The Haas Brothers’ World: Where Tables Have Tails + Chairs Have Horns
BY: BJ PANDA BEAR | IMAGES COURTESY OF THE HAAS BROTHERS
For nearly a decade the Nikolai and Simon Haas (aka The Haas Brothers) have carved out an otherworldly presence. They have become known as figures that transcend the worlds of art and design. Their familial bond brings about a certain playfulness—embracing a reflection on childhood and unencumbered humor—that has garnered international attention and collaborations with icons like Donatella Versace and Lady Gaga.
UTA Artist Space in LA is just the latest gallery to tap the siblings to do an exhibition that includes multi-room journey to showcase their multitude of techniques, one of which includes a resurrection of the now-infamous Sex Room from Art Basel Miami in 2015.
We caught up with Nikolai and Simon before the UTA show to talk about their origins, their inspirations, and what it takes to maneuver a working and personal relationship with your twin brother.
Before you guys collaborated with each other what did you work on individually creating?
Simon: I was a painter and a cook. I cooked from when I was 15 until I was 24, most recently at Elf Café in Echo Park. I was painting portraits, but not really selling them.
Nikolai: I was a construction manager, doing carpentry, and playing music. That was about it.
How did you guys end up working together?
Simon: Niki got offered a job doing construction for a project for Sony and he suggested that we start doing this together. We rented a studio and just went for it. Since we already had the studio’s rent paid, we had to just keep going at it.
We started doing mostly set design and visual effects for videos and sort of set garments. For instance, Lady Gaga did the perfume campaigns and we did all the masks for the stuntman in the video. We were just making shit and submitting it to everybody trying to make ends meet, eventually, we made enough stuff that it got rolling.
Where do your creatures come from? Are they a primal expressions?
Nikolai: Simon, Lucas, and I were sitting down at a restaurant when we were younger and we were just trying to draw cartoons that would make the rest of us laugh. It wasn’t a contest, but we were just trying to one-up each other. And it sort of gave birth to the aesthetic that we use now. I think the reason that we ended up drawing such a permanent line in the way we make work is that humor is such an awesome window into creating a connection with another human.
Humor is something you can use to relate to a human immediately. If you can make somebody laugh, they’re already listening to your message. You don’t have to be hitting them over the head with some severe message. You can take it light and then get into things that really matter. I think that innocent moment between the two of us sitting together and drawing has this really genuine feeling to it. That helped us open the door to creating something relatable and hopefully creating empathy for other people through our message.
Simon: For the three-dimensional furry ones, Niki was trying to think of shapes—posture and horns—that sort of convey the personality without having a face on it. And with the furniture with fur, they slowly became non-function because we took the 4 feet away and just give it two feet and they turned into critters. We were primarily designers and it evolved out of function completely. The characters run through the heart of our work.
I think the reason that we ended up drawing such a permanent line in the way we make work is that humor is such an awesome window into creating a connection with another human.
What facets of the work belong to Niki and what is from Simon?
Nikolai: The construction side is coming from both of us. I work more on sculpting and sketching and Simon is material development, philosophy, and concepts.
Simon: I focus on the micro stuff and experimenting on materials and I also read and write a lot. Niki has the broader picture in mind. So if you were to see my own studio, it’s a bunch of material samples and papers with shit written on it all over the place. Niki is actually making the shapes and creating characters.
How does your work fit within the worlds of art and design?
Simon: The boundaries between art and design have been a question that’s been out for a long time. I think we see it as, “Can we tack on a function in a way that either makes it funny or absurd? Or use a table and lift one of its legs up so it looks like it’s taking a piss?” You’ve removed that functionality of that leg and added this gesture that immediately makes it funnier. Instead of trying to define the boundary or battle against it, we just utilize the fact that there is a gray area to express a new idea. It’s more fluid, it’s more like gender—there’s nothing that exists in binary necessarily. We’ve kind of latched onto that idea when we design.
Instead of trying to define the boundary or battle against it, we just utilize the fact that there is a gray area to express a new idea. It's more fluid, it's more like gender—there's nothing that exists in binary necessarily.
Your work could be interpreted as very pagan.
Nikolai: I feel like paganism is used to define something that doesn’t fall into a societal norm in a way. Not that the design and art are more important than spirituality, but I think it can be for some people. Inside our studio, we are capable of the most functional, super strict chair or very abstract philosophical totally useless piece of work as well. Definitely, in our studio, that boundary does not exist. That line doesn’t exist in our microcosm.
Categorization in art and design is certainly falling apart is abstract—now that we have these tools like the internet, computers at our finger tips—and I think can choose to adhere to it or not. And if you don’t adhere to it like us, there is no boundary and I don’t know what to tell you. It’s kind of like, if there’s a big mass of land and someone subdivides the property and a bomb hits it, someone will be ask, “Where’s my plot of land?” Whatever the boundary was, it’s so obliterated by the way people work these days. I don’t really see the point in trying to understand it.
Simon: I also love in paganism that you have a positive God,an equal, and opposite negative God—that the positive and negative exist on one plane. Your perspective is what determines whether it’s good or bad, and creation and destruction are one in the same.
If you look at our show that is up at UTA, there’s parts that are pretty heavy and dark and that’s a reflection of when Nick and I were going through turmoil: I was battling major addiction and this year I came out of it. He and I are very happy and really grateful about everything, so I think you see a shift in that direction. Really we explore our own archetypes and feelings through the objects we are making. It’s about everything having a spirit or personality.