November 30, 2018 by Aleksandra Stokowiec
Food, Kittens, and Cuteness: Q & A with Abacaxi Lab
The duo behind Abacaxi Lab are two fabulous ladies: Aleksandra “Laura” Schedler and Vanda Aragão. As brave and colorful as their art, they talked with Atlas just before the opening of their first exhibition, sharing stories about their travels, inspirations, and hopes for the future.
Let’s start at the beginning. What’s the origin story of the Abacaxi Lab?: That’s a question that we should have rehearsed. The legend goes that it all began one winter afternoon, in a cozy apartment just around the corner, at Rua Escolas Gerais…
Vanda: Wait, you’re basically quoting the description from our Etsy profile!
Laura: So now for a down-to-earth version. We met in 2016, in Lisbon, when Vanda was practicing so-called “working from home” and I was an Erasmus student. To put it shortly, we both had plenty of free time and decided to dedicate it to making linocuts.
Why this technique?
Vanda: When I was in school — 7th grade or something like that — we had this art class and our teacher decided to do something a little bit different. One day, she just brought pieces of linoleum, a couple of inks, and some basic tools for carving. We only tried simple shapes, but it was fun.
Then, two years ago, I had this idea of making customized tote bags and I remembered about linocut. In my mind, it still existed as this easy and fun technique. So I took a trip to the art store, bought supplies, sat down by the table, and… quickly realized that it’s all much harder than I thought.
Laura: But you didn’t give up! You kept on playing around with it, trying different things. It was pretty inspiring!
Vanda: Yes, surely there was a lot of excitement behind it. I guess that’s why we ended up sitting by this little round table until 3 A.M., eating cherry pies and carving cute animals.
Did either of you have an artistic background?
Vanda: Not really.
Laura: I’ve always had a huge love for multiplying things. Does that count?
Let’s hear that story!
Laura: Well, when I was five or six, my grandma used to bring sheets of carbon paper from work. You know, those thin, blue sheets that, back in those days, adults would use for copying documents and kids would use for their art projects. I remember copying images from newspapers, cutting them off, and creating art books for my whole family. It was wonderful! I also loved drawing cats, then copying and sharing them with my friends at kindergarten.
Vanda: So, apparently, at the age of five you were already a professional multiplier (laughs).
Laura: Actually, as I think about it, it’s exactly what I like about linocut so much — producing an almost infinite number of copies of the same image, but knowing that each of them is still an original piece of art, often with its own particular flaws.
Does the fact that every movement of the tool is, quite literally, transferred to the print make you feel as if this form of art is more intimate, more personal?
Laura: Totally! There are days when I feel angry and it seems that paper absorbs the mood — it folds, it tears… It can be very frustrating. Then, when I feel more peaceful, all of a sudden everything goes smoothly. Like yesterday — 30 prints done and all absolutely perfect!
And what about the motifs of your work? Are they also inspired by your day-to-day life?
Laura: Lately I’ve noticed that for me, it’s often about longing. For example, now, as I miss having a pet, I print plenty of animals. Back in Poland, as I was missing Lisbon, I kept on working on the illustration of the viewpoint of Nossa Senhora do Monte. I’m also a great admirer of photography. I love collecting beautiful images and often use them for designing stamps. That’s how the series with plants was born. We were in Dong Hoi, in a restaurant that had a wonderful garden. I took some pictures there and some time later turned them into this cute illustration of a blossoming branch. We usually print it along with another floral stamp, which was, accordingly, inspired by a plant spotted in one of the bars in Graça. So, maybe you can’t really tell when you look at our works, but they always come from somewhere.
Vanda: Well, I’m not the kind of person who would go to a viewpoint, sit down, and draw what I see. When looking for inspiration, I prefer going to an art gallery or browsing Instagram. I look at something and think about how to remix it, how to turn it into my own piece of art. It sounds like copying, but the point is rather to unfold someone’s thought and translate it into my own drawing. It’s a more complex thing.
How does this translate to working together?
Laura: To be honest, even though it’s a joint project, most of the time we work separately. And we never set up for anything, it just happens.
