Hailing from New Zealand, Batten and Kamp is the designer-artist duo creating contemporary, minimalist sculpture pieces that also function as furniture. In a studio interview, Ali Batten and Daniel Kamp tell ECHELON their story of an “earthy sci-fi” character and how the duo came to be.
Located in an old factory building about a 10-minute walk from the MTR station, this quaint artist studio feels like a rare oasis in the already unique area that is Kennedy Town. The white walls are left plain with modestly exposed pipes, matching superbly with the minimalist, contemporary, and unconventional steel-and-boulder sculpture pieces of Batten and Kamp, the designer-turned-artist duo.
Imagine if Sisyphus finally took a break from his eternal punishment of pushing a giant boulder up the hill—what would that look like? That is Batten and Kamp’s first collection in 2019: “Steel and Stone”, a steel chair supported by a boulder underneath, reminding one of the architecture of Brutalism. A lot of the duo’s work is functional and may act as furniture, but it wasn’t always the goal.
“We think of the pieces as sculptures first when we create them, so we’re sometimes amazed when the buyers actually use them.” As Daniel Kamp mentions the duo’s pleasant surprise whenever they see their sculptural pieces being placed around dinner tables instead of sitting in a corner, his partner Ali Batten ponders, “But that’s the point, right? That people are styling them in their own way, with their personal collections. With our backgrounds in design and architecture, a lot of our work is completely functional, as well as sculptural.”
Realistically, however, Batten and Kamp’s work may not always work as interior pieces in such a cramped city as Hong Kong. They recount 60% of their buyers and clients being based overseas. As for exhibitions, their most recent solo exhibition in Hong Kong was last December at Novalis Art Design, but they have also been exhibited across the globe in New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Geneva, Seoul, and Copenhagen, with upcoming shows in Shanghai, Belgium, Paris, and Hong Kong—including a presentation at Art Central in May.
Describing the duo’s style as “earthy sci-fi”, much like what attracted the couple to Hong Kong in the first place, Kamp reveals, “Initially, we were drawn to the cyberpunk feel, which is almost a cliche of the city; but we grew to realise the many sides to the cityscape, including the amazing nature here.”
“We were immediately captured by the energy of Hong Kong,” recalls Batten of their first weeklong trip to the city in 2016. “Particularly coming from New Zealand, which we love in a very different way, we love the vibrancy, diversity, and the room to grow. I feel like in Hong Kong there is endless tolerance and space for weirdness, an audience for whatever you want to do.” The artist duo cites the local art scene as being a rich and welcoming community, from which they are inspired. Nonetheless, the local scene is not their only source of inspiration.
Ali Batten and Daniel Kamp met on the first week of design school at a party, and have been together romantically ever since. Although they only set up Batten and Kamp towards the end of 2019, their relationship has contributed immensely to their creative process.
“It’s completely fluid and organic. It’s a lot of conversation. We do a lot of playing with objects and materials in spaces.” Daniel explains, “Move them around, combine them, take a thing out, put a different thing in… just mixing different components, like assemblage, which is a whole mode or discipline within art, but it’s not often done in design.”
Ali nods, “We’re handing ideas back and forth constantly.” The duo says they agree on pretty much everything and rarely have creative disputes like some creative couples might do. “It’s like we have one brain,” jests Daniel.
Yet, “Batten and Kamp” means more to the duo than just their brainchild. For Ali, the situation was “do or die”. Whilst Daniel had always worked for himself as an interior designer, she was in a corporate design job, feeling sucked dry of her creativity. “The creative part of my job was growing smaller and smaller, and so did my confidence in my creativity. I felt if I did a few more years of that, I could lose my ability to create altogether—which was terrifying to me.” Ali divulges her need to have a sense of herself, “I realised, I needed to do this.”
It can be an enormous step for anybody with a desk job to leave the financial and career stability behind, but Ali had helped with Daniel’s projects before and knew that they would work well together. As a matter of fact, in the past two and a half years since Batten and Kamp’s inception, their working relationship has grown in unexpected ways.
“It’s changed so much. We’re braver with materials and processes and colours. Even putting our very disparate influences into our work, we’re no longer picking just the nice and cohesive ideas from each of us like we used to. Instead, we’re smashing it all together to see if the work comes out interesting,” Ali laughs heartily. “In the past, we were client-driven designers. Now, we’re more motivated by our intuition and taste.”
The way that Batten and Kamp’s creativity has evolved, only further confirms that Ali did the right decision by taking that big step two and a half years ago, to do this full-time. “We’re told that productivity is the most important thing—it was what we were brought up with; But creativity actually takes so much space… I think that’s something I didn’t realise.” She contemplates, “You can’t squeeze creativity into a half an hour slot where you’re allowed to be creative. By the time you have that slot, you can’t think of a single interesting thing to do. You can’t squeeze creativity into these nice little compartments.” Of course, Daniel agrees, “‘Pressure makes diamonds’ can get fucked.”