How relevant is ancient wisdom in the contemporary world? The archaic treasure troves of any culture bear metaphorical semblance to the dense roots of a seasoned tree; even though you cannot see them above the ground, their energy fuels each branch that saturates the canopy. The modern times are subtly, but surely, veered by ancient know-how, with urban fabrics woven by threads of the past. This aged presence that is, more often than not, too vague or even subconscious, finds a relatively explicit voice in art and design—spheres that have, for centuries, been notably emblematic of traditions. While some designers choose a more indirect representation of the past, others display a more forthright propensity.
EWE, a design studio based in Mexico City, practices an unwavering commitment to the preservation of Mexico’s rich artisanal heritage. Founded by Spanish designer Manuel Bañó, Estonian-born curator and creative director Age Salajõe, and Mexican designer Hector Esrawe, the studio does so while adopting new mediums and languages to cultivate an oeuvre of limited-edition sculptural and functional objects. Their recent collection Sincretismo is a reiteration of their ethos, delineating ancient wisdom, rituals, forms and materials of pre-hispanic cultures in a rather new-fashioned way. Embracing indigenous wood, marble, and stone craftsmanship, the creators bring to fruition an ensemble of furniture and lighting design that sets itself apart from mundane objects. Materiality becomes a protagonist in the juxtaposition of scale, weight, form, balance and gravity. “Each piece within the Sincretismo collection has a common origin, a correlation, they interact if they are set together, but they stand out on their own,” say the designers, in the official release. Adding, “The collection brings about beauty, contemplation and steadiness to its surroundings."
The birthing chair commonly used in Mexico becomes the muse for the Partera chair—a composition both abstract and evocative. The chair design is perched securely on top of its two base legs, a fundamental volume that buttresses a wide horizontal extended seat impaled by an elongated perpendicular backrest. Through a dramatic expression, the seat interweaves curved and angular surfaces. The shapes and textures that ornament the furniture design are created with basic tools by hand. Built meticulously out of Parota wood with a chisel and chainsaw, the chair’s surface is finished with a jagged carved skin. The deep and rich colour that defines the wooden furniture is achieved by burning and sealing the wood—simple yet powerful.
The Partera stool, on the other hand, employs oak wood, Jalapa travertine and Monterrey marble. “The stool form becomes an expression of the hand carved techniques and its materials. It combines a circular pristine base with the inner surface being rough and a wide curved tribal top,” the furniture designers share. Each piece is sculpted from a single block of wood or stone, culminating into a seamless configuration with no joints. Akin to the rest of the collection, the oak used is either dead or from certified fallen trees, carved using axes and chainsaws. Vacillating between sculptural art and minimalism, the stool design silently holds your gaze.
Sincretismo also encompasses two table designs—a coffee table and a side table, donning a cohesive structural language. The Copal table is an arrangement of six half spheres—three smaller half and three large half spheres—knit together in a harmonious assembly. Owing to its constitutional elements, the work’s stability comes forth as a technical complexity that the designers had to manoeuvre around. The spheres appear to be levitating in the air, yielding a visual tension that eludes gravity on its cantilevered periphery. “The table achieves its balance through understanding the tangential connection of its parts and the hidden elements that allow it to assemble them together,” reads the official release. Carved out of Tikal green marble by stonemasons, the table’s minimal silhouette embodies an elusive balance.
The Copal side table features an analogous assembly of four identical pieces, held together by hidden locks. The framework is such that the observer perceives three of the pieces to be hovering in air, with the slightest contact. The carvers employed obsidian, Tikal green marble, volcanic stone and wood, to create the pieces—using the nature of the materials to highlight their unique characteristics and properties. The smooth texture of the pieces is achieved by the artisans’ practice of polishing the surface, an uncluttered facade that allows the raw materiality to shine.
A monolithic and expressive figure, reminiscent of the Mayan wood and slab structures, partakes in the collection as the sole lighting design. The Estela lighting fixtures are hand-carved from Monterrey marble, yielding a clean exterior with details of the natural material conspicuous for the observer. The light that births an altar-like experience exposes and enhances the roughness of the carved interior.
The Sincretismo collection comes about as an enunciation of the studio’s desire to reflect tradition as part of the natural flow of design. The practice is a reminder of how age-old cultural knowledge infuses contemporary design, with the diversity it yearns for. Propelled ahead by diverse techniques, EWE merges primitive roughness with immaculate surfaces, and uses natural empathic materials that are welcoming to the senses—sculpting new ideas of meaning through their muse, Mexican history.