Left: Bless, workoutcomputer, 2010, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view. Right: View of “Bless,” 2010.

The conceptual fashion and design collaborative Bless was founded by Desiree Heiss and Ines Kaag in 1997. Their current exhibition at the Kunsthaus Graz, “N41,” is an immersive installation that reprises a number of their previous “products.” Here, they talk about transforming the exhibition setting into an intimate and user-friendly environment for their interactive items. The show closes on August 29.

THE KUNSTHAUS GRAZ is an amorphous, gray space lit by massive neon-light spirals that demand a lot of attention. It’s quite different from the sort of venue we tend to like—yet it was tempting to work with. The museum’s third floor is so massive that even big objects look tiny there. It soon became clear that our products would become lost in this cavernous space, with so little of what you could call our ideal “home”—or even a place we would like to live in. Curiously, after having worked in the space for one week, we felt at home there.

Since the giant neon spirals on the ceiling are so dominant, from the beginning we had a strong desire to work with these lights, either by transforming them or by finding some way to counterbalance them, which is what we did in the end. We drew inspiration from the pattern of the electricity grid embedded in the floor, and imagined the exhibition to look like the equivalent of a giant flower carpet, in which lamps and products, arranged at regular distances, form a symmetric pattern when viewed from above. We found most of the lamps on display in local thrift stores. They are designed to be hung from the ceiling, so that placing them on the floor gives them something of a flowery quality.

Our exhibition includes the workoutcomputer, a computer with punching bags for keys. It’s our ultimate dream of a daily-life/office/working tool, if only it would function at the same speed as a normal computer. It’s not that we want to make life more comfortable—or to make bodies lazier and tools faster—but to set up working instruments that are able to reconnect body and brain in a modern setting. It would be fantastic to be not only mentally but also physically exhausted after having written, for instance, a long e-mail.

For the doubleplants, initially we wanted to create an alternative to the usual flowerpots one has at home, but instead of altering the pots’ shape, we created a socket for each plant that consisted of the plant’s artificial homologue, placed upside down. So below you find an artificial plant with the real plant above. Also on view is a hybrid chair that can seat people in four directions. In each direction there is an hourglass that can be set to five, fifteen, thirty, or sixty minutes. Users of the chair determine how much time they want to spend on it—or, applied in a private context, how much time they want to give to their conversational partner.

We don’t typically want to “exhibit” our work. All our objects and products are conceived to be functional and applicable to daily life. In a given exhibition context, therefore, we always aim to create scenery that resembles a private environment. It was very interesting for us to discover that it was actually possible to open the normally closed and hidden windows of the Kunsthaus Graz which, once opened, provided an interesting architectural contribution to the more homey feel of some parts of the space.

There were no specific themes to this show. The title of our first book is still quite relevant for our work on the whole: Ten Years of Themelessness. We are quite happy to work with neither theme nor style, and we hope to somehow remain open and unpredictable in whatever we do. However, even though we question displaying a larger context for our items, we accept the exhibition offers we do with several interests in mind: a challenge posed by the space, our attempt to bring the artificial context of an exhibition to real life, and the vivid desire to work on new ideas for products.

We’ve actually never ever lived in the same city, and the longest time we’ve spent together was sixteen days for a series of events in Japan. We’d also never collaborated with anyone else before we met. For us it’s so normal to live in two different cities. Of course we both can be affected by our environment and cultural differences in each country, which maybe helps in the long run to avoid getting too disconnected from the outside world and, above all, to remain two separate individuals in different environments who simply share similar values and a deep friendship.

— As told to Dawn Chan