Dear Human is Jasna Sokolovic and Noel O’Connell, a pair of imports to the Canadian design scene, a couple who combined bring a deep experience and background in ceramics, urban art, installation, and product design to their work, and are fearless experimenters and material explorers. The two formed their productive studio/ factory/ lab in Vancouver, British Columbia in mid-2009, with a respect and appreciation of the handmade and the traditions of craft,  and have been building a collection of thoughtful projects and exhibits ever since. Recently moving their studio from the West Coast to Montréal, Quebec, The CDR caught up with them this week to talk about their experiences, what they are working on, and their current state of mind.

Tell us about your experience working on both coasts – are there any differences or advantages? Noel: Well the most tangible advantage to the East is the proximity to New York and Toronto. That has opened up lots of new opportunities. Vancouver often felt like it was at the end of the earth—getting our work to other places was a big investment. The act of moving and changing perspectives is great for stirring inspiration and where you are making things has a huge impact on what sort of things you make—it would be great to move every three years or so.

Jasna: It is also exciting to know that this side of the country still does some manufacturing, and we are hoping to tap into it with some of our projects…to be that many hours on a plane closer to Europe. Last year after showing in Milan, we realized that being on this side of the country makes a difference.


What keeps you working? What in the process is the most satisfying part? J: Getting ideas out of the system, although the most satisfying part is the moment when an idea is just starting to materialize and is neither at the beginning nor is complete.

N: I agree. Sometimes it can be terribly painful, since we collaborate on everything together, to get to a point of agreement on what the idea is—especially when one of us had the original picture in our head. Sometimes we argue passionately about how it should be and discuss it critically from all angles. The struggle is an important part of the process, but then at the end when we both have the same picture and love the idea…that is a very special feeling.


Your work has shifted, or broadened beyond ceramics, tell us about that shift? J: The inspiration for our work was never coming from the ceramic medium—it was more of an effective means to an end because it is so versatile, but working only within ceramics did not make sense for us anymore. The field became too familiar and didn’t feel challenging enough. We naturally gravitated away from it, but we still use ceramics in our designs when appropriate.

N: I was more stubborn about the transition being such a big ceramics fan, but it was a very important move for us that has opened up so many interesting opportunities. The more important shift though wasn’t from ceramics to multimedia, but breaking away from the label of artist, to becoming comfortable with floating between art and design, not exactly fitting anywhere specifically—it’s been a liberating experience.


Design in Quebec seems to have a stronger root in the creativity, do you feel that there is more support/community there? J: We are still new here but it does. This year we went to Wanted Design during NY Design Week with the QC Design group, one that has been representing designers from here for several years now, and is partially funded by the province. There is no support for design like this in BC or for that matter the rest of Canada.

N: Quebec is definitely more supportive of art and design in contrast to the West. It’s integrated into life and more widely understood here—it often felt like an uphill battle in Vancouver. It’s not to say that there wasn’t a design community in Vancouver—there are great designers there, but the atmosphere here is a bit more welcoming and less pretentious. Maybe a big pond vs. small pond dynamic.


Who are builders/makers you envy, are there designers whose exploring or innovating you admire? Why? J: Don’t like to feel envy, but Scandinavian and Dutch designers seem to get broad understanding, exposure and support, so maybe them. Particularly in Netherlands, material experimentation and alternative concepts are welcomed. Designers have opportunities to explore and manufacture these experiments as well as put them on a market.

N: We love to look at designer/maker/artists who are collaborative duos and are operating in similar ways that we do. We are especially inspired by those who have kids and a home life, but still manage to do great things—so far we have managed to find that delicate balance and when we see others doing it too it bolsters our confidence. I always like seeing what the Bouroullec brothers are coming up with. And I really like Raw Edges work too.


Do you think “Made in Canada” matters, does making things with your hands matter – tell us why we should buy Canadian or buy things made by people? J: It is nice to know where things are made, how and from what materials. It doesn’t have to happen in our backyard, but the more local it is the more of such information is available. Just like buying at a farmers’ market instead of at Costco. You pay more, but you know what you are getting and you also get a farmer’s story.

N: We’ve built our lives around the importance of the idea that by-hand matters and we think it will continue to even more so as we move rapidly away from it being an everyday thing to see. I’m not averse to technology or integrating it into the making process. On the contrary, I think really interesting things happen when you mix it up. The important thing to me is thoughtful making and curating your surroundings with carefully created objects versus quick fixes from box stores that everyone has access to.


What is the toughest challenge that Dear Human has embraced, beaten, and gotten stronger by? J: Us both working full time and only for Dear Human while maintaining two content children and all that comes with it.

N: Jasna and I had a vision for what sort of work we’d like to create way back while we were doing very different things, and had a pretty contented life selling our ceramic work on Granville Island in Vancouver. You (Todd) played a critical role in inspiring us to go after it, and although it seemed pretty far off and unlikely in the beginning, we sort of B-lined for it, changed everything, quit our studio space and never looked back. That transition is still in progress of course—not beaten—but I feel it definitely has made us stronger.



Vase/ J: Red White Vase by Hella Jongerius.


Album Art/ J: Neko Case Fox Confessor cover by Julie Morstad. N: Pet Shop Boys “Very” by Pentagram was a game changer for me.

Painting/ J: Os Amantes II by René Magritte. N: The Key to the Fields by René Magritte.


Car/ J: Any that comes with a driver. N: VW Karmann Ghia

Building/ J: Sagrada Familia, Spain. N: Angkor Wat, Cambodia


GO SEE their current installation at The Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ontario. May 28 to September 4. Dear Human has infiltrated the Waterloo Public Library with Paperscapes, a paper clay tableau of furniture.


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