SARAH ILLENBERGER – A DIFFERENT VIEW
Sarah Illenberger in her studio in Berlin Wedding.
Berlin-based artist Sarah Illenberger is the creative mind behind the latest MYKITA collaboration. At the heart of the project is a short film entirely captured at the MYKITA HAUS. Small atmospheric scenes showing playful object arrangements, hands and tools in motion, and everyday details with occasional odd twists engage viewers to see the world through new eyes, inspiring a playful mood for the turn of the year and heading into 2023.
Born and raised in Munich, the artist, illustrator and designer has lived in Berlin since 2007. Using simple materials and everyday objects, such as paper, food, textiles or wood, her work reveals new perspectives on familiar forms – a kind of magical realm made visible via her unique way of seeing her surroundings.
We visited Sarah Illenberger in her Berlin studio, which – as you might imagine – is filled with quirky, funny and, above all, beautiful objects. In our conversation, we find out which everyday items she can’t live without for inspiration, what and who makes her laugh the most, and the most German thing about her, seeing as she can’t claim a lack of humour. We hope you will be inspired by this candid insight into her creative life.
So, the big question, the one you always get asked, is how do you come up with these ideas?
Well, I go hunting (laughs).
Is it a constant way of seeing things, would you even describe it as a compulsion?
Yes, it is a compulsion (laughs). I would also describe it as a constant level of awareness, of being in a dream-like level of life, of almost not trying to touch the floor, trying to stay floating in a way. So, that's part one. And then there's part two, where you really have to come up with concepts which is more like a labour and a process. It’s like shifting gears and turning on the motor. I have to try to adapt and shape the thoughts into something tangible and something that can really work with the vision of a company, for example. This framework can actually be easier than being in the free-floating realm, but maybe not always as rewarding as doing my own things.
Still, I'm not a repetitive person, I really enjoy something new, that's why the project with MYKITA was so great. Eyewear is such a magical object because you can see with it and there's so much symbolism there. Coming from a jewellery background, I can see it’s also a piece of jewellery. My mother is a jewellery designer and I sort of grew up in her workshop, and so I find there’s always such a good energy when people make things with their hands.
Animals, plants, the natural environment but also the banal items of everyday life play a recurring role in your work – what are your current favourite things that are inspiring you?
I do have some steady players in my repertoire. I have a fascination with things that are so banal but just belong to my visual vocabulary, like matches – this little stick with a red dot that makes fire. It's such a simple design and you can produce so much magic. Also, paperclips – I love the shape.
Well-known creations from the artist and new works in progress fill the studio space.
So, what would be the 10 items that you would take to a desert island?
Well, the ‘Sarah Illenberger Survival Kit’ would have to have: a match, a paperclip, a rope, a battery, a hot water bottle, a balloon, a bottle cap, a red rubber band, a stamp, and a candle.
We do all see things a different way – is there anyone else's perspective that you really value?
My daughter's! It's so unfiltered and just so fresh. She's ten years old, the toughest critic, and a really good way of seeing things. She doesn't hold back her opinion at all (laughs) it's quite painful sometimes. Yeah, I think, children’s perspective generally. I have friends’ children who come to the studio and I love to hear what they think and how they see things.
Do you ever feel ‘stuck’ – what do you do to see things in a new way?
I get stuck a lot actually. I get stuck in doing things too similarly and getting a bit bored myself and then I have to walk away from it and go a different route. I mean, walking and collection is my favourite hobby. That is not always so possible here in Berlin. Here, I love the classifieds on eBay – I do that quite a lot. I had a period where I always looked for 'Konvolut' which is the word for a big collection of one thing, which was really cool stuff to work with. But really I love to be outside and collect. Two weeks ago I was in Italy when they just closed down the beaches, which they stop cleaning in winter, and so there's all wood pieces and beautiful sticks in great shapes washed to shore. But yes, if I get stuck I just walk, walking helps.
While not naive, there's always a playful, optimistic energy to your creations - are you generally a sunny person?
