Masa, a pliable material that quells hunger and sustains culture. Now apply that to the design realm: a design platform that walks the blurry line between art and design with the intention to show, curate, write, build, question, provoke, educate and learn. Masa is a nomadic project founded in Mexico City by seven people including artists, designers, gallerists and curators – Age Salajõe, Cristobal Riestra, Hector Esrawe, Brian Thoreen, Roberto Diaz, Isaac Bissu, and Constanza Garza – offering space for discourse about design.
The platform is now presenting their inaugural exhibition, Collective/Collectible, on view until the 24th of May, which asks what it means to be from somewhere. It features leading artists and designers from Mexico whose work challenges hierarchies of function and expression, like Jorge Méndez Blake or José Dávila. We speak with three of their founders to listen to what they have to say about their new enterprise.
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“Masa is a design platform. Masa is a gallery too. Masa is based in Mexico City. Masa shows collectible design.” That’s how you describe this newly inaugurated space, founded by Age Salajõe, Cristobal Riestra, Hector Esrawe and Brian Thoreen, along with Roberto Diaz, Isaac Bissu and Constanza Garza. What is the urge behind Masa? What is the void you want to fill with this project?
Age: We had been talking about opening a collectible design gallery in Mexico City for about two years as we saw that there was nothing as such here. The original idea started from a gallery and slowly evolved into a platform, a nomadic project that shows and represents collectible design but not separating it from art – it was very important for us to blur the line between art and design; they have to go hand-in-hand. We aim not to have a standard ‘white box’ gallery but rather find spaces that intrigue us, either it’s in Mexico or abroad. I guess the void we are aiming to fill is also putting design made in Mexico to a global level.
Hector: Since I met Age almost three years ago, she had the idea of opening a gallery in the country for collectible design because, as designers, we started to realize that we lacked a space like this. From that point, we started alongside Brian to nurture the idea; eventually, the rest of the partners got involved.
Brian: The urge is simply to expand the dialogue between art and design; to make the line between art and design even more blurry than it already is. This grey area is where we like to exist. A space with no definition and no rules.
Despite being connected to art, design and creativity, you all come from different backgrounds: artists, designers, gallerists, curators, etc. When did you realize that art was something that you wanted to devote your career to?
Hector: All of us have been committed to art in different ways. My approach started when I was really young; I was constantly blown away by it. My mother always had a close relationship with and an interest in art. Today, those references are not the art that I’m related with, but at that moment, it opened the path for my future aspirations. Design has been the best ally to increase those aspirations.
Brian: For me, it was just after high school that I was exposed to art in a meaningful way. After that, I bounced around in many different fields but always centered around art.
Age: Before starting to work in art and design, I had been around them pretty much all my life. My stepfather’s parents were both sculptors, one working with ceramics and the other with metals, so their studios and work have been around me since I was six years old. Also, in my teens, I spent a lot of time with my best friend, her parents – who were art advisors –, and their glorious and sublime artist friends – who were avant-gardes of their time in Estonia, where I am from. Since then, I have been very exposed to art and sculpture.
I would get lost at museums and exhibitions for hours, which is up today my favourite activity. I started to work in design seriously three years ago, when we launched Ewe Studio, which makes functional sculptural design. In parallel, I was taking courses related to art to increase my knowledge. The curatorial aspect of working with Ewe Studio, as well as organising exhibitions for it, became a passion for me.
From there, the desire to take it to another level and unite the works with art became very relevant, and wanting to create exhibitions that leave visitors with strong reactions became something that I am devoted to. From this seed, Masa was born.
Masa promotes a discourse about design and sustains culture. With digital, physical, and conceptual presence, Masa definitely doesn’t follow a standard art gallery model. It is a nomadic project. Does that mean it has no borders? Who do you want to engage in this enterprise?
Age: We have called it a ‘mutant baby’. We are showing collectible design and art hand-in-hand, but we are allowing Masa to grow naturally towards what it desires to become.
Brian: Masa certainly has no borders from a political perspective but definitely celebrates differences from a cultural perspective. If we can start from a place with no rules, as long as we maintain integrity, then we can open up the discussion to everyone and anyone who wants to engage.
Hector: We want to have a local narrative with a universal message. We firmly believe that Masa expresses a relevant moment where the interest in Mexico and its cultural expression has raised beyond our borders. There are many artists working on expressions that engage in dialogues with Mexican heritage and tradition; its skills and valuable craft have become attractive to many of them – many decided to move to Mexico.
“We want to have a local narrative with a universal message.” Hector Esrawe
Masa being founded by curator and designer Age Salajõe, OMR gallery co-founder Cristobal Riestra, designers Hector Esrawe and Brian Thoreen, along with curator Constanza Garza and collectors Roberto Diaz and Isaac Bissu, just arises the curiosity to: how did your paths cross?
Brian: How do any paths cross? A series of common connections, interests, passions, dinners with too much wine and open minds.
Age: I met Brian in Los Angeles about four years ago. When I moved to Mexico a year later, Hector was one of the first people I met. Soon after, Brian started to visit me in Mexico and he fell in love with the country and also made the move. Cristobal, Isaac and Roberto were introduced through Hector. What is the most special about this project is that we are all friends and it was born out of that bond and mutual understanding that Masa needs to be created and it needs to be created together. We all bring different qualities to the project and I guess we all realised it while creating Masa.
Hector: Most of us have been close friends for a long time; we either collaborate in some projects or are partners in some others. With Age, I share my everyday life, but all of us have in common the passion and love for art and design.
Being between four and six different people working on this, I’d like to know: what role does each of you play? How do you divide the work, and how do you feel your different knowledges complement each other?
