Inna Alesina is a material girl. Originally from the Ukraine, Alesina came to Baltimore as a refugee. She first studied industrial design at the Institute for Industrial Arts, then later studied at Parsons in New York. After freelancing and living in New York for five years, Alesina came back to Baltimore, where she began teaching Industrial Design at Towson University part-time, and eventually began teaching at MICA in their Environmental Design department.
She has won many awards for her designs, including an award from the Design Boom competition in Italy for her “Good Egg” ottomans. Her works range the gamut of design, from various product designs, to sustainable design, to her book with Ellen Lupton, Exploring Materials (which you can read about here).
What is most intriguing about Alesina is the way in which she uses materials. Her studio, in her basement, is full of various knick-knacks and supplies for making. The majority of her work is sustainability-centered, so she is constantly creating new objects out of prexisting items. For example, her “Good Egg” ottomans reuse egg cartons that are then tightly bound together to form a conical shape with special dyes added to the cartons to alter them. Another recycled product that she constantly makes are shelves from repurposed shipping tubes. The tubes are painted and dyed, then laser cut. Looking at the final product, the shelves look more like wood than what was once a paper-product.
When asked about her work, Alesina replied, “I like things that are new to me,” as is the case with a line of shoes that she worked on called Waldies. The shoes are very much like Crocs, in that they are composed of a closed-cell foam so that water cannot be absorbed and they can be washed off easily. Out of her closet, Alesina pulled several pairs of prototype shoes made from various different materials including clay, duct tape, and styrofoam. It was apparent from seeing her work that Alesina goes through many many iterations with a product before settling on one idea. Even when she talks about how the process began creating the shoes, she explained that started with the form of her feet so that they would be more comfortable, taking molds of her feet.
When Alesina works, she starts with a problem rather than a product. This is not only apparent from her work but also from her book, Exploring Materials. One of her pieces which was featured in the book is a furniture system called “Fill It.” Alesina began this piece considering sustainability, and what a person can do with hard-to-recycle items, rather than thinking of a chair or a seat. The receptacles have an outer skin, which a consumer or store would fill with non-recyclabes such as plastic bags, so that by the time the skin is full, the object has become firm and makes a perfect seat.
Alesina’s work is a great example of play. She is a fan of the silly ideas, not just the serious ones. “Let’s face it. Play is play. You cannot be wrong. Some people make funny things, some people see we’re taking photographs and get nervous. It’s not about that. Let’s just have fun. People are so afraid to be ridiculous. Ridiculous ideas are the good ones. Because if everyone comes up with appropriate ideas that can work, you have to have that breakthrough. You need those crazy ideas to come up with the good stuff.” Her work is a great example of the experimentation needed in a classroom.