Luxury kitchen appliance brand, Gaggenau, gets creative with Brazilian-born artist, Mayra Sérgio, to host an exhibition, ‘Sensorial Shelter’, in their Grade II listed building on London’s Wigmore Street. Celebrating coffee, craftsmanship, design and creativity this installation sees coffee become an art medium in the form of bricks, reflecting the rich architectural history of English bond brick laying. Kitty Harris speaks to the artist about her career, love of coffee and inspiration behind her sculpture.

Kitty Harris: You worked as a set designer for five years in Brazil – how did your studies in Amsterdam influence/change your experience as a creator and artist going forward?
Mayra Sérgio: Studying in the Netherlands [at Gerrit Rietveld Academie] changed completely how I perceive and experience the creation process. I learnt that when starting a new project the least you know what it will be in the end, the better. Not knowing for a while where you are heading can be hard, but that’s when truly new ideas can come around. I also learnt to not only shape materials with my ideas but also let the ideas be shaped by the limitations and possibilities of the material. It’s a dialogue.

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KH: Why set design?
MS: Since I was a kid I was crafty, always making collages, objects or paintings. When I entered film school and we started making short films it came very naturally that I would be the one in charge of creating and building the sets and props. Along the years I developed a strong sense of how to tell a story through spaces and objects.

KH: How did your relationship begin with Gaggenau?
MS: What brought us together was coffee. Their vision of the meaning of a cup of coffee completely resonates with my work. It feels like a great match.

KH: Where did the inspiration behind the ‘Sensorial Shelter’ come from?
MS: I was busy investigating about what brings a sense of belonging to people. Being a foreigner myself, I started questioning how the spaces and objects around me interfere in that feeling.

Food carries a highly evocative power that enables one to feel ‘at home’ through its look, smell and taste. Food has the power to overcome an estranged space and transform it into a place of belonging. A mug of coffee can be stronger in making me feel at home than any built architecture.

Kitty Harris: What is it about coffee that resonates with you?
Mayra Sérgio: Coffee resonates with me in many different levels. To start with it is a delicious drink. But also, like many people, I carry various warm memories of sharing it with my friends or family. And the more you learn about its process, blends and different types and origins the more interesting it gets. So there you have it in a cup: taste, smell, geography and memory all connected.

KH: How would you describe your art form?
MS: I have an interest in creating works that enable different layers of experience. That can be at the same time sensorial and make people reflect.

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KH: You were fond of the English brickwork technique called English bond – what other mediums would you like to work with?
MS: The English bond idea came from presenting Sensorial Shelter in London. It would never have happened elsewhere. I find it fascinating that context can shape the work as well. I like the idea of using materials in unusual contexts.

KH: Is the process of creation different when you are commissioned to do a piece to when you are not?
MS: Commissioned pieces give you a frame to work within but in the end the way you connect ideas and create comes through anyway.

I think it’s healthy to balance both. Commissions are usually based on what people already know from you but when you create something on your own you have the opportunity to explore completely new themes and languages.

KH: What’s next for you?
MS: There are two paths ahead: I’m working on a new art installation but I also want to develop the coffee bricks further. Coffee is an incredible material with a lot of potential so I intend to collaborate with a more scientific partner to fully explore its possibilities as a product.

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