Niki and Simon Haas in Cape Town, 2015. (Photograph by Mason Poole)
THIS MONTH, SIMON AND NIKOLAI HAAS RETURN TO THEIR HOME STATE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE TEXAS CONTEMPORARY ART FAIR, IN HOUSTON OCTOBER 1 THROUGH 4. IT’S BEEN FIVE YEARS SINCE THE TWINS — KNOWN NOW AS THE HAAS BROTHERS — HAVE BEEN BACK TO THE STATE. IN THEIR TIME AWAY, THE PAIR HAVE MADE QUITE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES, WORKING FROM THEIR STUDIO IN LOS ANGELES, CREATING ONE-OF-A-KIND OBJECTS AND FURNITURE PIECES THAT HAVE BEEN SHOWN IN GALLERIES AND ART FAIRS AROUND THE WORLD. THEY ARE COLLECTED BY LADY GAGA AND HAVE BEEN COMMISSIONED BY VERSACE HOME. THE BROTHERS — BEST FRIENDS AS WELL AS WORK COMPANIONS — SHARE A PASSION FOR THEIR CRAFT AND IRREVERENCE TOWARDS TRADITIONAL NORMS THAT PUSH THEM TO THE FOREFRONT OF A CROWDED FIELD. THOUGHTFUL, SERIOUS, PLAYFUL, INTROSPECTIVE AND UNIQUE IN A WORLD IN WHICH STARDOM IS OFTEN MARKED BY MASS PRODUCTION AND MASS CONSUMPTION, THE HAAS BROTHERS STAND OUT FOR DOING, AND BEING, THE EXACT OPPOSITE. THEIR CANDOR, LIKE THEIR WORK, IS AS REFRESHING AS IT IS HONEST. STEVEN HEMPEL HAS A WORD WITH THEM.
HAPPINESS IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING.
Niki: I have been very lucky to find what I believe to be the meaning of success. Success is happiness. Once happiness became the goal, the ups and downs became a lot easier to manage. Let me tell you … there were moments where we had no money and no paycheck coming in. There are a lot more times now where everything seems pretty easy and floaty on a financial spectrum. The downs really have become more emotional or philosophical. Am I happier now than when we couldn’t afford rent? Not exactly. That’s what I’ve come to now: happiness.
The lows weren’t caused by money problems or even emotional weight. They were caused by my personal energy investment. Once I saw that I was in control of my own head space, it was easy to see that the ups and downs are a journey that is fun to take. The idea of “never making it” is relative. The only person that is a failure is the one who believes they have failed. I am happy, I’m a success, and I feel like I always have been. The state of our studio at the current moment doesn’t justify or legitimize our efforts; it was the intention that did it. That intention existed before we even started.
Simon: We had one day four years ago in which we met both Donatella Versace and Evan and Zesty from R & Company, who now represent us. We had gone to New York and met many, many people while trying to sell our work, but on this day it all came together. During the first meeting, we booked a collaboration with Versace, and during the second, we booked the gallery that would become our main support. Neither meeting was different than others we’d had, except that they landed. It’s a testament to the importance of not giving up or questioning the value your own output.
EAST VERSUS WEST.
Niki: I love New York; I love L.A.. But L.A. just feels more free. It’s a personal preference; I would never live in New York. Art/design-wise, both coasts and everything in between are doing really cool stuff. L.A. is having a good moment. Everyone here is thinking in a community mindset. Everyone wants everyone else in the art community to succeed. That’s the thing I feel the most attracted to in L.A. The support. I don’t feel that same vibe in New York … But maybe I’m just not as sensitive to it there.
DESIGNER OR ARTIST: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Niki: Ha ha. I don’t care at all what people call us. But I’m really excited that everyone is in a scramble to put his finger on a definition of our career. I think Simon is a philosopher and I’m a hippy. Those are the closest single-word terms that would describe who we are professionally.
Simon: I think it is really dangerous to place so much importance on a criterion such as “function;” that any object which has a function may not be called art. I personally relish that people don’t know what to call us, because I find strict definitions to be the downfall of our society.
