"We like to show work together because we feel our work complements and completes one another," explains photographer Elena Lyakir about her recent joint exhibition with furniture designer Eric Slayton (who also happens to be her significant other). Though they specialize in two completely different mediums, each half of the Greenpoint, Brooklyn-based couple manages to mirror the other's philosophy and aesthetic, resulting in an artistic marriage that is as harmonious as their own. We recently had a chance to visit Lyakir and Slayton in their studio and experience their work firsthand. Read on to see what they had to say about reclaimed materials, nature in New York City, and how they make their relationship - both in and out of the studio - a successful one.
INHABITAT: Elena, how would you describe your photography in one sentence? And Eric, how would you describe your furniture?
ELENA: My photography is a poetic meditation on the world which surrounds me, a visual representation of internal truths, an expression of longing to find a connection with all that extends outside of my immediate self, as well as a search for subtle beauty that often goes unnoticed.
ERIC: Honest, intentional, disciplined, organic, influenced by a term “wabi sabi”, used in the Japanese culture to describe “the beauty found in imperfection and change”.
INHABITAT: You often collaborate to bring your respective mediums (photography and design) to higher levels. Can you tell us a little bit about that partnership?
Our collaboration begins at the very core of creativity and imagination – a communication which often initiates many of our personal projects. We inspire each other visually and intellectually, thus the personal works created from those inspirations naturally become extremely esthetically and philosophically compatible resonating a similar organic, minimal, and intentional quality. We like to show work together because we feel our work complements and completes one another.
INHABITAT: Many couples would find it difficult to work together on top of living together. How do you make it work?
Ideally we work together as co-conspirators. We don’t always work together physically. We very much enjoy sharing ideas and the work which we produce with one another. In this way the work becomes play or shared experience which in turn is a sort of stimulus for the relationship. It forms a bond and a connection between us. The relationship provides a breeding ground of creativity and possibilities. We have barely scratched the surface of our potential.
INHABITAT: What kinds of recycled materials do you use in your pieces, Eric? How much does sustainability inform your work?
ERIC: The choice of material has a lot to do with how it will mature and change with time and as in the case of re-purposed materials, how they have “changed” already. The idea that these materials are used in a new way and are given a “new life” adds an element of history and a feeling of time’s passage to the pieces. I like to employ many different types of wood like New England barn siding, urban factory building columns, and joists that have been removed and replaced with steel beams. Water tank wood is among my favorites because the wood is from trees that have long been harvested.
INHABITAT: What are some tips you have for people trying to source reclaimed materials in New York City?
ERIC: Reclaimed wood is a big business now. Many restaurants and hotels are using this material for walls, floors, furniture and surfaces. It is in high demand and perhaps easier to find… I would encourage people to first learn and appreciate the history of the material itself and then try to source it.
INHABITAT: Elena, many of your photographs feature nature. Do you feel like true nature can still be found in New York City? Where are some places in the city you go to shoot nature?
ELENA: In New York city nature is everywhere. Perhaps it’s not common to notice nature when it is sparse and punctuated. One has to make an effort of awareness. Because it is a symbol of my connection with myself and an inspiration for self-reflection I see it everywhere. You don’t have to go far away visiting exotic places. It’s all in your back yard sort of speak. If only we choose to see it. There are also many beautiful old trees in Brooklyn where I live and of course city parks and waterfronts are very rich with subject. There are birds which migrate through the city and I am always looking. I tend to be minimal in my work using detailed, fragmented parts of the whole subject and in this way, if need be, I have plenty of material to work with.
INHABITAT: Eric, what is your favorite piece in your collection? Why?
ERIC: Probably a piece I have not manifested yet…. Or one in the works. My favorite may also be my first effort, The Standard Console with white concrete top and blackened steel base. The Concrete Blok Bench is a piece that did take my efforts to another level, as did the upholstered suede version of that piece. Also, my first attempt at a lighting piece called The Bundle Light may grow into something special… And the Lincoln Chair is an achievement. Personal “favorites” do not always translate into popular demand and I do not mind that at all. I do what moves me… Employing granite is next…
INHABITAT: You mentioned the term “wabi sabi” to describe your furniture. Can you explain what that means?
INHABITAT: Elena, do you have any advice for aspiring photographers in New York City? What do you feel is the secret to taking a truly memorable photo?
ELENA: A good photograph is one which speaks to you beyond thought. One that makes you feel. There seems to be a myriad of photographs which tell of the world, speaking in cliches among themselves but one single photo is enough to express a real which we all try to capture. This real is the ungraspable identity that is only visible through something else. This identity is very personal. My advise is to stay true to yourself, your feelings, ideas, imagination, and keep evolving personally. Then the progress of finding your own voice will develop organically.
INHABITAT: You live and work in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. What drew you to the neighborhood and how do you think it’s changing with newcomers like Kickstarter’s headquarters (which is right next to your studio)?
ELENA: We love the neighborhood because it is human scale and still a bit raw with less cultural constrains. There is a great community of artists and artisans in the neighborhood and this somehow is inspiring as well as convenient for production of our work. There is also kind of a buzz, an energy in Greenpoint which you cannot find anywhere else.
ERIC: There is just enough space to breath and just enough nature to soften the hardscape of city life.
INHABITAT: What is next on the horizon for Elena Lyakir and Eric Slayton?
ELENA: I am currently working on a new series as well as continually adding work to my existing “Aves” series, which is an ongoing study of birds and their environments.
I am very excited to be playing with ideas of employing installation in an attempt to connect closer and to add more philosophical and conceptual aspect to my work. Also, I am in the beginning stages of getting into design, which I enjoy immensely, working on a limited edition home decor line featuring my photography printed on fabric, which will be sold in upscale boutiques across the country.
ERIC: I am very thankful to have had recognition as a furniture designer. I now hope to create more pieces that are conceptual and for me that manifests through working with sculpture. I am first an artist and a scientist and I am employing those skills into my design work more and more. My passion is geared towards conceptual ideas and video installations are a discipline I truly want to explore.