring light and nature, and the opportunity to show a piece of work in London was serendipitous. The architecture of the space really complimented the proportions of the work, and the creative process was very organic and collaborative.

How was the installation influenced by the existing history of the Coal Drops Yard, as well as the Heatherwick renewal?

Our piece fits the proportions of the COS building really well – it communicates with the outside, because you can see it from a distance, but it also fills the space inside. Raw materials were delivered and refined in Coal Drops Yard, and we’ve incorporated that rawness and sense of earthiness into the piece.

What were the opportunities working in the space?

This was a rare chance to design a piece that’s seen from so many angles. Because the store is on several levels, you can see Orbits from beneath, from above, and up close.

Can you expand on the tension between the natural world and man-made objects in the piece, aside from the literal tension?

Controlling the creation of something new, together with the randomness and imperfection of nature, is an exciting combination that somehow makes sense to me. Coal Drops Yard has a similar tension, bringing together the new with buildings and narratives from the past. For me it’s a wonderful addition to London.

Port’s top lighting picks


Mind and Body: Wayne McGregor

Port speaks to multi-award winning choreographer Wayne McGregor about understated gesture, the connection between mind and body, and reimagining the latest COS menswear collection through dance 

We normally judge clothes from a distance, assessing them on a hanger or mannequin, but on our bodies they take on a new life – draping, swishing, billowing with our movements. It is often overlooked that, in being worn, fashion takes on its ultimate form, attaining an infinite number of fluid and shifting silhouettes. Each time we roll up a sleeve, tug at a hem or pop a collar, our clothes suddenly sit on us in new ways.

For the first time, COS have chosen to present their new 17-piece menswear collection ‘Soma’ through the medium of dance to enhance our ability to perceive the fabric’s subtle dynamism and flow. Head of menswear design, Christophe Copin has said that “by bringing these everyday movements to life through dance, both the inspiration and design process is explored, and the functionality of the garments is brought to the forefront.”

The choreographer Wayne McGregor CBE has worked in collaboration with COS to produce a unique performance that plays on the idea of ‘somatic’ movement – the way in which our body acts intuitively – to mimic the quiet grace with which we unconsciously execute even the most routine activities. Held during the 94th Pitti Uomo at Florence’s Istituto degli Innocenti, it was an understated dance with an energy that gently rises before falling into a peaceful lull. The dancers pass each other, each engaged in their own passage and progress, until they turn towards one another in passing encounters. From afar, the effect is like a fantastical, almost surreal, square in which beautiful figures roam or linger.

Resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, McGregor has worked on fashion campaigns, films, theatre, opera, music videos and other site-specific performances. Through his recently opened Studio Wayne McGregor he has been able to create an interactive space that embraces an experimental, multidisciplinary approach to choreography in which dance is just one artform among many. By collaborating with COS, he has produced a vision in which movement and fashion seamlessly co-exist and compliment each other.

How did your involvement in the COS project come about?

Christophe told me that he saw one of my dance works, Tree of Codes, at the Palais Garnier and that after seeing the way that I collaborate with artists, in this case, Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx, he thought that we could create something together. Christophe and Karin [Gustafsson, creative director at COS] approached me to create an artistic conversation between the clothes and the body, exploring ‘everyday’ gesture, breaking down movement and clothing to their essential parts, and trying to see how we can experience them anew.

What was your concept for the presentation?

COS’ new collection Soma subverts the wearer’s everyday gestures, and we wanted to explore this playfully in the performance at Pitti Uomo. Somatic practice is the idea of bringing forward what the body already knows; we wanted to question instinctual movement and gesture in the everyday, particularly in relation to the garments. I believe every movement we make, no matter how ordinary or routine, is a kind of dance, and we wanted to develop and extend this for Pitti Uomo.

Was the dance inspired by the surroundings of L’Istituto degli Innocenti and Florence?

Dance is an ethereal experience. This gives every performance a unique quality, where you know you are watching and experiencing something that will only last a short time. There was an electricity in the air in Florence, which breathed life into the sails above the square, echoing the movement of the dancers in the COS garments. 

What is it that first drew you to contemporary dance?

I’ve always been curious about the mind and the body and the interconnectivity. Collaboration is at the heart of my artistic practice and choreography is always a collaborative act, not only with the dancers but also the other artists I work with.

You’ve done a lot of work in experimental psychology, how has is that linked to your interest in dance?

For me, it’s all about physical thinking. I’m fascinated by how the mind and body are connected, and I have been seeking out and collaborating with experts in cognitive science and genetics to learn more about the connections that we take for granted every day.


Dorothy Iannone: COS x Serpentine Park Nights

Pioneering feminist artist Dorothy Iannone reflects on her latest work, produced for the first COS x Serpentine Park Night of 2018

In the sixties, I started making my ‘People’ – some hundred wooden cut-out figures. At first I took images from my paintings, which led to cut-outs of my friends, figures from old masters, pop musicians, circus people and movie stars – until I couldn’t think of anyone else I wanted to make. It took almost half a century before I returned to my cut-outs; this time the ‘Movie People’ with their stories of unconditional love, or of risking everything for the possibility of happiness. I then developed this old format with a short text that tells the stories of the figures and why they had inspired me.

Last year, Hans Ulrich Obrist, who has interviewed me many times over the past decade, invited me to participate in the Park Nights programme, but because of other commitments I was unable to accept. This year when the invitation was renewed, I was happy to say “Yes!” and was able to continue to develop ‘Movie People’ further. 

Dorothy Iannone, Mother And Child, 1980, Gouache on Bristol board, 78 x 63 cm © All rights reserved. Private collection, courtesy Air de Paris, Paris.

