Best of CH 2021: Interviews

10 of the stimulating conversations we've been lucky enough to have this year

There are countless artists, musicians, organizers, scientists, designers and inventive individuals of all disciplines that we admire from afar and, while they say never to meet your heroes, some of the most satisfying and interesting articles we embark on at COOL HUNTING involve conversations with those people. This year, like all those before, we spoke with individuals doing intriguing and valuable things with their talent and time—from creating digital portraits to making music to building better emergency housing. Here are just 10 of the stimulating conversations we have been lucky enough to be part of this year.

LaJuné McMillian “Self-Portrait 4” courtesy of the artist

Artist LaJuné McMillian Opens Portals To Liberation Through Digital Self-Portraits

A forest blooming with power cords and algorithms, a sea drowning in data and waste: these are the terrains evoked by Synthetic Wilderness, a group exhibition currently on view at LA’s Honor Fraser gallery until 18 December. Curated by tech writer Jesse Damiani, the show features three artists—Nancy Baker Cahill, Xin Liu and LaJuné McMillian—whose work traverses the social, political and cultural implications of emerging technology. McMillian does this with an added emphasis on marginalized communities. Through their series of NFT self-portraits, the artist examines technology’s twofold capacity to harm already vulnerable people as well as spark liberation for them. Using Unreal Engine and an avatar creation software, McMillian (who will be participating in a speaker series related to the exhibit, called “NFTs in 2022” in 13 November) distorts their profile, creating a kaleidoscope of colors that grows like a rhizome and bursts across the frame… Read more.

Courtesy of Tammy Nguyen

Sound and Sorrow: Nite Jewel Discusses Her Upcoming Album, “No Sun”

Nite Jewel—aka singer-songwriter, producer and scholar, Ramona Gonzalez—is poised to release her first new album in four years. No Sun (out on her own Gloriette Records, 27 August) is a vehicle not only to express the impossible to express, but also to explore and experiment with genre and song creation. The LA-based artist set out to make the record with just a Moog synth and a keyboard, and the result is stunning. The rich but spare music on the record feels awash with both sorrow and strength, and Gonzalez’s featherweight vocals engulf listeners with emotion. Recorded in part as her 12-year marriage and creative partnership broke down, this album—wherein the hierarchy of pop music is both rebuffed and reimagined (for instance, vocals take the place of drums and percussion replaces chords)—also led the multi-talented artist to her most recent academic deep dive: the women’s lament… Read more.

Courtesy of Kayleigh A Myer

“The Art of Play: A Retrospective of William Accorsi” in The Catskills Urban Cowboy Lodge

A few weeks before the Upstate Art Weekend opening of William Accorsi‘s retrospective at Urban Cowboy‘s Lodge in the Catskills, the imaginative 90-year-old folk artist died. Leading up to the powerful, playful exhibition, Accorsi spent time developing new pieces and plotting his future. Accorsi knew that death wasn’t far, and yet his empowered vision was to continue crafting sculptures, complete an autobiography and reconnect with some of the institutions that exhibited him earlier in life. Though Accorsi isn’t a household name (except for those who may have read his beloved 10 Button Book as children or to children), his resume is a mighty one… Read more.

Courtesy of Maloney brothers/Instagram

The Bronx’s Sol Cacao Preserves Cocoa Farming History While Looking to The Future

In the Bronx’s historic piano manufacturing district, Port Morris, history is being created once again. Since 2017, the neighborhood’s been home to Sol Cacao—the Bronx’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory, run by three brothers: Dominic, Nicholas and Daniel Maloney, who are ethically crafting a rare, authentic taste of Caribbean cacao. Despite the fact that this 100% Black-owned company only launched in 2016 (originally in Harlem), Sol Cacao’s pure, undiluted chocolate is quickly rising through the artisan ranks. But the Maloney brothers’ passion for chocolate started long before their brand launched. The story really begins in Trinidad… Read more.

