Misha Hollenbach Attack

Let’s start by saying Perks and Mini (P.A.M.) and Baker D. Chirico were born for each other. Fashion guerrillas P.A.M. go way back with Melbourne’s beloved baker, D. Chirico and the offspring from their creative partnership is perpetually delicious. There was the time Misha Hollenbach (the Perks in P.A.M.) turned an Easter-themed Baker D. Chirico pop up shop into a wallpapered den of kangaroo bunnies, and that other time when he sent macarons and canelés off on a mission to reach the limits of outer space. The question this time around is: Would you like a sourdough baguette with a side of cactus? Or perhaps your pagnotta loaf airborne and under the influence of cotton palm wings? Mais, oui.

Misha Hollenbach, as he appears in Strange Plants II.

Misha was in Paris when we first spoke by email. His name had come up a few times in the space of days, so I followed the nudges. The first nudge was his contribution to Zio Baritaux’s marvellous Strange Plants II, in which he staged an artistic intervention aimed at disrupting ‘the perfectly balanced and considered art of Ikebana’. In Misha’s series for the book you see low-res, black and white copies of master Ikebana intersected with cut out drawings, which follow the lines of the arrangements but alter their flow. Stare too long at them and they start to become hypnotic, and it’s all the result of harmony, according to Misha. In his Strange Plants interview with Zio, he said:

Ikebana is a very strict, formal art practice. It is highly considered, skilled, with a set of very clear rules. Juxtaposing this with the freedom and frivolity of abstract mark making doesn’t create a tension but a harmony. It’s almost that the opposites attract and bounce off each other. I like the harmony in chaos and vice versa.’

The second nudge was wallpaper. Enter the baker and his twin, the enfant terrible, Misha Hollenbach. All the harmony and juxtaposition you could ask for is glued to the walls of Baker D. Chirico’s latest project with Misha – a pop up shop that is destined to become something more, on Domain Road, South Yarra. As a plant lover, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking right now: that’s opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, non? Oui. The latest locale is across from everyone’s favourite pseudo-main gate, Gate D, as the No. 8 tram turns into Park Street. Look no further then for inspiration. In this case it was bread and botany.

Daniel (Chirico) calls me when he needs a new thing,’ Misha says of the design process. ‘He calls, I call him back, we do this for weeks without speaking. Then the deadline passes, then I do something, he loves it and I send it to him. We rarely exchange words.’

Silence is golden. So are Misha’s still-life bread loaves sprouting mushrooms, nailed forever to the lines of time by their impression on Baker D. Chirico’s wallpaper. It’s a fun game of botanical Cluedo trying to match the plant name to the loaf as they appear in the design. I see Passiflora giving the macarons a sense of gravity, an anchor. Beetroot tops and tails, cotton palm fronds, the paddles of a nopal cactus… But maybe they’re simply the results of my own Rorschach inkblot test.

What a marriage: plants and bread. When you think about it, the two are not at all removed. Bread is an ancient combination of flour, water and salt transformed by a starter culture and left to rise. In some ways it’s a black and white photocopy of its parent plant – perhaps wheat, spelt or rye – living out a different kind of growth cycle that ends up as our sandwiches, our toast and Vegemite, the spoon with which we mop up all leftovers. Bread is where we begin our day, and pastries are often where we end it.

Allona Goren, herself an artist, designer and one half of Baker D. Chirico, tells me that the creative partnership between Misha, the bakery, and P.A.M. more generally was the natural result of their long-time friendship.

We were talking about the work we’ve done together and noticed that a distinct line runs through everything Misha has created for us. It’s as though you could take a timeline for the history of the world and at any point insert our bread there. So we’ve had wallpaper plastered with imagery of 1920s hairstyles and bread. We’ve had the galaxy with pastries and baguettes. Now we have natural history, botanical art, the Victorian aesthetic. The proximity of the Botanic Gardens to our site presented a big invitation for that type of imagery.’

It’s radical, off-kilter and at the same time absolutely peaceful to look at what happens when plants are crossbred with bread. Equally, the collaboration between P.A.M. and Baker D. Chirico is an inspiring one to watch grow, because it seems to exist naively and for no other reason than friendship, admiration, exploration, and recognising the importance of the spaces we occupy… and how art feeds that.

When I first spoke to Misha a few weeks ago he was in Paris, but not on a tourist’s mission braving the line-up to the Louvre or the Centre Georges Pompidou. P.A.M. have packed up their belongings in Melbourne and moved to the Continent! Paris is now home. Most recently Misha emailed from the wilds of Umbria, and here is our part botanical, part bread-flecked conversation:

How long have you lived in Paris? What brought you there?

1 month. It is time to be EUROPEAN for a bit.

What part of Paris do you live and work in? Could you describe your studio space for us?

We live in the 10eme. So far we have had a studio by an ancient medieval wall in Ferrarra, Italy, a carpark in the 11eme, and the Galeries Lafayette has given us an atelier. Next week I’m looking at a ‘squat’ studio in Montrigeuil. We also have an office in our apartment with a Prouvé table, which I’m using to lay out collages!

How did your latest collaboration with Baker D. Chirico come about?

Daniel (Chirico) calls me when he needs a new thing. He calls, I call him back, we do this for weeks without speaking. Then the deadline passes, then I do something, he loves it and I send it to him. We rarely exchange words.

What was your brief for the bread x plants wallpaper?

BREAD and the location. Brief is very easy.

What inspired you in creating this work and what process was involved in the creation (hand drawings or digital, for instance)?

Before anything happens (collage/Photoshop/whatever) I visualise the image. Botanic Gardens across the road. Bread. The idea and concept is simple and straightforward. You combine the 2.

I’ve spotted baguettes sprouting nopal cactus, a pagnotta with palms fronds for wings … Do these plant images reflect some of your own favourites from the plant world?

Baguettes make cool cacti, and vice versa. Collage needs to aim for harmony. It can be strange or fantastical but ultimately should be balanced and calm. You make something out of other bits. The Baker D. elements look like they come from nature. They are very balanced and real.

What is your favourite plant?

Definitely Cannabis.

Your radicalised ikebana work was featured in Strange Plants II. What was it like working on that project?

The series was more based on disrupting the perfectly balanced and considered art of Ikebana. These collages were blatantly unconsidered to disrupt the nature of Ikebana. They also show that there is order and beauty in chaos. The process was combining automatic collage elements with existing Ikebana images. I chose one piece of collage, and one image in sequence as I went. There was no consideration in choosing elements that perhaps would work together. The process was automatic, kind of the opposite to the nature of Ikebana, but also akin with Zen philosophy.

Have you discovered any favourite parks or gardens in Paris? If so, can you tell us about them?

I like finding Gypsy colonies. And the forest so far. Gardens are ‘beautiful’ there, but also well tended and manicured. Right now I am in the wilderness of Umbria. Again I prefer the beauty of wild rather than the heights of beauty and organisation.

Do you describe yourself as a gardener? Why?

I love eating plants actually. Growing them, tending them is great. I prefer to let them do their thing. I love seasonal plants: deciduous esp. I like to see life transform from season to season. A good tomato is great. My parents have a huge garden. I like to eat vegetables and fruits within 4 hours of being picked.

There’s a nice tradition of wallpaper design in Australia, and name that immediately springs to mind is Florence Broadhurst. Did you ever imagine you’d design wallpaper, and did you have any reference points in your design process?

Nop. I am only starting to understand pattern. And now I want to explore this more. I have been stuck up on the elements too much. Now I prefer the abstraction. This is a big learning curve actually. Chaos theory in life. I’m ready.