Since Stephan Friedli and Ulrik Martin Larsen started working together under the name of Putput in 2011, their photographic portfolio has become the design version of a double take.
Setting themselves the challenge to “create distinctly ambiguous images,” Stephan and Ulrik’s projects have taken multiple shapes over the years. Sometimes for instance, Putput explores stationery in Sex tape, or they recycle found objects into new Vessels and turn handy Paint rollers into unusable but punny new inventions. Objects, their functionality or even their uselessness, have always inspired Putput from a design perspective, and it’s an influence still clear in the duo’s latest projects.
The first, Electrical Appliances, makes Putput’s interest in household devices obvious. A photographic series and a “direct continuation of our interest in everyday objects and the role these objects play in our life,” the image series takes your general kitchen appliance, but flips it on its head. Microwaves, blenders, coffee machines and carving knifes “often lead an overlooked existence,” Putput tells It’s Nice That, “we find that there is potential to re-imagine their expression and meaning — to give them new value and to start a discussion about their aesthetic value beyond function.”
To start this visual discussion, Putput begins with a lengthy research process, citing it necessary “to combine the mass produced objects with craft that has both quality and heritage,” the pair explains. To merge these alternate design practices together Stephan and Ulrik reach out to collaborators, “craftspeople who could help us with everything from woodcarving to glassblowing,” and in turn, create a hybrid appliance.
The result weirdly makes you feel a little uneasy. In elevating an object like a blender by placing a ceramic jug on top of its electrical bottom instead of throwaway plastic, Putput makes you reevaluate the object’s use, and question the way you’ve interacted with it every day until now. “We find it intriguing to look at what gives an object value, both in terms of material, form and history,” says Putput. “Certain things get passed down through generations and end up as high status artefacts imbued with the tales of generations while other things simply end up in a landfill and are deemed worthless. We feel that we have arrived at a result where each object intervention seems both perfectly natural and out of place.”
Another project from the Denmark-based studio elevates chosen objects, in this case plants, but by hiding them. Within Covered Objects Putput displays a different track in its work where the duo “deals with more sentimental or symbolic aspects relating to objects, a sort of altered reality where things have their own right rather the feelings we project onto them,” Stephan and Ulrik explain. Plants or pieces of fruit, especially those kept inside, are only a temporary symbol of beauty. By printing an image of the plant onto cloth and draping it on top, Putput keeps its allure permanent in “a place where transience is challenged and flowers bloom forever, fruit stays fresh and time has stopped,” they explain. Choosing objects such as “fruit, a bouquet of flowers, plants, mirrors,” is also a direct reference of "classical still life paintings,” Putput points out. However never one to look backwards rather than forward, Stephan and Ulrik change up the narrative challenging the “physical dialogue between object and image” and “present our take on the genre and an attempt to use the same traditional elements in a new way.”
Looking forward to the rest of the year, Putput will display Covered objects at New York Design Week and show its object flower arrangements at Comic Citrone Festival of Arts and Letters in Copenhagen. Shooting objects through a photographic lens will also continue within Stephan and Ulrik’s practice, choosing the IRL experience despite admitting it would probably easier to create 3D renders. “For now, our conclusion is that we find it important to show the improbable reality of things through objects.” Revisiting old popular formats of Stephan and Ulrik’s work is also excitingly on the cards, hopefully in the form of “furniture, some sort of a surreal supermarket and possibly some seriously sexy stationary".
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.