Interview with Rilla Alexander from Rinzen
October 2008: The 5 members of Australian design and art collective Rinzen formed in 2000 as a result of their visual and audio remix project: RMX. Their style and work is already well known, the group’s posters and album covers have been exhibited at the Louvre and their large scale artwork installed in Tokyo’s Zero Gate and Copenhagen’s Hotel Fox.
We caught up with Rinzen member Rilla Alexander in Berlin, who together with her partner in crime Steve Alexander have set up a studio.
Who are Rinzen?
Adrian Clifford, Karl Maier, Craig Redman, Steve Alexander and I (Rilla Alexander).
We’re currently living in Brisbane (Adrian), Melbourne (Karl), New York (Craig) and Berlin (Steve and I).
How did you guys meet?
We all studied Design at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane – albeit in different years – and four of us eventually ended up working at the same design studio doing Corporate Identity. A few years down the track we were disillusioned with the sort of work we were doing and started remixing each others work in a project we called RMX. Everything clicked for us and before long we were all working together as Rinzen.
Where did you all study/grow up in Australia?
We’re all from regional towns and ended up in Brisbane for uni.
Where does the name Rinzen come from?
It’s an ancient Japanese word that means sudden awakening. We liked that it marked the moment where we realised we could be whatever we wanted… but that we could also bring our own meaning to the word since its not even understood in Japan.
What have you been up to lately?
Enjoying running through Berlin’s glowing golden autumn with our puppy Mr Tom.
Back in the studio, I’ve been adding colour to some plate designs I’ve been doing for German porcelain company Rosenthal. As well as drawing more characters from the Heironymous Bosch painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” for children’s products for the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Steve is currently finishing a book for Swiss publisher Birkhauser full of luscious pictures of Furniture and Lighting design.
How would you describe your own work?
Each member of Rinzen has their own style, approach and projects that they most love to do – and together they create the swirling mass of colour that is Rinzen.
My own work is filled with a cast of sleeping, cuddling, dancing animals inspired by myths and legends and visits to old bookstores, natural history museums and parks. I love my rotrings and ink.
How did you first get into designing?
When I was 8 my Dad’s friend, who was a graphic designer at the ABC, drew me a massive Get Well card that said “How much can a Koala Bear?”. And he did it at work. I couldn’t, and still can’t, think of many jobs better than that.
How do the different individual styles of Rinzen work together?
The less we think about it the better they mix. The RMX projects are the ultimate example of the work mixing and creating something entirely new and, ideally, that’s what would happen spontaneously in every project we do together. Most projects are done individually or in groups of two, though, so usually it’s more a case of our work evolving and changing at the same time, borrowing from and referencing each other.
I know you have been asked this a million times, but what made you move to Berlin?
The sense of living right on top of history. The bullet holes in the facades of the buildings. The seasons. The huge apartments with wooden floors and high ceilings. The stone fairytale sculptures in the park. The contradiction of living in a city whilst sometimes feeling like you live on a deserted island. Not being understood. The struggle.
How has the response been to your work from the german audience?
We tend to work in a little bubble here – and very rarely for German clients or audiences. Once you move anywhere permanently you are no longer exotic or interesting to the locals! It’s ok – it’s just the way we like it.
How do you like the city, and how does it compare to where you are from in Australia?
Having just been back to Brisbane for the first time in a couple of years, it’s given us a more realistic perspective (rather than the “grass is greener” view which can tend to develop after a while). On this trip Brisbane seemed to be full of design. Every local sandwich bar has up to date graphics and interior design – as do the real estate agents, accountants and dentists. Everything seemed so clean and shiny, easy and straightforward.
When I arrived back in Berlin, though, I remembered how much I enjoy the chaos and confusion.
Where do you find inspiration?
We rarely take holidays but instead stop off for an extra week or so whenever we travel for exhibitions, conferences and projects. We’ve carted back loads of old books, carvings, fabric and ideas from Japan, Mexico, Spain and Scandinavia. We take notebooks to museums and sketch like mad.
What advice would you have to younger designers entering the industry?
No matter how good the job, I forget the years of my life where I wasn’t also working on a personal project. It’s so important to keep sight of who you are.
I just asked Steve what his advice would be and he said “Think for yourself.”