Courtesy of TooD

TooD’s New Biodegradable BioGlitter + Self-Love Ethos

Shari Siadat founded TooD—a beauty brand intended for people of all genders and ages—on the basis of self-love, self-expression, experimentation and celebration. Growing up an Iranian American in the United States, Siadat felt not only a lack of representation, but also immense pressure about one particular part of her body: her unibrow. After spending decades worrying about hair removal and altering her appearance, Siadat gave birth to her third daughter—a child that looked just like her—and everything changed… Read more.

Courtesy of Kasama

Kasama Rum Blends Contemporary Ideas With Family Heritage

Tradition and modernity collide with Kasama, a new rum brand founded and helmed by Alexandra Dorda. In many ways, Kasama was born from Dorda’s family history. The daughter of one of Chopin Vodka and Belvedere’s co-founders, Dorda says, “I joke that I’m 29, but I have 27 years of experience in this industry. I was two when my dad started his businesses.” After working for years in the family business in Poland, Dorda began forging her own path, which led to a passion for rum. While she had the benefit of a deep familiarity with distilling, she also found that there was a connection to rum beyond her own enthusiasm for it. “I learned that the Philippines is one of the biggest rum producers in the world,” Dorda says. “My mother is from the Philippines, so I had this ‘aha’ moment that I could create the brand that I wish existed while also celebrating the Filipino culture that I’m so proud of”… Read more.

Courtesy of Fueguia 1833

Fragrance Brand Fueguia 1833 Founder Julian Bedel on the Inspiring Science Behind Scent

Fueguia 1833 is no ordinary fragrance producer and is far removed from the licensed luxury brands that overwhelm the perfume and cologne markets. The vision of artist and scientist Julian Bedel, and founded in Argentina circa 2010, Fueguia’s limited edition unisex personal scents utilize only natural and entirely biodegradable ingredients, all free from preservatives and dyes. Fueguia’s new line of homeware items—four beeswax candles, wooden and brass diffusers and bioactive sanitizing skin and textile sprays—adhere to these same standards… Read more.

Dannielle Bowman “Vision (Bump’N’Curl)” 2019 / “October’s Shadows (I)” 2019

Interview: Photographer Dannielle Bowman

On now (by appointment only) at Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York, Dannielle Bowman: 2020 Aperture Portfolio Prize Winner displays Dannielle Bowman‘s glorious series What Had Happened, photographs that explore a vast historical event with intimate, private scenes—a balancing act that’s achieved through delicate use of shadow, light, texture and tenderness. Essentially an exploration of home, What Had Happened draws inspiration from the Great Migration and began as Bowman’s desire to capture elements of her own history. At first making these black and white images at her family members’ homes in LA, she has since broadened her scope; tracing Black American histories by photographing other homes across the country, and even digging through her own archives—discovering that her desire to document these stories existed long before she embarked on the photo series… Read more.

by Sameer Raichur, courtesy of Better Shelter

Better Shelter’s Johan Karlsson on Their Emergency Housing Innovation, Structure

Humanitarian innovation project and social enterprise Better Shelter‘s mission lies within its name and the organization’s latest modular emergency housing provides more protection and dignity for those surviving the aftermath of disaster. Much more than a tent, Structure (which can be used as temporary housing, classrooms, clinics or other community-centric spaces) is not only sturdier and longer-lasting, it also gives owners the option to upgrade the structure and add local materials—making them more practical, permanent and personal… Read more.

“Hormones are hormones, and art is art” (2021) © Ilona Szwarc and Diane Rosenstein Gallery

Interview: Artist Ilona Szwarc on Her Show “Virgin Soap”

Multidisciplinary artist Ilona Szwarc‘s upcoming show Virgin Soap is filled with various shades of green and cobalt blue, with scenes of Szwarc shaping a plaster mold on a model posed in a classical position, evocative of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino.” Szwarc—whose work exists in a world between photography, sculpture and performance—tells stories of transformation in off-kilter portraits and through self-portraiture. Showing parts of her process is oftentimes an integral element of her vision. In her studio, where we visit the artist ahead of the show’s opening on 4 September, a collection of colorful mid-century glass vases sits near a small maquette of the Diane Rosenstein Gallery with a mock-up of the vibrant exhibition… Read more.

Hero image Dannielle Bowman “Mason’s Ring” 2020