HOW DO YOU FEED YOUR MIND?
Simon: I am searching for God; I can feel her in everything I look at. I love to watch physics as they happen — bugs running on water because of water tension, for example. The patterns in nature never cease to fascinate me. As Niki put it to a friend recently, I want to understand everything, and I won’t stop until I do. I love places where I can experience physics — the beach, the forest, a waterfall.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING CURIOUS.
Niki: Being curious is important in a creative career, but I really think it’s more important in just being a human. If one has no curiosity, they have little to no reason to engage in the world around them. Curiosity throws you into a place where you will naturally uncover the unknown, the forbidden or unusual. Curiosity fuels the discoveries that further mankind. I hope that I’m always curious. If one remains curious forever, their mind will never grow old.
Simon: Curiosity is the only important thing. I don’t see any reason to be here except to be curious. I always think of people as the universe’s way of looking at itself. According to quantum physics, something must be observed in order to exist. The universe needs us in order to exist, or it would just be a tree falling in the woods. This is how I approach the world. I’ve heard that children can’t see the color blue until they have a word or concept for it, because it’s so ubiquitous in nature that it goes essentially unnoticed without a conceptual framework in place. Imagination and curiosity are the engines of creation and existence; conceiving of something really can make it manifest.
Simon: I focus on gender identity quite a lot because I grew up in a world that isn’t quite okay with my own gender identity. It is really terrible, in my opinion, that the casual use of phrases like “that’s so gay” can be responsible for people like me living a large portion of their lives trapped in a personal prison. In everything I do, I wish to fight against those thoughtless behaviors which make so many people scared to be themselves. I hope that our work shows how much we embrace everyone and everything, and that it shows that we value love and joy over anything else.
Niki: Categorizing furniture in terms of gender is pretty absurd … We do it all the time. It’s really fun. I think it helps us break down the idea that it’s okay to do that with humans. It really isn’t. At least in our minds. Using objects to express emotion and sexuality is just a way of relating to people. It comes back to the idea of speaking a language that people can comprehend just through a visual. Talking about sex through a piece of art brings the taboo to the table. It allows a moment of vulnerability. That vulnerability is the bridge to compassion. Compassion is understanding.
MAKING IT WORK.
Simon: We are always pursuing our curiosity and allow that to guide us. We’re usually working on many things at once. Running tests on certain ideas, finishing production on others. We have made a studio that is very flexible — you can pretty much make anything you decide to make on a whim. Most of what we’re doing is bouncing ideas off of each other and building little objects for fun.
Simon: We recently collaborated with a group of women from Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa. It changed my entire life to embark on that collaboration; it taught me a lot about the real value of personal relationships and strengthened my drive to talk about gender and race equality. We are always excited by new challenges; bringing other people into our work teaches us about ourselves and helps us know who we are.
Niki: Ha ha … No thanks. Who cares.
WHAT’S CAUGHT YOUR EYE.
Simon: We recently saw Chris Ofili’s show at The Aspen Art Museum. I have never been so moved by any show I’ve ever seen. There was a very dark room full of deep- blue paintings. After a while my eyes adjusted and these haunting images popped out. I actually started crying.
ON COMING HOME.
Niki: We are super glad to come back to Texas. It’s a wonderful and unique place. It’s had a long-term effect on who we are as people, and it will be fun to explore our roots. I’m particularly excited about paying a visit to The Menil Collection. After Houston, we’ll spend some time in our hometown of Austin. It’s been over five years since I’ve had the opportunity to spend a week there.
GETTING IN ON THE FUN.
Niki: We recently collaborated with Cultured magazine to create a candle set for their back cover. It will be relatively inexpensive, and all proceeds go to the National YoungArts Foundation, an incredible organization. Please buy from that. It will be available soon. You can own a piece by us and do some good!
Simon: And you can buy our work through R & Company in New York!
See The Haas Brothers and their work at Texas Contemporary Art Fair through Sunday at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The artists will speak Saturday, October 3, 1:30 pm, in conversation with Contemporary Arts Museum Houston curator Dean Daderko. Free with Fair ticket or VIP Pass – click here for further details.