Vanda: Yes, as much as we have in common, we’re still two different minds. We also have very different ways of drawing, of looking at things.
What are those differences?
Laura: I think I’m more insecure. I need to plan everything carefully, do plenty of sketches, check whether things look nice. Vanda, on the other hand, is always more excited about trying out something new, experimenting – even if, in the end, it turns out to be crap.
Vanda: True! I always get to do something unconventional and then get disappointed. But sometimes it becomes a good starting point!
Laura: Like with the sitting guy?
Vanda: (laughs) The other day I had this idea of creating a print with a guy sitting on a chair. You know, just a simple idea that came to me as I was watching TV. The sketch looked great, but as soon as I turned it into a print, I was like… huh… it isn’t cool anymore.
Laura: So you cut off his head.
Vanda: Well, that’s another advantage of working in linoleum: you make something, you look at it, you don’t quite like the final effect, so you chop off a head or two and things become exciting again!
As much as your approaches may differ, there are still quite a few things that you have in common…
Laura: It’s true. We are both drawn to cuteness, for example. Mainly in the form of kittens, food, and boobies.
Why those motifs?
Vanda: It may be sort of a playful response to the content of social media.
Laura: And, once again, our memories.
Do you have any personal favorites?
Laura: For me, it’s the summer-inspired series “The Ladies on the Beach.” These prints are pretty simple when it comes to shapes and colors, but it was very liberating to work on them. When looking at them, you can easily convince yourself that there’s no need to be a real mermaid to enjoy the sun and waves.
Vanda: I like these ones too. My second favorite would be the red panda.
Inspired by the new resident of the Zoological Garden in Lisbon?
Vanda: Oh, you’ve found my soft spot! I’m longing to see that beauty! The inspiration for the print, however, came from the Netflix series “72 Cutest Animals,” which we used to watch passionately when working in the Netherlands. The episode on red pandas was my favorite.
In the coming days, you’re going to open your very first exhibition at Micro Padaria. An artisanal bakery isn’t the most obvious choice for an exhibition, so could you tell us something more about this cooperation?
Laura: It’s been a while now since eating a cake there became part of my daily routine. So, quite naturally, I quickly made friends with Clàudia [the owner of Micro Padaria].
Vanda: One day, while having a marvelous cardamom bun, we asked whether she wouldn’t like to make the walls of her bakery available for our art. She happened to be very enthusiastic about this idea.
Laura: The place suits us well. Since the prints we create are pretty tiny, organizing a micro-exhibition at Micro Padaria appeared to be a cool plan.
What works are you planning to present?
Laura: Our goal is to introduce viewers to the prints created in the past two years. So for those who have visited our stalls at Feira da Ladra or Feira das Almas, some designs may appear familiar. But there will be some brand new images too.
Since you’ve mentioned the flea markets — after the exhibition, are you still planning to sell there, or would you rather seek some new opportunities for the Abacaxi Lab?
Vanda: The experience at Feira da Ladra was surprisingly positive. People would come around, stop by to chat, flip through our prints, and be like “Oh, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for” — which makes sense once you realize that most of the time they only come across those endless images of Lisbon’s trams emerging either from the morning mist or the shimmering, afternoon light.
Laura: Well, it’s nice to sell at flea markets, but at some point, it all just becomes too repetitive: tourists come, they look for postcards, they buy one or two small prints so that they can send them to a friend… after a couple of months it becomes a dead-end. So now we’re hoping to jump on another level.
What is it, then, that you’re setting yourself up for?
Laura: Great deeds!
Vanda: The important thing now is to reach a new audience and get fresh feedback. For sure we’d like our art to become a bit more about participation too. It would be nice to set up sort of an artistic community around us.
Laura: Since I’ve just signed up for a ceramics course, we also started thinking about turning our designs into a series of lovely cups and plates. This could, eventually, evolve into our own, independent branch.
Vanda: But for now — one micro-step at a time!
[Their exhibition will be running in Micro Padaria from December 1st to December 15th. The opening will be at 16:30 on December 1st. Come and say hi!]