Age: I am running Masa day-to-day, co-curating with the team, looking out for new talent, managing client relations, sales, communication and advancement. Each of us comes in with our different qualities where needed, and we really complement each other. We are in really tight communication with one-another all the time and taking vital decisions together.
Hector: We have a close dialogue on everyday decisions. We gather together to define and organize what are the next steps of the project. We are constantly questioning and researching around design. Roberto and Isaac, as businessmen and collectors, have been an astounding input to Masa as a company; the rest of us have an open discussion about the next steps and curatorial intentions of Masa. But at the end of the day, we all sit around a table to have the personal imprint of each one of us.
Brian: Each of us has different strengths and we divide the work according to those strengths. It is as simple as that. I think it is best not to define too much each person’s role but to leave space for each to grow and feel comfortable. Communication and open understanding are really what it takes.
Collective/Collectible is your inaugural exhibition. It has been co-curated by Su Wu and Constanza Garza and runs until April 13. It features the work of more than thirty artists and designers whose pieces challenge hierarchies of function and expression. They are Mexicans or foreigners who have lived in the country and have been influenced by it. When conceiving the exhibition, what were you looking for in an artist?
Age: We have now decided to extend our first exhibition until the 24th of May. We have received such a heart-warming response from both national and international guests and press… Since we still receive a great number of visitors, we want to keep our doors open a little longer (via appointment only). Regarding the artists we are exhibiting, we had an initial wish list. We went after it and, luckily, we got it! We were looking for their work’s quality and individuality. Also, our aim was to mix established artists with others more up-and-coming in order to allow their works to exist together.
Hector: Also, in all cases, we looked for a passion and a genuine interest in Mexico and its culture. We wanted to see that they understand – or at a certain moment understood – the vastness and richness of our culture. But the most relevant part is how these artists translate this interest into new meanings and languages.
“If we can start from a place with no rules, as long as we maintain integrity, then we can open up the discussion to everyone and anyone who wants to engage.” Brian Thoreen
This exhibition is located inside an abandoned 1970s home in Av. Paseo de las Palmas 1535, Mexico City. It is awe-inspiring to see how the art pieces complement and blend with the surroundings. What challenges did you face when designing Collective/Collectible?
Brian: We mostly left the house the way we found it. All we did was clean and add lighting. We liked the idea of finding a space and leaving it as we found it, forcing us to find ways to use it and play with it in a new way. That was the real challenge.
Age: The space is truly incredible. The walls and floor are red on the ground floor. On the second floor, on the other hand, each room is completely different from the other. The challenge was to curate around the original space, which at the same time was the beauty of it.
Hector: Mostly the character of the house is so strong and dominant that we decided to flow with it. The dialogue was built between the art pieces, the design pieces and the house itself. With every piece, we explore the interaction and the best place for it to be displayed. Sometimes we all agreed immediately, and in some others, it took many hours of discussions and of relocating the pieces physically.
Collective/Collectible asks what it means “to be from somewhere” and how the aspects that define a place might be separated from the aspects of the state. What values is art offering to society in the modern world in your opinion?
Hector: We want to encourage the values of narrative and the sense of belonging. Home is not always where you come from; it is where you feel that you belong. The art that we respect is the art that has an honest and frontal dialogue with its context or its moment.
Hector and Brian, as designers whose pieces can be found in the exhibition, how did you deal with the duality of being gallerists and artists in the same project?
Age: The three of us have our own work at the exhibition. Hector and I have a studio called Ewe, which is also exhibiting work at Masa. I’ve had to separate myself from being the artist showing at the show and wear the gallerist hat instead due to daily looking after the gallery. There definitely must be a shift from artist to gallerist.
Hector: When it’s time to select the submitted pieces, it’s hard for us to wear more than one hat. We have a mature dialogue about what is convenient for the project and we clearly need to validate that every piece is there for the right reasons.
Brian: In relation to Masa, I see myself as less of a gallerist and more of a curator. Therefore, it’s more about my vision of how to show the work, whether mine or others’, and less about the business of the gallery. And if we are starting from a place with no rules, then it is easier for all of us involved to ask ourselves these questions along the way and to do what’s best for the show and not for ourselves.
“We are showing collectible design and art hand-in-hand, but we are allowing Masa to grow naturally towards what it desires to become.” Age Salajõe
From your own viewpoint, what do the artworks being presented at Collective/Collectible reveal about the current trends and market? Or the current worldwide social state?
Hector: Since the beginning, we aim to be detached from the trends and the market and to express in our way the moment of what the Mexican art and design scene is living.
It is time to get one’s feet wet. If you ever had to choose among the artworks on display in Collective/Collectible, your most personally treasured one, which one would it be?
Age: For me, the Pedro Reyes pink tinted concrete Mitla Chairs. That being said, I adore every piece we have at Masa.
Hector: Return by Miguel Ángel Rios.
Brian: Alma Allen’s Onyx Table.
You stated that you want to show, to curate, to write, to build, to question, to provoke, to educate. What are the near-future plans for Masa? How can we all the admirers be on Masa’s track?
Age: We planned to take the current show – curated slightly differently – to other destinations this year, which we are very much looking forward to announcing soon. In the meantime, we are activating our exhibition space with regular talk series as well as kids art and design walks and other happenings as such. Our Instagram @masagaleria is the best to track our steps as well as our website.
Hector: Besides planning the next location, format or expression of Masa, we’ve been doing workshops and lectures that consolidate the intention of Masa of being a platform for art, design and culture. We are informing through social media (Instagram and Facebook) any activity at Masa.
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