No, I'm deeply depressed! (laughs) Actually, I do feel that my life is a remedy sometimes for my melancholy; I would consider myself a melancholy person and so my own kind of ‘happy pills’ is to entertain myself. Sometimes when I entertain myself, I can get so excited – that's just the best feeling when you nail it.
When/where are you the happiest?
In nature obviously – in Italy, in nature is just the best place. My mum has a place on a hill overlooking the sea and in that garden, I just get so happy. Green obviously helps – it's proven that looking at green does something with our brain, and looking at animals and birds and butterflies. Also, watching the horizon, that infinite view, that’s what’s really helpful.
And what makes you laugh the most?
When my daughter parodies me (laughs), when she imitates me – this makes me to totally crack up. I think anybody imitating someone else, I love it, people making fun of each other. I really have difficulties with people who take themselves so seriously. That goes together with lightness, I think I try to educate through my work to not take yourself so seriously.
Photographs, paintings, sculptures – her work spans a wide range of materials and techniques.
Very true – the wit in your work really goes against the stereotype of the humourless German – what if anything would you say is typically German about you?
Good question – I feel very un-German to be honest, but if there is something... I think I'm very reliable, I really stick to my word and I do what I say. A sense of reliability is probably the most fundamental character trait that I connect to Germans. Also, I don’t like to exaggerate, to make more of things than what they are. I stick to reality. I do distort reality but I don't make it any bigger or smaller than it is. The German word I’m thinking of is ‘Aufrichtigkeit’ (Ed. sincerity).
Are you personally a friend of the holiday season?
I do love this homecoming feeling – you get everything done and get in the car and put on Chris Rea "Driving Home for Christmas". I go to Munich where I’m from to my mum and family, and we all go to the mountains. It's a reunion of many people coming back home to their city. That’s the part I like most. I do celebrate Christmas, I couldn't escape to an island and just skip it.
As an artist and maker of things what are your favourite gifts to give and/or receive?
For me the whole month before Christmas is actually the most important one. Not because people buy my work or use them as gifts, but I love making gifts myself. I always use the time to think about the people I'm gifting and to come up with a concept. I’m very professional when it comes to gifting –that's why people who celebrate Christmas with me always have high expectations! Some people such as my mum and my partner, or even my daughter, all get a present where you can see that I have been thinking and contemplating and trying to put it all together to create something that is magical and a surprise. I always try to start early but often still find myself in the days before Christmas madly montaging and screwing, packing, whatever. It can get really nerve wracking sometimes, though I’m getting better.
Entirely filmed at the MYKITA HAUS, A Different View by MYKITA x Sarah Illenberger expresses the unconventional spirit of the Modern Manufactory in Berlin.
Let’s talk about your visit to the MYKITA HAUS – what was your favourite part?
I really loved the place where we were shooting with all the prototypes and eyewear models … the material specimens and the samples and the colours…
Ah, the design studio!
Yes, that's a really special room with the full glass front and the light and the clouds and the subway going past and the guy with his cat on the balcony... the scenery, it's like a movie. So, you have the movie looking out of the window and then also looking in, and seeing how quickly everything is being created. I have super respect for the eyewear design process, sticking to this particular shape and it has to be wearable. There are always the same parameters and yet within these very strict parameters to have so much variation? I find this really fascinating. I would get stuck quickly.
Was there anything that surprised you?
I was surprised that everything fits under one roof – so many different disciplines, to have the whole process basically inside one HAUS. I find the whole logistic incredible. I'm always fascinated by logistics, how everything falls into place and works.
In the spirit of ‘a different view’, we wanted to play a game of association with you – so I will give you a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind:
Home - Peace
Work - Passion
Holidays - I don't have holidays...
Sun - Sponge
Hands - Play
Eyes - Tools
Berlin - Escape
Europe - Safety
Earth - Connection
View - Private
Light - Endorphins
MYKITA - Playground
Dear Sarah, thank you for this lovely conversation and your time!
Sarah Illenberger next to one of her latest favourite creations, the papaya with crystal seeds.