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From The High Atlas Mountain Range in Morocco to The New Spazio Maiocchi In Milan

November, 2017
Plusdesign Gallery in the new Spazio Maiocchi, central Milan | Photography Allegra Martin

Exploring the communicative nature of carpets, artist Misha Hollenbach teams up with gallerists Andrea Caputo and Luca Martinazzoli of Plusdesign Gallery to present the first exhibition of the Rug Trip series.

Starting in Morocco’s High Atlas mountain range, the first instalment of this travel series celebrates the traditional craftsmanship of working a loom, challenging the technique and presenting it in a contemporary way. Hollenbach and Caputo curated a group of international artists to partake, submitting designs that would be woven by craftsman in the mountain range. Artists Barry McGee, Todd James, Susan Kare, Anton Bruhin, Antwan Horfee and Matt Damhave, along with Hollenbach also, took up the challenge – with Barry McGee texting his design from San Francisco.

High in the mountain range, Hollenbach and Caputo found Berber women to weave the designs – with their handiwork a pivotal collaborator for the project. Accompanied by Milan-based multi-disciplinaries Invernomuto to document the trip, every step on this journey was recorded: sourcing on foot without predetermined contacts. Further Rug Trip projects will take the team to Sardinia, Mexico, Armenia, India and Tibet, investigating parallels between different cultures.

This is also the first exhibition that Plusdesign Gallery presents in their new space at Spazio Maiocchi: a social structure where art, design and fashion combine to create new cultural experiences in central Milan. Set over 1000 square meters, the space was renovated and repurposed by, an interdisciplinary firm with offices in Milan and Shanghai. An ideal backdrop for the vibrant rugs, the Spazio Maiocchi’s concrete structure and interiors allow for a more modern ‘white wall’ gallery. Here, Plusdesign present their credibility for challenging the norm yet again.

We speak to Hollenbach about teaming up with Caputo and Martinazolli of Plusdesign Gallery, and his journey to the High Atlas mountain range for this very special project connecting cultures worldwide.

Plusdesign Gallery | Photography Allegra Martin

CHAMP: How did you find yourself in the High Atlas mountain range first for this long-running project? As you embarked on the journey without predetermined contacts, did you hear about the looms in this area previously?

HOLLENBACH: I have fostered a love for carpets for a few years now, and after an adventure to Morocco, and more specifically to the High Atlas, we decided to try and make carpets as an experiment. Researching carpets and learning [about] their origins lead us to this area. We were not interested in carpets made in factories, or for the specific of trade, we had learned of the Berber people making the Boucherouite for example for their own homes. It was imperative for us to seek and find this scenario, I guess not the be-turbaned and curly-shoed rug dealer middleman businessman.

What is specifically unique to this area apart from weaving, and what did you personally find extremely interesting or fascinating about the area?

This area is 2000-400m high. Mount Toubkal is the second highest peak in Africa. The area is barren, it is exposed to extreme temperatures. The people there live in cave-like homes often dug into the terrain. Everything is barren, rocky and in shades of brown, and then in super high contrast the carpets and the beautiful steel doors appear. The carpets (and doors) are a beautiful addition to this rocky landscape.

Tell us more about the Berber women who weaved the rugs. Are they a group of women, are they of various ages?

The women of the villages weave as a social hobby. The loom moves around, from house to house, and the women (of all different generations congregate and weave together. This is a communal pastime. One carpet may have three generations work on it which makes it a wonderful story and experience to be a part of.

How did they react to your proposal and modern design requests? Additionally, do men not weave?

We made a conscious decision to bypass the men, even the husband who usually seems to have last say. We dealt and spoke directly to the women, to the extent that we handed them the money.

Did you only visit once to initiate and execute each rug design? Were there further communications needed, and what was that like with the Berber women?

No, we have been a few times to initiate the project, and to check on progress. We also employed a young Maroccoan woman to help with the liaising. Sporadically we would get terrible Nokia phone pics tracking the progress and asking for advice. All in ,all the rugs were based on inshallah – meaning we were open to the designs being interpreted to whatever extent. This was a crucial part of the experience and the process.

You’ve worked with the designers and artists you have collaborated on this project before, but why did you select this particular group for Rug Trip I: Morocco?

Andrea Caputo and I curated the group together. We had like-minded ideas on the first team, seeing parallels between a few grafitti writers works and the markings on traditional Berber carpets.

Was there a brief for the artists, and were there particular reasons for those you chose to join the project?

No brief, the connections in their work were already apparent.

Rug Trip I: Morocco at Plusdesign Gallery | Photography Allegra Martin


Can you tell us more about Plusdesign Gallery and why you worked with them on this project? Did Andrea and Luca also join your trek to the High Atlas mountains for this project?

We came up with the idea whilst working on a show together by Cali Thornhill Dewitt and I. Essentially a design alert, this project really resonated with the concepts behind the gallery, and it was all very smooth and uncomplicated.

Why do you choose to collaborate with the two creatives Invernomuto? 

Yes, as the project is with the Milanese Plusdesign duo, we wanted to document our time there. We used mutual friends Invernomuto to document the experience and they were perfect – with the stamina and eye we needed. These guys are welcome on any of the other legs of this project!

What was the wildest thing that happened on the trip?

The wildest thing was the time-frame of travelling to Morocco then reaching the outpost in Imlil and then trekking somewhat blindly in search of rugs. After three days we returned to our respective cities with the project well in place, and with the experience to match. We filmed for hours, collected field recordings of the music and people and goats. It was seamless and so exhilaratingly perfect, and all in three days. This was the most remarkable thing.


Rug Trip I: Morocco at Plusdesign Gallery | Photography Allegra Martin

Plusdesign Gallery

Via Achille Maiocchi, 7 – Milan

11 October – 25 November

Rug Trip I: Morocco at Plusdesign Gallery | Photography Allegra Martin
November, 2017