The integration of painted image with text and sound, or with filmed images, has always been part of my work and I’m glad to have now been able to introduce sound to this, the progeny of my silent ‘Movie People’ cut-outs of several years ago, and perhaps to have taken a first step towards a new form in my oeuvre (or at least, to have dreamt of it).

As never before with this project, teamwork has been of the utmost importance. I have learned so much from this experience, and I feel so grateful to my old co-workers for their assistance, and delight in my new professional friends at the Serpentine. I hope the audience will remember the work with a smile, and that I have communicated what cannot be communicated in any other way than what I have presented in the ‘Movie People Perpetual Performance.’

Park Nights – staged within the unique Serpentine Pavilion in the heart of Hyde Park – is an experimental programme of live performances by compelling multidisciplinary artists from across art, architecture, music, film, philosophy and technology. At COS we are constantly inspired by the worlds of art and design, and for us it is an honour to support the Serpentine Galleries’ public performance series for a sixth year this summer.  

Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is the youngest architect so far to accept the invitation to design the pavilion on the Serpentine Gallery lawn and we are excited to see Park Nights come alive in what she has created. Her pavilion has focused on the subtle interplay of light, water and geometry, creating an atmospheric courtyard which draws on Mexican architecture and British materials and history, specifically the Prime Meridian line at London’s Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

– Karin Gustafsson, COS creative director

Dorothy Iannone’s performance will take place on Friday 13 July. COS x Serpentine Park Nights 2018 runs on selected nights throughout the summer. For more information please click here.

Open Sky: Phillip K. Smith III x COS

Port speaks to Californian artist Phillip K. Smith about OPEN SKY, a new installation for the Salone del Mobile in Milan produced in collaboration with COS

In making interactive installations with shiny surfaces that mirror their surroundings, Phillip K. Smith III has returned again and again to the sprawling landscapes of his native California. Raised in Coachella Valley, the desert has been an enduring site of inspiration in which a barren environment becomes two abstract strips of hot orange and blue. By inserting his large-scale reflective forms he distorts the sandy expanse into a series of shimmering impressions that change with every passing hour, and respond to the viewer’s movements. Smith now has a studio in Palm Beach, California and stretches of empty shore are another point of focus, whose installations unfurl and elongate to echo the coastline. 

Uprooted entirely from the climate he has studied for so long and transported to another continent, Smith’s latest project OPEN SKY is a semi-circular structure built into the constricting square courtyard of Milan’s Palazzo Isimbardi. The artwork, the result of a collaboration with London-based fashion brand COS to create their 7th annual installation for the Salone del Mobile design fair this month, contends with the 16th century architecture and marks an exciting new innovation in Smith’s work.

Karin Gustafsson, the creative director at COS, says of selecting Smith to represent the brand: “Phillip’s work is centered around looking to the natural world for subtle shifts in light and colour that inspire new ways of seeing – his works are inspiringly simple and minimal, yet they are majestic and constantly evolving with the world around them. The concepts that his work embodies are also reflective of key tenants of COS’s aesthetic and inspire us to think of our designs in new and interesting ways.”

Smith spoke to Port about the collaboration with COS, the ways visitors interact with his art and how he found working in the urban setting of a courtyard in Milan. 

How did you come to be involved with COS and the project at the Salone del Mobile?

COS reached out directly to me. My work had been on their inspiration boards for a few years and when they were thinking about commissioning an installation in their first ever outdoor space, my work made sense. COS has worked with a terrific group of artists and designers over the past few years, and I am honoured to be part of that lineage, but also to be given the chance to participate in a process that is artist-focused from conception to realisation.

In what ways does OPEN SKY respond to Palazzo Isimbardi in Milan?

I wanted to pull the sky down to the ground, to make the sky physically present. The installation is created in direct response to its location at the Palazzo Isimbardi, using both the framed sky above and the enveloping 16th century Renaissance architecture. I wanted to create an ever-changing sense of discovery of the built and natural environment. I wanted to slow the pace of experience from the moment people enter the palazzo off of the streets of Milan, so that people would be open to the subtle shifts in light and the passage of time expressed through the shifting sky.

How do you see people interacting with OPEN SKY?

As viewers navigate the installation and palazzo, their angle of reflection changes in relation to the architecture creating a dynamically shifting collage of sky and architecture, diagonally laid out across the 14 metre diameter reflective surface. This re-collaging of the surroundings opens one’s eyes to the beauty that is in front of them. The entire experience is a slowing down, from the streets of Milan to walking through the entry archway of the palazzo to walking around the abstract, tactile light and shadow exterior surface of Open Sky. The sense of pace slows and the sounds are quieted. 

Finally, people will pass through the palazzo and out into the garden where there are five freestanding Reflector sculptures that have been sited. These works interact with the sky, garden, and architecture of the interior of the block. I hope that people will use the benches and sit for a while so they can fully appreciate the surrounding beauty and atmosphere.

Many of your recent installations stretch out across beaches and deserts in your native California. How did you find this project compares to your past work?

Milan, certainly, is a new environment for me with its urban reality. When you are out in the middle of the desert, your view can be easily distilled into just to elements: land and sky. However, while all of Milan exists past the perimeters of the building, within the courtyard of the palazzo the experience can still be distilled into just two elements: sky and architecture. 

Standing since the 16th century, Palazzo Isimbardi is at the centre of Milan’s history. In what ways might OPEN SKY allow visitors to view or experience the building in a new light?

 The installation works as a tool for viewing. It is an interactive experience that requires the architecture and sky as materials and the viewer as the activator. While nearly 400 years separates the inception of the palazzo and this installation, there is a seamless, timeless merging of art, architecture, environment, light, perception and viewer.