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June 24, 2014

JR & José Parlá: Wrinkles of the City

The Freewheeling Artists On How They Transformed the Streets of Havana

Artists and longtime collaborators José Parlá and JR traveled to Havana, Cuba for Wrinkles of the City, a global series of public art installations and expressionistic murals centered around enigmatic portraits of the residents in each metropolis, from Berlin to Shanghai. This leg acted as a homecoming for Brooklyn-based Parlá, whose own parents emigrated from Cuba to Miami where he was born. Commissioned by the 2012 Havana Biennale, today’s self-directed film captures the duo’s citywide project that ran from Old Havana to Vedado, offering both artists the opportunity to engage with a city that has profound personal resonance. “Using any kind of media to express myself has always been key to my work,” says the Paris-born, NYC-based JR. “I’m glad we made the film to better understand our journey through this fascinating place that is La Havana.”

You’re both multilingual expatriates with similar backgrounds—what impact does that have on your art?
José Parlá: JR’s work is a commentary that is sharing something positive with the present or with history. Working together as we have has been organic because we both think alike. If I can't make something happen, JR steps in, and if he can’t, then I communicate it. In Cuba we spoke Spanish, Portuguese, French and Japanese, inventing ways to share.

JR: José and I have that in common, we always feel language is not a barrier. I guess it’s because we speak with our own hands a lot. 

How does your work in one discipline inform the other?
JP: The stories of walls are the memories of society. If I use photography it is to document places and people that later inform my paintings as well, with regards to colors and the mood or history of a painting’s direction. When I paint very layered and large-scale calligraphic paintings, the language is informed by gestural, free-associative movements, which I think of as a dance that envelopes the work.

What’s your favorite highlight from the trip?
JP:
When we were making the largest wall work of the whole project, JR guided me from across a field while I was suspended on a crane. It was hard to see with the sun glaring in my eyes. We finished the whole thing and celebrated the whole night.

JR: The people we met, especially the couple who we photographed and pasted up. We stayed in touch with them and they have been such an inspiration to both of us.—Timothée Verrecchia

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Spotlight

Exotic Skins

Photographer Arnaud Pyvka Explores the Rarefied Hides Favored by Luxury Fashion Houses

Brightly colored alligator and crocodile hides supplied by Singapore’s renowned tannery Heng Long International conceal the bare flesh of model Lidi Kochetkova in Arnaud Pyvka’s provocative shoot. A well-kept secret among chic tastemakers, the family-run Heng Long treats the production and preparation of animal skins as an artisanal craft, supplying perfectly treated hides to the likes of Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Prada. “It’s a dying skill as there are fewer and fewer artisans who are able to do it without using lacquer,” observes CT Koh, who runs the 175-strong tannery. Founded after the Second World War by CT’s grandfather—who learned the art while sailing between continents as a trader—Heng Long use a special Bombé finish on their skins, as well as transparent Analine dyes which don’t obscure the grain and natural detail. In between studies at Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion, CT’s youngest son Ethan recently branched out with his own bespoke accessories line Ethan K, making bags and clutches from the family’s sought-after skins. Here father and son discuss scales, conservation and the best way to make a bag last.

How do you tell a crocodile from an alligator?
Ethan Koh: Crocodiles are sourced from African countries, South East Asia, Australia and Papua New Guinea. Their scales are squarer and rounder so you can see the contrast.
CT Koh: Our alligators are American, from the Mississippi river. You can tell they have bigger scales; they’ve got a longer body than a crocodile.

Which hides would you recommend designers use?

EK: There’s a misconception that big scales or small scales are best but it’s down to what you’re producing. Rarer Australian salt-water crocodiles have smaller scales on their side so they look more aesthetically pleasing when you design a small clutch bag. Java lizards, a species farmed wild in Indonesia, have a beautiful natural dual tone, which you’ll often find used for watches.
CT K: A large good quality handbag also requires at least two to three pieces, especially when we take care to use the center cut of the skins as the center of the bag, so a good piece of hide is functional as well as beautiful.  

Where does work begin on a crocodile skin?
EK: Today the process begins with conservation.
CT K: During the 1970s trade increased but crocodiles were being exploited; so scientists and animal lovers joined in a group called the Crocodile Advisory Group, a special network that shared knowledge on sustainable farming. It means many species are no longer endangered.

What’s the trick to making a bag last?

EK: Two months ago I was at the Olympia Arts & Antiques Fair and I saw a couple of beautiful jewelry boxes from Asprey made in the 1890s to 1910s.  If they hadn’t been tanned well, they wouldn’t have lasted until today. Sometimes with crocodile bags, after a certain point, the skin actually looks even more beautiful. It depends how the user takes care. But the best trick? Don’t use your bag as an umbrella.

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Spotlight

Saffire: Eco Lodge

A Sybaritic Resort Set Against Tasmania’s Great Oyster Bay

New Zealand-based photographer Derek Henderson captures the distinctive architecture and natural beauty of the Saffire spa situated 125km northeast of Hobart in Tasmania's Freycinet National Park (named after the French navigator who founded the site in 1916). The exclusive idyll comprises 20 individual and freestanding suites that subtly complement the naturalistic location overlooking Great Oyster Bay, home to migrating humpback whales and dolphins. The site's organic design refers to the seascape's waves and sand dunes that are framed through abundant panoramic windows, while the buildings have been intricately fashioned from sustainable and locally sourced materials. Housed alongside a bar and relaxation area filled with Eames furniture and providing an expansive view of Coles Bay, the restaurant is similarly eco-savvy: nearby small holdings, farms and fisherman supply the fodder for head chef Hugh Whitehouse’s menu, which includes citrus-cured Tasmanian ocean trout and Cape Grim pasture-fed beef with poached celeriac cream.

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