April 16, 2014
Designer Profile: Bittertang
Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres are Bittertang, a design team specializing in inflatable installations infused with underlying themes like frothiness, bestiality, and babies. Their style is meant to make a viewer of their work think and feel as if they are looking through a window into a phantasmagoric world whether it is heavenly, hellish, or Mars. […]
Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres are Bittertang, a design team specializing in inflatable installations infused with underlying themes like frothiness, bestiality, and babies. Their style is meant to make a viewer of their work think and feel as if they are looking through a window into a phantasmagoric world whether it is heavenly, hellish, or Mars. Their backdrops combine techniques taken from landscape paintings, portraits, horticulture, and architecture. “When Mikey and I met at UCLA, it became obvious that we were going to go on a trajectory that no one had really explored,” Torres says. “We didn’t know how or in what way. But, we knew that there was the potential because, well, we are both sort of crazy.”
They’re crazy, maybe; but, they’re not a joke. In 2013, Bittertang was awarded a TED fellowship. Previously, Torres had spent three years as part of Neil Denari’s design team for HL23. Around the same time, Loverich had been invited to give lectures at universities such as Yale and Princeton. As Bittertang, the duo won the New York Architecture League Prize for Young Architects in 2010.
Obsessed with the Rococo period and bel composto, they refer to their studio as a farm because, “Bittertang material is breed, coaxed and grown to yield tasty morsels, beautiful new exotic beasts and fertilizer for future growth.” They make frequent use of 3D printing technology to sculpt inflatables resembling half alien-like-blobs and half cuddly-limbed-creatures that float, wrap, or are straddled against backdrops. Some of their shaped balloons remind one of baby animals—“AAAWWW”—and some of their inflated and puffed-up pieces aim one to speculate about arousal: organs and orgasms.
Despite dissimilar backgrounds, they spent three years at UCLA’s school of architecture as graduate students primarily working together and found within each other’s similar interests the needed inspiration to reconnoiter the avant-garde, “The things being taught at UCLA were smooth and stiff but not sexy and we were more interested in giving them character,” Loverich said. Loverich’s childhood was spent on a forested island off the Washington State coast and Torres grew up in Chicago raised by a family predominantly employed by the construction industry, an advantage in design school. “I knew what a material against another material meant, where for a lot of kids our assignments were just lines on a page,” Torres said. Loverich’s woodsy upbringing is a clear influence on Bittertang’s organic-centric work. “I’ve always had an extreme interest in biological matter but I switched to architecture because it’s faster—plants take forever to grow,” Loverich said. Their favorite joint project together at UCLA, Rumpus Room, incorporated bel composto techniques, “frothy” seams, plush toys, and was the origin point of Bittertang’s style.
The first inflatable Bittertang presented in public was Blow Puff, displayed in Manhattan’s Union Square. Its creation required that Bittertang obtain yards upon yards of urethane—bounce-house like—inflatable-tubing and initially they couldn’t find a manufacturer capable of producing such material that could also be molded into warped and curving shapes. After dozens of inquiries, the team finally convinced Seattle Tarp to venture the task into uncharted-fabrication-waters. But even then, after a week of failed attempts, Torres had to personally oversee the production process, fly to Seattle, and take full control over the factory. Flummoxed, the factory gave Torres the reins and as the boss, Torres, finally got the tubing sealed, air pumped in, and thus the tubes inflated for the first time into Blow Puff’s form. Torres remembers, “The ladies that worked on the project didn’t know what it was going to look like and they just started cheering. It was amazing.”
Bittertang’s most recent project, Walls of Wax, was a pop-up installation which showcased men’s fashion designer Michael Bastian’s 2013 Fall/Winter Collection at Pier 57 in Manhattan. Rustic, the use of furniture was limited and walls coated in glowing wax, lit by LED lights, surrounded a twenty foot pile of hay. Passersby would say, “Oh my God, what is that smell? It smells like someplace else,” Loverich said.
Working together for the past seven years, Loverich, based in New York City, and Torres, based in Mexico, have developed a shared, intuitive sense and an understanding about what the other is thinking, which helps to surpass their current continental distance and diffuse Skype and Dropbox frustrations, “When I open up a model I know what Mikey’s intentions are. There is a fluid production and feedback and we don’t really spend time setting up meetings,” Torres said.
Now isn’t Bittertang sweet?