interview. Odyssia Houstis
photography. Courtesy of Colin Phelan
issue 1 – in love with Switzerland
How long have you been working as a set designer and how did you get into this line of work?
I’ve been calling myself a set designer and prop stylist for just a couple of years now, but I’ve been assisting in the industry for 12 years, working on photo shoots, films, runway shows, etc. I got involved in this business completely by accident. I was a high school dropout and got involved in the DIY music scene in Buffalo, NY while working random jobs. One night while I was working the door at a DIY music venue, a friend asked if I wanted to come help build sets at the non-profit Children’s theatre down the street. I didn’t realize it then, but I was hooked. I loved coming in each day and seeing the progress unfold and the world we were creating come to life.
Is anyone in your family artistically inclined as you are? Were you supported to pursue this line of work?
I owe most of my appreciation for art to my grandfather. I was an only child of a single mother working to put herself through school, so my main babysitter was my grandfather. He took me everywhere. We’d go to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo to see Jazz, to the local Irish Theatre Company to see all his favorite plays by Beckett and O’Neill. He was never an artist himself but had such a deep appreciation and a great desire to share that with me for which I’m very grateful.
When you are on set, and creating, have you already ‘seen’ the set before you make it? Or is it always a process that organically grows as you make it?
It’s both! I’ve ‘seen’ the set but even in my head it’s ever evolving until the moment we step into the studio. Once we’re on set I like to let go a bit and just do what instinctually feels right. The combination seems to be working out so far.
When you walk around are you eternally on the search for a new prop?
Oh absolutely, it’s what makes this job so much fun. We venture all over the outer boroughs just looking for weird stuff. Many years ago we stumbled across a 1970’s car half buried into a slope off the side of the Jackie Robinson in Queens. It must have been there for decades. A few years later we needed a rusty car door as a prop for a Coach campaign that Steven Meisel was shooting, and so we went back with a sawzall, took the door off and brought it to set. Everyone assumed it was from a prop house.
Have you ever been to Switzerland?
I have! Very briefly and I’d love to visit again. So many of my favorite authors are from or spent considerable time there. Fluer Jaeggy is one of my biggest inspirations lately.
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